I was taken to 2 games at Highbury in 1976/77, aged 10 and was going as regularly as money permitted on my own as a teenager. I was getting to a good amount of home games in 1980/81 with money from a paper round etc but I was on my own coming from SE London. My mates were not Gunners but I did not care. It made no difference to me because once I got to the North Bank we were all there for the same reason. At the age of 14 I was not tall, (come to think of it I am not now!) but I used to get there at 1.30 and go right into the middle to ensure I got a place. By 3pm I was stood surrounded by the hard core and they were all a foot taller and mostly fully grown. I never saw a goal scored in the North Bank end but I didn’t care. I loved the crowd rising in anticipation, followed by the ecstatic celebration and forward surge down the terraces, halted by hitting a bar every 3 or 4 steps. I came home battered and bruised having only seen the goals we scored at the Clock End to watch those that I been unable to see live on MOTD.
In those early days we used to sing every player’s name when they were out for their warm up. Some players had their own special response to hearing their name, some would milk it and make you wait for the wave or salute and then there was Johnny Hollins running into the corner towards the North Bank with his finger in the air. I don’t get there early anymore as the seats have taken that requirement away. No danger of being locked out when your seat is being pre paid for or has your season tickets name on it so the pre match ritual has all but gone. Just a few of the biggest stars of today will have a name check from the faithful in the 5 minutes before Kickoff, because sadly 80% of us are not in our seats.
This brings me on to the point of today’s piece. Tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of the tragic passing of one of our own, David Rocastle, taken from his young family and from us at the age of only 34. I am not enough of a writer to attempt to do justice to any sort of tribute to the great man. I have asked people to change their profile pictures to remember an Arsenal Legend and I have reposted a blog created around a chat with his son Ryan. I would not attempt to write nor could I as moving tribute as that I read this time a year ago from Tim Stillman on Vital Arsenal. So please if you are too young to remember what he means to Gunners of my generation please click here. http://www.arsenal.vitalfootball.co.uk/article.asp?a=522698
Rocky had his own salute the fans around Highbury as we sang his name before the game. You have all seen the Rocky’s raised thumb. As Brady and O’Leary were my 1970s, Rocky along with Davis, Merson, Adams and Thomas were my 1980s. Why? Because they were home grown. There is nothing more special to a football than seeing one of their own come good and win honours with the team with which they have the ultimate bond. So today is a rundown of those in my Arsenal watching lifetime that have grown up, broken into the 1st team and fulfilled their ambition of winning the league title with the Arsenal.
In 1988/89 Arsenal having lead Division 1 for most of the season, inexplicably dipped in March and April only to win a rearrange match at Anfield with the last kick of the season. George Graham has bought wisely to blend with the incredible group of home grown youth he had inherited from Don Howe.
David O’Leary - one of three brilliant Irish schoolboys to break through in the mid 70s, David was the only one left in the 80s, breaking George Armstrong’s appearance record in 1989 he is still our record appearance holder in the league and overall. An elegant and graceful central defender who read the game as well as any I have seen, he signed as school boy at the age of 15 and did not leave until 1993, 20 years later, following George Graham to Leeds. He played for us 722 ties and for Leeds on only 12 occasions. O’Leary could have left Arsenal at any time for Manchester United with Stapleton or followed Brady abroad but he remained loyal through the bad times finally receiving his reward as part of a back 3 with Bould and Adams that mad May evening in Liverpool. He was more of a squad player in 1991 but played more than enough to see his beloved Gunners crowned champions again. For me O’Leary will always be a legend.
Tony Adams – Arguably the ultimate Arsenal hero, joining as a school boy in 1980 aged 14 he had broken into the first team at 17, was a regular at 19 when he won his first trophy, the Littlewoods Cup, my first Wembley final. He was captain at 21, an honour he retained for the next 15 years until he retired a one club player. Adams epitomises everything about Arsenal and as we stand is unlikely to be surpassed as the most successful Gooner of all time. I will not spend too much time on this legend as most reader will know everything about our greatest ever. Suffice to say we will never see any professional play at this level for one club and the top of the English game again.
Paul Davis – joined as an apprentice in 1977 at the age of 16 Davis effectively had to fill the boots of Liam Brady as the left sided centre midfielder. Under rated by England Managers Paul was easily one of the most cultured playmakers of the 1980s. He never stepped up for England from U21s but not due to the lack of quality in his left foot, but more due to the plethora of to class alternatives at the time. Hoddle, Robson, Wilkins, Reid etc prevented Davis winning a single cap but to us he was a magician. He fell out with George Graham and whilst winning a medal in 89 he was a bit part player but in 1990/91 he played in 36 of our 38 game season in which we lost only one match on the way to our second title in 2 years. Now a PFA coach and an anti racism campaigner he remains one of my favourite ever Arsenal players.(Yes I was there in the North Bank when he swung a haymaker at Glenn Cockerill, for which he got an unprecedented 9 game ban and the Saints midfielder got a broken jaw)
David Rocastle – Quite simply one of the most gifted players I have seen in the Arsenal shirt. The fair of a Brazilian, as David Dein famously pointed out but from Lewisham. As a SE London boy there was an instant affinity for me. He burst on to the scene playing wide right but he was never a traditional winger. The ball seemed glued to his feet as he dribbled through teams seemingly only feinting with a shoulder drop to go one way and then swerving the other. He always wanted to carrry the ball into the danger zone, assisting so many goals and scoring the spectacular. Rocky was Arsenal for me between 1886 and 1990. Anfield was the pinnacle as by 1990.91 he played enough to gain a medal, but was often an onlooker plagued by a back injury that prompted Graham to sell him to Leeds. He did not want to go and cried when he was told. He played most of the qualifiers to help England to Italy for the World Cup finals in the summer of 1990 but was then omitted from the final squad. I like to think Mr Chris ‘Theo has no football brain’ Waddle that Rocky would not have blasted the penalty into space. He had too much of a football brain for that.
Michael Thomas You have to realise there were not academies as we have them know so Michael was another who signed as a school boy in 1982 aged 15. Mickey was another London lad from Lambeth, who came good with the Arsenal. Breaking into the side as a right back in the 86/87 season, with the arrival of Lee Dixon Graham miraculously converted Thomas into a tough tacking explosive central midfielder. Renowned for his surging late runs to join the attack Thomas will forever be an Arsenal Legend as he contributed what will ultimately be our greatest individual moment. Thomas scored the ‘It’s up for grabs now’ last minute winner to wrench the title from Liverpool on that crazy Friday night in May 89. He was not a great player but he gave us one of our greatest moments and for that Michael we salute you. When the late great Brian Moore, the best ever commentator was asked after retiring, what was the greatest ever moment he had witnessed in his profession, he has not hesitation in calling this moment. Thomas fell out with Graham after his second title in 1991 after over 200 games and 30 goals he was sold ironically to Liverpool. He never hit the heights after he left Arsenal but in 1991 George Graham had sold our 2 midfield Highbury heroes and the skilful exciting double title winning team began its drift into the ‘Boring Boring’ era
Paul Merson – To some now he might be the comedian on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday, who struggles with foreign names and gave us the term ‘A worldie’ but to me he will always be the ‘Magic Man’ Joining as an apprentice in 84 Merson made if debut in 1986 at the tender age of 18. By the 88/89 season he was the regular strike partner of Alan Smith scoring 10 goals and earning himself the PFA Young Player of the Year, on the way to the title. By the end of the imperious 1990/91 season he has shifted out to the left flank quite often and this is where he continued to play, cutting in a scoring so many spectacular goals. 91 saw him break into the England side and his star was seemingly forever on the rise. An incredible goal at Wembley in the League Cup final and a stellar performance in the FA Cup ‘Donkey won the Derby’ semi against the old enemy saw the now infamous beer drinking celebration with his adoring fans. Little did we know then that Merson at a press conference with his manager the following year would see him announce Alcohol, Cocaine and gambling addictions. The Arsenal backed one of their own and the FA astounding some by supporting Merse though rehab. Merson came out the other side as his skipper Adams would later, a wiser and better man, but he continued to produce for us on the pitch. I was on my way to a Stag weekend in Bournemouth when I was stunned and shocked to hear that Wenger was to sell the Magic Man to Middlesbrough in the summer of 97. So Merse never got to win the 3rd title he so richly deserved and the last of the attacking side of 1991 was gone.
Kevin Campbell – This entry might surprise some but he anyone whose legacy is this quote deserves a mention “Sometimes there really is nothing better in life than being a Gooner” Super Kevin Campbell burst on to the fans radar scoring 59 goals for the Youth team in one season, 87/88. After 2 loans he made his breakthrough at the back end of the 1990/91 season scoring 8 goals in 10 games to help us to the Division 1 title. He was sold in 1995 after helping the Gunners to a League Cup, an FA cup and a Cup Winners Cup. I can think of very few players in the modern era so loved by all the clubs they played for. He top scored for Nottingham Forest, saw them relegated and fired them back up with 23 goals, saved Everton from relegation virtually single handedly a top scored for them 3 seasons running and was part of the WBA side that survived on the final day in 2006. I think he is one of only 4 players to score hatricks with 4 different Premiership teams and he is certainly the highest scoring English player in the Premiership never to be capped by his country. Loved by all, but always a Gooner.
Martin Keown – This is a funny one because whilst Martin will always be an Arsenal legend his path to legendary status differs from all those home grown heroes mentioned so far. Why because Keown came through with Arsenal in the mid 80s. He signed as a school boy in 1980 and made is breakthrough into Don Howe’s first team in 1985, but it was soon apparent that the new boss, George Graham wanted to build his defence around a younger prospect, one Tony Adam. Consequently Martin departed for Vila and Everton and was not to return until February 1993. So he missed the 2 titles and was cup tied for both Cup triumphs in 93, and even then he has to dislodge one of Bould or Adams. Graham often utilised him ad a holding midfielder or man marker. It was under Wenger that Keown finally achieved Gunners Glory winning the title in 1998, but with only 18 appearances. By 2001/2 however he was an ever present alongside Adams and there is no doubt this was his year. In the Invincibles campaign he was in the final year of his second spell and Wenger gave him multiple substitute appearances at the end to ensure he reached the 10 game mark for his third league title in the red and White. Loved by all Gunners and hated by others fans, for his seemingly never ending capacity to throw his body on the line for the cause Martin will always be a Highbury Legend.
Ray Parlour – Christened the Real Romford Pele by Marc Overmars Ray will undoubted be one of most Gooners favourite players. He was arguably the only midfield or attacking player from the Graham era to truly bridge into the Wenger era. There is nothing more true than the adages that if you give 100% for the shirt your fans will forgive you the odd poor game and that hard work pays dividends. Ray Parlour would spit blood, would play any position and never complained when he was not selected, because he just wanted to be an Arsenal Player. His passing game and his football brain improved quite dramatically under Wenger. Wenger moved him from a tough tackling central role to playing wide right, with astonishing effect. He won the man of the match in the 98 Cup final and was integral to the 1997/98 Premiership triumph. By 2002 Wenger had brought in Ljungberg who took his right hand berth but this was not the end for Razor. Now he moved back into the middle to replace Petit alongside Vieira and steered the team to another double scoring a ‘worldie’ in the cup final against Chelsea. Not the expected scorer? Well no not by Celebrity Fan Zone Chelsea fan Tim Lovejoy who as Parlour picked up the ball 5 yards from the area ,uttered the immortal words “It’s only Ray Parlour” only to see Razor unleash a 25 yard curler into the top corner. Ray finally left after his final contribution saw Arsenal finish champions again after an undefeated season in 2003/4. He is still the arsenal player with more Premiership appearances than any other. Razor I will always love you but please stop working with Adrian ’Bloody’ Durham. It is beneath you.
Ashley Cole – I should be writing a paragraph here but you blew it mate
Jack Wilshere – I will write this final section of this piece in May 2013 when you will join this illustrious band of my home grown Arsenal Legends when you become the first homegrown since Cashly to win the title. Make it so!
My apologies to Martyn Hayes, Niall Quinn, David Hillier and Stephen Hughes. As homegrown Gunners who have won titles I salute you but you did not make my top 10.
Until next time and thanks for reading.
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If you are regular readers of my blog you probably know 2 things for certain about me by now. One is that I am an eternal optimist and the other is that I believe in real scouting for the right players to fit OUR system. This does not necessarily mean buying the biggest priced young talent looking for a big money move to the Premiership.
Before I move on to the major element of this blog I would just like to use 2 major examples to demonstrate real homework being done by a club as against rash splashing of new found wealth. Let us consider two major cities and 2 huge clubs, Liverpool and Newcastle, and 3 major signings by each. Liverpool brought in 2 major high profile midfielders and one striker, Henderson, Downing and Carroll for a combined total of £80 million. Newcastle also signed 2 midfielders and a striker in Tiote, Cabaye and Ba, for a combined total of £8 million. I will not bore you with the comparative statistics as you all tweet them for amusement, but it is often the same supporters who laugh at the Liverpool failures that advocate a similar policy for Arsenal.
For me the decisions to be made by Wenger in June as he has promised us early activity will be dependent on a few key factors that he will only be able to consider between now and the end of the campaign. He has made a decision on Lucas Podolski and that would appear to be concluded business but other decisions are not so straight forward. Wenger has had all season to consider is attacking formation and in reality, with the exception of the African Cup a Nations his first choice front 3 of Theo, Gervinho and RVP have remained fit. In my mind Wenger has concluded 2 things. One is that he needs players flexible enough to play in the favoured 4,2,3,1 or in a 4,4,2 and as a result he has reached the conclusion, albeit a difficult one that Gervinho, unlike Walcott might not quite be genuine top class, hence the investment in the German, who performs regularly in a wide attacking role for his country but is equally relaxed and effective in a 2. For the record I personally would love to see the Ivorian come good and there were glimpses on Saturday against Villa and evidence in the programme notes that he too knows he needs to find a new gear.
However for me the other decisions and subsequent potential transfer dealings cannot be made yet by Wenger and the reason for this has been his inability to see how Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby might integrate in the present set up and crucially where position wise they will play. I would add a further serious complication which has to be clouding the boss’s thinking in a very positive way, and that is the sensational form of Alex Song.
So let me elaborate what I mean by looking at the potential in the midfield area. It is not as straight forward as 3 from 8, although that is headache enough for any manager. At present it is quite easy for Wenger because he has to select 3 from 4 and the form of Song, Arteta and Rosicky makes that easy, with Ramsey missing out. Next week we add Diaby to the melting pot and 3 weeks later Wilshere and arguably Coquelin.
So first we must look at Jack because whilst every Gooner will want him back in the team as soon as conceivable, but not every Gooner will agree in which position and who should miss out. Now we can discuss this in pubs, on blogs and on twitter but for Wenger this is a major dilemma as I believe this decision alone will be the main determining factor in influencing summer transfer activity big money or otherwise. So making this clear, it is not about whether in April and May and next season Jack will be first choice, but WHERE he will be first choice? This for me is what Wenger has to resolve first and foremost. Does he slot Wilshere in where he played last season as one of the 2 deeper midfielders, or does he play him where Fabregas dominated games last year and in previous seasons, where Ramsey and Rosicky are operating now? Of course this is also the position so many want occupied by a fantasy footballer.
For me if he decides to play Wilshere in the attacking midfield role and it works well investment in this area is unlikely. Knowing he has a resurgent Rosicky and also Diaby and Ramsey in reserve and investment on a Hazard or a Gotze seems unlikely or extravagant. Of course this is not even taking into account Oxlade-Chamberlain who Wenger has hinted he might see in that role.
However if Wenger decides that Wilshere lacks the pace or invention for the pivotal role, which I doubt, it presents differing dilemmas. We have to assume that if Wenger saw Arteta in the the CAM role he would have given it to him this season, so if Wilshere is given a deeper role one of Arteta or Song might lose out. Given the form of both, this would be a bold decision. With his recent excellence and his somewhat surprising creativity it is inconceivable to me that Alex Song will not play. He seems to have repressed his tendency for petulance and indiscipline and has matured into an all round midfielder. His performances of late have brought two major comparisons to mind for me. His around energy, combativeness and domination of the opposition remind me of the Michael Essien who arrived at Stamford Bridge, declaring himself the most complete midfielder in world football. We all scoffed but in the first 2 years he was simply immense for Chelsea. The second comparison will sit more comfortably with you all as it his ability to float a lofted pass, often with back spin behind the opposition back line, to find a team mate. This ability I last saw from Manu Petit between 1997 and 99. Some of you will know that even a few months back I had my doubts on Song but it was not the ability, more the rushes of blood causing inappropriate decisions. (The needless stamping at St James Park for example might have cost us the home points against Liverpool as Frimpong had to play.) Now I have no interest in signing M’Villa unless it is to play alongside Song, but I would see this as hugely harsh on Mikel Arteta, whose composure, experience, phenomenal ball retention has undoubtedly been the major factor in Song maturing.
The next factor to take into account which Wenger has not have the luxury of in 2011/12 until now is the enigma that is Abou Diaby. Before you all dismiss this as insignificant bear in mind how highly a fit Diaby is rated not only by Wenger but by the past and current national manger in France. If Diaby is fit he has usually been selected and in a hugely disappointing 2010 World Cup Finals for France, the Arsenal midfielder was one of probably only 2 or 3 to emerge with an enhanced reputation. In 2009/10 Diaby was a first choice player for Wenger featuring in 29 of our 38 league matches, weighing in with a respectable 6 goals and 3 assists, adding a further strike and 2 assists in Europe. What I would say is an indisputable fact is that if Diaby had been fit at the start of last season Wilshere would not have featured at the outset, or as often as he ultimately did. Even in a largely truncated campaign last term starting only 13 games he still scored 2 and turned provider on 3 occasions in the league. The reality is that Wenger has enormous faith in the tall, injury prone Frenchman and if fit he will certainly see him having a role to play next season. What is equally certain though is that role is not in one of the two deeper lying roles. Diaby despite his clumsy appearance is a very skillful technician, with fabulous close control and an eye for the unexpected. I would liken his deceptive effectiveness to that of Kanu. Rarely likely to be a starter week in week out but a game changer from the bench or a selection for certain tight matches such as European encounters. I pointed out on twitter that in their first six years at Arsenal RVP and Diaby have not dissimilar appearance and injury records. I asked if we should wait to see if Diaby comes good and all respondees bar one said yes.
So where does that leave us for the summer and next season? Well in my view Wilshere and Song will be the core of the midfield, but the third of the threesome, assuming our formation remains the same, is anyone’s guess. It will however be highly influenced by the return of Wilshere, and to a lesser degree Diaby. We all agree Jack will play but does Wenger see him as the Fabregas replacement now or will he utilize him in the role he occupied last year alongside Song. If Wenger has the faith in young Jack to give him the responsibility of the CAM role and he rises to the challenge, can we truly see Wenger investing heavily for that position? He obviously has renewed faith in Rosicky with good cause, has always had it in Diaby, believes in Ramsey and has Oxlade-Chamberlain who, for my money can be quite literally whatever he wants to be. In my view that leaves us with Wenger making one more major signing after Podolski and unless he does a total U turn on Diaby or Ramsey I cannot see this addition being in the midfield. In all this I have not mentioned Coquelin who I would love to see gain more game time stepping in for Song or Arteta next season.
A contentious subject I know and obviously keen to hear your views. For the record I think at present I would run with Song and Arteta just behind Jack and I hope we see that trio in April/May have a few games together.
Until next time and thanks for reading.
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Happy Sunday after another sweet victory and a clean sheet yesterday at the Emirates. Seven straight victories and 3rd place or better firmly in sight.
Delighted today to welcome back Austin Ellinor, better known to most of you as @Frimponged with a guest post on another huge Dutch talent we should be looking out for in 2012/13. Austin, like Kyle Embecilio is from the Netherlands so I asked him to research and write this piece for authenticity. I hope you enjoy it as I have..Thanks for reading, until next time @goonerdave66
What does Kyle Ebecilio have in common with Cesc Fabregas, Nuri Sahin, Tony Kroos and Wayne Rooney? They’ve all won the ‘Golden Player’ award in UEFA Under-17 Championships 2011. That prize is awarded to the best player of the tournament, and that player was Kyle Ebecilio. He was the top marksman of the tournament, notched the winner against England in the Semi-Final and scored a goal in the final against Germany. Kyle clearly stood out as the Netherlands won the tournament for the first time in their history.
Kyle joined Arsenal initially at the age of 16, in the summer of 2010. Just days after his seventeenth birthday, on 22 February, he signed his first professional contract for the Gunners. But where did it all start for Kyle?
Kyle Ebecilio was born on February 17, 1994 in Rotterdam, the city known for players like Van Bronckhorst and Van Persie. Along with his brother Lorenzo (player for Ajax) he used to dominate the streets of Rotterdam. And it didn’t take long before he was spotted by a scout. It was shortly after that Kyle made the first step in his career, when joined Feyenoord’s youth academy. His talent was obvious and the praise from his coaches high, as Kyle was a complete player who could master any position. After playing all over the pitch Kyle eventually ended up on the midfield. He became a defensive midfielder that dominated everyone.
However it was not only the coaches at Feyenoord that saw his talent, but so did scouts from foreign clubs. According to reports Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal were very keen on signing this wonder kid. Feyenoord were desperate to keep the young star, but their efforts were to no avail. Kyle joined Arsenal’s youth academy at the age of 16. He had a few problems when he joined Arsenal at first. But after taking English language courses and help from his friend Ozzy (Oguzhan Ozyakup), he has adapted to life in London well and a career of glory awaits. You could say the difference between Dutch football and English football is huge, but it’s really not. English football is more physical and Dutch football is more technical perhaps, but the philosophy at the Arsenal Academy under Liam Brady is heavily influenced by Dutch coaching techniques.
As I said, he won the ‘Golden Player’ award in 2011 for his performance at the UEFA Under-17 Championships. He was praised a lot afterwards and Kyle himself remembers the tournament fondly. Even though the youngster won a huge prize, he’s keeping his feet firmly on the ground:
“The Golden Player award was nice, especially when you see the quality of players who have won it before, but it was a team effort and us all lifting that trophy for our country made me the proudest. I learnt a lot from the tournament and I am hoping to get more goals for Arsenal too.”
He’s not only a star on the pitch, but he’s a star off the pitch as well.
“I am very conscious that I am representing Arsenal too even when I am away with Holland,” he reveals. “I have great pride in my club and people see that I have a much more professional attitude since I came to England – that is because of the way we are taught here. I get asked questions by the players about what it is like being at Arsenal and they are all very impressed when I tell them about our facilities, the training, and the general atmosphere at the Club.”
I do not doubt his love for Arsenal at all. Just by reading a few of his interviews you can see what a nice guy he is. I’m sure we’ll see much more of him in the future. He’s very happy with his first professional contract and it made him very proud.
“But I know that it does not mean that I have made it as a footballer. I know that I have to keep improving to get better and better.” -That’s the spirit!
Many like to compare him to Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, but he plays a lot like our current star, Alex Song too! Kyle is a strong and very technical player. He’s very good at defending, but he also has the skill to put someone in front of goal, like Song does. He also likes to go forward and attack. But why listen to me when Kyle has his own opinion about who he should be compared with:
“I like to compare myself to Alex Song. He plays on the same position as me and it technically very strong. Without wanting to put pressure on myself, I feel that my game is like his. I see him almost every day and I learn a lot from him. Sometimes I also ask him for advice. He’s my role model.”
Kyle Ebecilio is highly regarded as one of the most talented Dutch youngsters of his generation. I’d like to see him as a mix between Alex Song and Patrick Vieira. Yes, I’m getting my hopes up but I’m confident that we’ll see more of Kyle in the future. He turned 18 this year and he’ll probably make a few league appearances next season. I’m excited.
Kyle Ebecilio’s performance - UEFA Under-17 Championship final against Germany
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAr94GhtMYY [via @CWDComps]
Written by Austin Ellinor,
Follow me on twitter @Frimponged
I have been away most of this week and therefore have had no time to write since Monday’s rant so I must apologise in advance for a lack of originality today. I am not sure how many of you read Ray Parlour’s interview with Goal .com on Wednesday but it set me thinking about one of my first ever blogs which I wrote on July the 3rd last year. I wrote it when Nasri and Fabregas were still Arsenal players but the subject was RVP.
Goal.com caught up with ‘The Real Romford Pele’ before the Everton game:
“He is a wonderful player and as far as I am concerned. He is right up there with Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo as one of the best players in the world.”
“I wouldn’t go as far to say that I think he is the very best footballer on the planet but Robin van Persie isn’t that far behind Messi and Ronaldo. He has been magnificent this season.”
Parlour was also keen to point out van Persie’s influence as a captain:
“Robin has had an amazing season. He has taken Arsenal to another level this season not only with his goals but with his leadership as well. He has had a terrific impact as skipper.
“I looked at the Tottenham game during the warm-up and he got the players around him, talking to them and that confirmed to me that has been in a different class in terms of goal-scoring and in the art of captaincy.”
Ray goes on to explain what we all know, that convincing RVP to sign a new contract would be Wenger’s greatest Summer signing
“I would put a statue outside the Emirates right now alongside Herbert Chapman, Thierry Henry and Tony Adams’ statues and make him sign a new contract. Getting Robin to sign a new contract would be the biggest signing of the summer if he did put pen to paper - even if they do go out and strengthen their squad with top-quality players. It would be a major coup for the club and a real statement of intent from both parties.”
However the bit that made my recall my early blogging effort was this bit, when Razor compared RVP to the previous Dutch legend wearing the No 10.
“I had the privilege of playing with Dennis Bergkamp for many years and he never wanted to leave Arsenal,” the ex-midfielder continued. “I know Dennis won trophies while he was at Highbury but he was one of those players who grew with the club and I would like to think that Robin van Persie can do the same. I certainly hope that he stays put and commits his long-term future to the club. It will be a joint thing now between him and his family to decide what they think is for the best.”
Please read the while Parlour piece here http://tinyurl.com/6tb5mlc
I ran a little survey on twitter the other night asking how many of you actually believed that van Persie would score 27 goals this season and 70% of you admitted you would not have thought so, mostly as you thought he would not stay fit. The reason I asked was because of the blog which I posted last July and you can read the whole blog as it appeared on Gunnersphere back then. I hope you enjoy my early attempts at writing but it is more some of my hopes, predictions and challenges, which probably seemed like fantasy then that I hope strike a chord. As you will read I got it spot on with Nasri but even at my most opimistic I seriously underestimated what Robin might achieve……
Robin van Persie – the next Arsenal Legend (3rd July 2011)
I thought it would be welcome to read an uplifting tribute to a true Arsenal legend in the making who gives his heart and soul for our club and unlike others who wants to fulfil his destiny of winning club medals at his spiritual home. Like his fellow Dutch maestro, whose number 10 he took last season, Robin van Persie has every attribute to become a true legend for Arsenal and in world football.
In 2009 Wenger paid a glowing tribute to RVP and predicted what I believe we saw this past season.
“He can be the best passer in the League and the best goal scorer in the League,” said Wenger. “He is an intelligent player, he turns very quickly, the timing of his runs is fantastic and he has a short back lift.”
“He is the kind of player, with the type of game we play, who is vital because when you play the ball to his feet his first touch is always perfect and that allows others to join in. In the box he is clever and intelligent.”
All we have ever needed from RVP was a season where he played injury free for a prolonged period to consistently see what Wenger had always seen. That season was 2010/11 when RVP delivered for the gunners on every level repaying all the faith the manager, coaching staff and we fans has always had in him.
It is this man, along with Jack Wilshire who consistently endeavoured to drag us toward a trophy from Christmas onwards and not, I am sad to say Fabregas or Samir Nasri. Fabregas had he been fit and able to play unhindered would of course have delivered, but Nasri did very little in the second half of the season to justify the huge pay increase we hear he desires. We do not hear RVP publically demanding more money and parity with Fabregas. Indeed if he felt it was required I am fairly certain he would simply request a private meeting with Wenger and the Red tops would never hear of it. RVP has matured in recent years, perhaps due to a combination of fatherhood and both Wenger’s and successive national team manager s obvious total belief in him.
So whenever you pick up the papers or read the blogs hearing about those who may or may not wish to leave our great institution, just think again about those who publically tells us they wish to win medals, our way and with our club – Wilshire, Ramsey, Sagna, Vermaelen, Walcott and most of all Van Persie. And while you think about RVP and how we can build a team around him whether he leads the line as he did last year or if he supports another striker as his idol Bergkamp did with such distinction, just dwell on a few statistics and achievement from the great man in his last great season.
RVP netted eighteen league goals in just 25 appearances, only 3 short of Berbatov and Tevez who played 5 and 6 more games respectively. He scored 22 in just 33 outings in total and became the first player in Premier League history to score in 8 successive away matches and not satisfied with that he did it again on the last day of the season to make it 9. He scored 10 goals in January and February alone the most ever scored in the 2 months after Christmas in Premier League history. In addition to his amazing goal scoring form van Persie also found time to provide 8 league assists for his team mates and of course his equalizer against Barcelona was voted our goal of the season. Last and by no means least he is only the third player to score 18 goals from Jan 1st to the season end. Only our own Thierry Henry and Ronaldo have done this previously.
Before I conclude with a challenge to the great man let’s just consider where he already sits in amongst Arsenal greats. RVP has 95 goals for Arsenal, only 4 behind Magic Man Merson and 18th on our all time list. He is 28 and has perhaps 3 to 5 more years at Arsenal so 150 plus is easily achievable which would pace him 4th behind Henry, Wright and Bastin and I believe we should think of RVP in these terms. Is it inconceivable that he could overtake Ian Wright on 185? So here is my challenge for RVP to cement his place alongside our other Dutch Legend, Dennis Bergkamp, in the Arsenal Strikers Hall of Fame. The previous holder of the No 10 shirt finished his career 10th on the list with 121 career Arsenal goals and I hope that if RVP can stay fit in 2011/12 he can hits the 27 goals required to overtake the ‘Ice Man.’
So go on RVP join the centurions by the end of August and finish the season with a medal in hand and 10th on the all; time list just ahead of Dennis!
Well Robin has exceeded the targets I set him, with the exception of his goals bringing us a trophy, an nothing I have seen or heard suggests to me that Ray Paulour won’t get his wish. I am convinced that our skipper will extend his stay at the Emirates and that I may well need to revise my expectations from last summer and say ‘Look out Wighty’ Robin has his sghts set on at least 186.
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Just to let you know in advance that this is an angry piece and my arguments may not sit well with you all but please hear me out. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about how we might need to shuffle our pack this summer till comply with the 25 player and there is not a huge debate about which players we need to show the exit door to make way. The following week I wrote again about the madness of squad size, as it could easily rise to 33 with Under 21s added. Again most of you seemed to agree that the world had gone mad and we needed to get back to a more concentrated squad with a more obvious starting eleven or a core at least.
Before writing the piece on the squad size even tested opinion on certain aspects of my thought process and the answers suggested I was on the right lines. Okay so this leads me to ask several questions:
Why do the same fans who agreed we should build our team around Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain, a week later want us to sign Gotze, Hazard, or Belhanda?
Why are those that were ecstatic that our best player in 2012 so far, Tomas Rosicky had been given a new contract, so keen to sign his replacement in 3 months time?
Why are those who tweet consistently about just how good Koscielny is now buzzing because Vertongen wants to partner up with Vermaelen at Arsenal?
Why are those who have consistently suggested we need to sign established top flight internationals to blend with our exciting youth, now wanting us to sign a 19 year old German who has not yet forced a regular place for himself in the national team? Presumably to replace a 20 year Englishman who when fit is arguably the first name on the team sheet for club and country?
Why do those who defend Alex Song’s occasional disciplinary lapse, and argue he is so much more than a defensive midfielder and wax lyrical about just how good Coquelin could be, now seem desperate to sign M’Villa?
I could go on but I am sure you have got my drift by now. I just think we all get excited by the websites and tabloids and sometimes believe the hype about so called world class players who we may like or who may suggest they like the Arsenal. Can we just stick to the facts?
Eden Hazard is a mercenary as his quotes will tell you that but more importantly just how good is he? Well last season in the same team playing the same role for Lille our own Gervinho outscored and out assisted him. Add to this the obvious fact that despite all our best hopes, Gervinho has not pulled up any trees yet in England. That is not to say he won’t next year as it took the great Robert Pires a season to adjust from France to the Premiership. If we wish to challenge next year can we wait a year for Hazard? I certainly think not. However as there are many who still think he is the superstar we have been waiting for, I assume he is flying at the true top level, on the international stage? No actually, Belgium despite having Dries Mertens, Kompany, Fellani, Vermaelen Vertongen etc failed to qualify for the Euros and in 7 starts this season young Eden has been substituted 3 times and mustered one goal and one assist, against the mighty Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan respectively. So surely a player of this calibre must have made an impression in the Champions League? Well if you call 3 draws, 1 win and 2 defeats with a grand total of 1 assist an impression that can only be a bad impression.
Most of you who have read me for a while will know that I consider his international team mate Dries Mertens better value anyway. He scored 2 more on Sunday to take his total for PSV to 23 goals and 15 assists in 39 games in the Europa League, Eredivisie and Dutch Cup. Hazard has managed 13 goals and 10 assists in 38 for Lille and please don’t tell me the French League is so much stronger then the Dutch Eredivisie as I will not buy it.
I have to admit I do not know a huge amount about Younes Belhanda but some many of you guys seem to think we should sign this 22 year old Moroccan playmaker. Apparently he is ripping up Ligue 1 with Montpelier, just as Hazard is for Lille!! Best check this guy out then if we are to invest big bucks and demote 2 of Ramsey, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere. Wow yes I see it now in 2010/11 as a 21 year old he played 36 games for Montpelier and managed a huge 3 goals and 2 assists. Excuse my sarcasm but come on guys Theo was a year older at 22 last year and in 28 appearances in the league scored 9 and made 7 in a far tougher environment, and we are always on Walcott’s back for not doing enough. Belhanda has improved slightly this season and has 7 goals and 3 assists in 21 league appearances. However I’m afraid young Younes that young Theo has 5 goals and 8 assists already whilst still blowing hot and cold. Behanda’s current coach called him the new Robert Pires. Sorry but with stats like that more like the new Stewart Downing. Alex Song has more than doubled the goal making tally of this chap, from a deep role in a harder league!
I am not being entirely negative here but I am just not convinced that we are all not just jumping on band wagons without considering what we actually need and whether those we clamour to bring in are better than those we have. I just feel we have 2 probable world superstars in Alex and Jack and I feel bringing in big names of a similar age is foolhardy and pointless.
Before you all slit your wrists I can see the talent and potential of Mario Gotze and his stats are incredible. He like Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain I sense can progress to light up the world stage for years to come. He has mesmeric dribbling skills, superb strength, vision and an eye for a goal. Last season at just 18 he played 33 times for Dortmund helping them to the title making 11 goals and scoring 6. But be honest would you truly want Wenger to spend £35 million on a player who was overplayed at 18 and now like Jack Wilshere is injured, when we have 2 explosive young talents already at the Emirates? To win the EPL you need a blend of explosive young talent of course but it has to be blended with wise experienced guys who know how to win. Surely if they last 7 years of dismantling the Invincibles has taught us anything it is that. I just cannot see a midfield with 3 youngsters taking us back where we all wish to be.
So I am not against spending big this summer but for me it has to be on established winners of a pedigree proven over several years because right now the red half of North London has a phenomenal amount of young bright talent to nurture. So if the likes of Afobe, Aneke, Coquelin, Embecilio and Gnarby are to join Jack and Alex we need one or 2 more winners in the squad, not more exciting youngsters. Right now the signing of Podolski, which we hope is more than just a tabloid rumour, is exactly what this team requires. Podolski has a proven track record of goals and assists at the very top level. Here we are signing a player who can slot into a role to the left of a central striker, as we play now, or in a two should we change. Interestingly however Lucas Podolski is also living proof that being taken to a big club at a young age after an amazing breakthrough is not always the answer. He exploded on the scene with 12 goals in 30 appearances and excelled at the 2006 World Cup during which he turned 20. The ensuing big money moved to Bayern did not truly work out for club or player and set Podolski back a year or two.
Okay so we have established that I think we are blessed with young talent at the Emirates and in Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain I feel we have players who can surpass those we have been linked with and have discussed. I am not totally against bringing in new blood to challenge our established stars and to assist in the development of our youngsters but it should be proven pedigree and able to hit the ground running in August. I guess I have no real issue with Vertongen for experience and versatility but I am against £20 million plus for M’Villa when we have Arteta, Song and Coquelin all at the top of their games.
I do feel that Mikel Arteta is the perfect example of how proven experience and pedigree, particularly from the Premier League can truly represent better value that talented youth. I am not sure many would argue that Arteta was indeed able to steady our ship in September and has been a calming influence ever since. This being the case I will conclude by nominating another player who we might consider. If we are looking for a creative attacking player who can play behind a striker or wide I would take this player over Hazard in a flash. He would be an Arteta style signing able to do an impressive job in the here and now and for a few years whilst our young talent blossoms. He has 83 international caps and 25 international goals. He has over 170 games in the English Premier League with 45 goals. Last season he played 50 games for club and country and notched an impressive 23 goals and 5 assists. This year he already has bagged 12 and made 4 for his club in the Premier, starting all 29 games in this unforgiving league, including 6 against Newcastle and Liverpool, 2 of the meanest defences. In fact whist Hazard has failed to deliver in 7 matches for Belgium this guy has scored 6 in 12 this season for the United States of America. Yes folks offer me Hazard, Gotze and Belhanda I would say no to all at take Clint Dempsey and Podolski on June 1st.
I will sit back now and wait for the flack but I hope you enjoyed the read and let us at least wait until we see where Wenger chooses to play JW19 first.
Until next time and thanks for reading.
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Once again I am delighted to welcome a new guest blogger to ‘1nildown2oneup’ This particular guy has encouraged me as a writer since my early days at Gunnersphere.com and gave me the confidence to believe in my ability and that if I went on my own I would gain an audience. He has been proved correct and I thank him @yorkshiregunner for his support most Friday’s on twitter….
Hola fellow Gooners.
Today I would like to discuss Arsenal’s Goalkeepers and maybe look into the future and offer a glimpse into what I`d like to see happen.
Firstly I think every Arsenal Fan agrees that Wojiech Szczesny is now firmly established as Arsenal’s No1 Keeper. That this came about due to injuries to every goalie above him at the club is a somewhat moot point. To even contemplate the likes of Vito Mannone, Lukas Fabianski or Manuel Almunia were above him last year is ludicrous in the extreme.
Szczesny has now completed 62 games in Arsenals Goal with 71 Goals conceded and 24 Clean Sheets to his name. When you take out the 8 he conceded at Old Tafford in what is possibly the worst Arsenal PL team performance, it is a lot better stat wise. The Arsenal legend Bob Wilson who not only won a double as a Goalkeeper but also coached arguably Arsenal’s greatest Keeper David Seaman to two Doubles says this of Szczesny:
“He’s brilliant, he is built like Edwin van der Sar, he plays like him and he can be as good as him. Arsenal need to just keep playing him and let him grow into the position. He could well be Arsenal’s goalkeeper for the next 10 years.”
Let’s not forget he has very successful loan spell 2 seasons back at Brentford and there is a lovely quote from the then Bees manager Andy Scott
"His performances suggest that he would not be out of place in the Championship or even the Premier League. It has reached the stage where when he lets in a goal we wonder why he hasn’t saved it."
Where Szczesny has an advantage over the other 3 keepers in our squad is his great temperament, by which he simply doesn’t get fazed by any mistakes he may make. This trait is most important in what is arguably the most isolated position on the pitch. Has Szczesny for example got as good reflexes as Fabianski? Perhaps not. Krzysztof Dowhań, Legia Warsaw’s goalkeeping coach whom coached both at a young age thought Fabianski had the greatest reflexes of any keeper he worked with. When you consider that Dowhań has coached at one time or another the following that is some claim, Jerzy Dudek, Atur Boruk, Tomasz Kuszczak and Szczesnys` own international Goalkeeping father Maciej Szczęsny. But what Fabianski lacks is the presence and ability to block out a mistake and move onwards with an unshakable belief in his own ability.
I was present when Fabianski produced perhaps one of the greatest saves I have seen in the flesh during a CC game vs Wigan, I looked round at my mates and we all just nodded in agreement that Arsene had found another gem. That Fabianski hasn’t taken his chances is only down to one person and that is Fabianski himself. Wenger gave him ample opportunity to stake his claims when Almunia was injured/dropped after one too many poor performances. Fabianksi has ability and won us a game away at Wolves with saves and quick distribution at the end for Chamakh (!) to score at the death. But he also has made so many howlers his confidence has been shot and one can only presume being understudy to the young man who used to be his understudy does little to improve his state of mind. I was also there at Wigan away when he managed to lose us the game despite being well on top, he produced clangers of the lowest quality to gift Wigan 3pts and end Arsena’ls ever decreasing title challenge that day. So time for Fabianski to move on this summer I would say…
Another who will be moving on this summer is the hapless Almunia, a man who can in all honesty claim to be the luckiest bloke at the club for drawing such a wage for such a long time, Plucked from obscurity I doubt many had heard of Almunia outside his own household when he signed for undisclosed sum. Life is too short to list the blunders Almunia has made, one of which cost us a CL win when he was done near post through his legs in the Final. Almunia can make decent saves but the game is so much more than that at the highest level on which Arsenal FC strive to compete. Part of me thinks this summer’s move for Park was a cunning ploy to move Almunia and his pink poodle on. That there were no takers for him speaks volumes for his lack of ability…
Speaking of lack of goalkeeping ability it brings us neatly on to the Clown prince of our Three Goalkeeping Stooges Mr Vito Mannone. After joining Arsenal for £350,000 he was sent out on loan to Barnsley Making his debut in an away game to Preston North End, he came on as a substitute after their Keeper was sent off. He punched a cross onto Patrick Agyemang’s head and the ball bounced in for the winning goal to Preston. In his next match, starting in place of the suspended Colgan, against Luton Town, he dropped a cross late on and Ahmet Brković scored, soon after this Mannone was sent back with a “knee” injury. Mannone`s day in the sun came during a little run in the first team due to injuries to those above him, he produced a MOM performance against Fulham which when one looks back on you can see was fortunate to say the least to keep a clean sheet, one shot hit him square in the face! I ask you how many times have you seen a Keeper get hit in the face by a ball? Vito has had two spells and is currently in the middle of his second at Hull City (where it seems his luck is holding out as he has a number of clean sheets whilst there). Vito Mannone is my choice as the worst keeper to ever wear Arsenal FCs gloves. He would be better suited to dressing as the clown he is and driving an undersized fire-engine round the pitch throwing buckets of confetti over the crowd….so hopefully he leaves too this summer.
All Keepers have the ability to make incredible saves, it’s the ability to do it week in week out, ignore mistakes and keep concentration for 90 minutes that separates the decent shot stoppers from the World class goal custodians.
Inexplicably if all three were to leave this would save a monthly wage of around £140k!!!! Let’s bring in an experienced number 2 on say £30/40K a week and add the saving of £100k to the wages of Robin Van Persie I can’t imagine too many Gooners would argue that doesn’t make sense?
So, that leaves 2/3 spaces open in our squad for Goalkeepers, I have discussed this on forums and the best shout was for an experienced no2 of the likes of Bolton’s current number 2 Jussi Jääskeläinen who at 36 yrs old would jump at the chance of a move to Arsenal. Wenger has shown he is in the market for Goalkeeping experience in the past two summers having moves fail for Mark Shwarzer and Brad Friedal. (Kudos to @arselona on twitter for his Jääskeläinen shout.)
This leaves two spaces, in theory maybe just the one as not many clubs have to call on 3 keepers in a league season, to my knowledge we are still the only club to have been awarded medals to 3 keepers during a PL season 2001-2002—Seaman, Richard Wright and Stuart Taylor. (Wright and Taylor were both on 9 games for last game of season and the medal threshold was 10 games, Wenger picked Wright to start and brought on Taylor as sub to invoke the 10 game haul and the medal for his services that season)
The remaining space I would hope would go to another exceptional young Keeper we have at the club in Damian Martinez who made five appearances for Steve Bould’s Under-18 side, featured for the Reserves and played both games of Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup campaign last season and has recently been involved more with the Reserves. Martinez was also called up by his national side Argentina last summer for a tournament but alas never got any game time. Martinez would be an ideal no3 at this stage of his career who could perhaps get the occasional CC game and would benefit from working with first team squad day in day out.
I`m sure there will be movement this summer in the Keeper dept. Who goes / who stays / who comes in are all moot points due to the exceptional Wojiech Szczesny who has taken his first team chance with both hands and will surely injury permitting be Arsenal’s no1 for the foreseeable future. He`s only going to get better. Once his distribution is sorted he will be pushing for the best Keeper in the world tag in 3/4 years time….. in my opinion he`s that good, that he is also a complete lunatic and has an obvious love for the club and is gaining a reputation as a penalty killer are just other plus points.
Another point to mention in the Goalkeeping Dept is the rumour that Mad Jens is to return to do some coaching toward his UEFA Badges, ( along the lines of Keown’s time during our record breaking CL run to the Final) I see this as only a good thing, Jens was a World Class International Goalkeeper of the highest pedigree and although he was often perceived as a loner when playing and training ( he was rumoured to never speak to his rivals not just Almunia at Arsenal but also Oliver Kahn and the late Robert Enke for Germany) he is well liked, respected and intelligent enough to get his ideas across on the training ground. Plus it’s always good to bring back ex Gooners to the club who can have an influence and show the youngsters in the side what it means every time you pull on the famous Cannon.
Look me up on Twitter (@yorkshiregunner) to discuss the above and if you don’t agree I`ll attempt to change your mind
Thanks to Dave for giving me this opportunity to speak to his many followers, I hope I haven’t let him down…
Many of you will know that I have written previously about the proposed Arsenal pre-season tour of Nigeria and of the fanaticism of the club’s Nigerian fan base, estimated at 30 million people. However I think the subject is worth of revisiting as there have been developments since I wrote this piece for O Posts in January. http://www.o-posts.net/2012/01/boy-they-are-passionate-gooners-in.html
Since January’s tour confirmation there has been considerable unrest in Nigeria and some Arsenal stakeholders have voiced concerns at the risk to our players and officials. Parts of the country were hit be bomb blasts at the end of 2011 and in January of this year. So is safety an issue? Nigeria has endured spates of sectarian violence over the years, though some of the conflict stems from economic and political factors as well. The militant group, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for multiple bombings in the northern city of Kano in January that killed at least 185 people. Security must have been discussed at length however and Arsenal appears to still be happy with the assurances they have received that their safety will be guaranteed. Will that change if troubles escalate?’
The plans are that Arsenal matches during the tour would be played in Lagos and Abuja, which are relatively peaceful. Soldiers were deployed on the streets of Lagos in January to quell protests against the removal of petroleum subsidy. So where are we are now and how will it impact the team and the club’s preparation for the start of 2012/13.
Well what is currently certain is that since announcing the tour of Nigerian in principle in January the club have subsequently announced an additional tour in advance of our trip to Africa. On the 6th February Arsenal announced they were are in the latter stages of negotiations to take the squad to Seoul, Beijing and Hong Kong, where they hope to play glamour friendlies and enjoy promotional events. (We now have more detail for this.)
It was a departure from a quiet alpine Austrian break that had becomes Wenger’s traditional pre season routine last year, when he was asked to take his squad to the Far East for 8 days. It would appear that Kronke’s footprint is now firmly stamped and the team has to follow the commercial lead. Our future commercial strategy is firmly linked to the untapped markets where the passion for football, the Premiership and Arsenal is high. The ground work has been done by the club on the fan base in the Far East and Africa and now it is time to clinch the deal by presenting the team.
More details on the whistle stop tour of the Far East in due course but let us first explore what we do now know about Nigeria The Arsenal commercial team were again our there at the February inspecting sites and facilities. A press conference was held as were meetings with fans in Lagos on the 28th of February
Again the spokesperson was Arsenal Marketing Director, Angus Kinnear
"It’s been a lovely time here; the energy level is absolutely unbelievable. We are still inspecting potential facilities in different states and the fans are excited about the tour. Essentially, the connection with the fans has been amazing. Arsenal went to Asia last year and what we’ve seen on the ground here is encouraging like we’ve emphasised, there is a strong desire to connect with our fans in Africa and the first step starts in Nigeria."
Kinnear was there at the end of February and watched the North London derby with fanatical fans in Lagos. It was obvious that the passion shocked him although it won’t surprise our Nigerian readers who have felt like this ever since their idol Kanu arrived at Highbury in 1999.
"The celebration and mood of the fans was shocking." Kinnear said. "They celebrated that victory more than what I’ve ever experienced in London. It’s amazing and I’m touched. The passion is incredible"
What was very significant however is that this trip and press conference added a lot more details. Nigerian news sites are reporting it likely that the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos and National Stadium Abuja will be almost certainly being picked as venue for the matches to be played. It may well be decided to pick either the Calabar Stadium or Akwa Ibom Stadium in the South South region of Nigeria as well.
However, if all plans work out as discussed, Port-Harcourt based clubs, Dolphins FC and Shark are expected to play friendlies against our full first team squad. The sites also suggest we are looking to play ‘one of’ their national teams, so perhaps this means a state team. What is extremely interesting to me are the dates that have been proposed. We are set to play a match with a reserve team on or around the 23rd July but the first team are to play matches in between the 1st and 5th August. We must presume that the first team squad will fly direct to Nigeria from Hong Kong, where they are playing on the 29th July which was announced this week. This is added to what we already knew and that is we are to play a high profile ‘friendly’ with Manchester City in the Beijing Olympic stadium on the 27th.
The Olympics finish on the 12th of August, which is why we are not hosting the now traditional Emirates Cup curtain raiser at the Emirates and Premier League commences on the 18th. These dates in themselves are not of interest as the team will be safely home by the 7th of August, 11 days before the season commences The dates that I have not mentioned that are hugely significant are the 21st/22nd August and the 28/29th of August. These are the dates for the final play-off round for the Champions League at which the 4th placed side from the top seeded nation enter. These countries are German, Spain and England as I am sure you know. With me now?
By my reckoning therefore finishing 4th in the Premiership this season is not an option. It is not an option as the club has committed and planned for our first team squad to be in possibly South Korea and certainly China and Hong Kong, and then in Nigeria playing prestigious and lucrative friendlies in front of thousands of adoring passionate fans in Lagos and Abuja. Arsenals recent run of crucial and momentum building victories needs to carry us beyond our minor North London neighbours into a 3rd placed finish. The club has announced this at a press conference 2 days after the first team back home crushed Spurs. The deal is struck and our 30 million fans, representing over 20% of the 160 million strong population expects. They expect to see Van Persie, Wilshere, Walcott, Vermaelen and the rest of the boys in the flesh on the pitch in Lagos.
In my view we simply cannot afford to take our first team squad around 2 continents, playing a minimum of 6 high profile matches if we have to return and not only play 2 Premiership games and 2 vital Champions League qualifyers as well inside 10 days. For Arsenal to combine the necessary travel for lucrative commercial and future football talent reasons with a successful start to the 2012/13 campaign must avoid the final play off round and leave Spurs or Chelsea to squabble over the priveledge.
So third place it is boys! I expect, all the fans expect, the management and board expect, most of Hong Kong expects and 30 million Nigerians expect.
No pressure then…..
Until next time and thanks for reading.
As ‘1nildown2oneup’ becomes more established I do hope to have more guest bloggers from time to time. I hope soon to be moving to a more effective home site, offering me feeds to the main Arsenal news reels and you the ability to comment etc and this will give both myself and guests a stronger platform. Ronan Kilduff has been a staunch supporter of my work since launch on the 3rd Feb and I am delighted that @GoonerIrish, as many of you will know him has written a piece for the blog which I am delighted to present below.
The Arsenal back four have been picking themselves, of late. The return of Bacary Sagna, promptly followed by that of Kieran Gibbs, has give this Arsenal team shape, tempo and most importantly a successive run of victories. Without ignoring the improved form of the team as a whole, I believe that our recently rejuvenated defence has been the catalyst for the turn-around in our fortunes. The timing, of course, could not be better as we come in to the ‘business end’ of the season. Despite losing an experienced, measured pro. In Per Mertesacker, to a freak injury at the Stadium of Light, the heart of our defence has the power, mobility, intelligence and drive that can lead our defence to greater things. With Johan Djourou recently penning a new long-term deal, Per’s slow but progressing recovery from injury and Miquel waiting for chances to play, our situation at centre back seems to be what it is for the foreseeable future.
The dynamic at right-back is pretty clear. We have an experienced player, in Sagna with his eager understudy, Carl Jenkinson, chomping at the bit to get any opportunity to break into the team. As I see it, this is the perfect scenario.
The other side of our defence, however, isn’t so obvious. Kieran Gibbs is in his fifth professional season at Arsenal now. He joined when Wimbledon upped sticks for Milton Keynes in 2004 and signed a full-time contract in the summer of 2007. He will feel that, perhaps unlike Jenkinson, still in his first year at the club, he has served his apprenticeship at Arsenal and recent performances would certainly seem to back up his claim. Before his well documented injury problems Gibbs had debuted for England and was touted as the long term successor to Cashly Cole.Like Cole he began his youth career as a winger and this is in evidence in his attacking support of late but also occasionally in his positioning. Gibbs will now compete with Andre Santos for the right to start on the left side of Arsenal’s back line.
Santos was badly injured in an away Champions League tie against Olympiakos in a game that many felt Santos should never have played in. Arsenal, having already topped their group, could have given an opportunity for Ignasi Miquel to play but the manager opted for the experienced Santos. He underwent surgery to repair ligaments in his ankle and, after a lengthy lay off, was back in the squad to face Newcastle in the dramatic 2-1 victory at the Grove. His contribution may have been limited to helpfully handing coats to substitutes and general well wishing but his presence will have been felt by Gibbs.
Santos joined from Fenerbache in ‘the great deadline-day spree of 2011’. He notched up 10 goals in 52 appearances in for his previous employers having scored 9 in 39 games for Corinthians before then. He is a powerful full-back with an attacking nature and he was aleft midfilder before Corintians converted him into an attacking full back. He has been around the block and despite being labelled, in some quarters, as a “panic buy”, was a relatively safe bet for Arsene Wenger. (This blog could easily point the reader to articles linking Santos to Arsenal a year earlier so a last minute decision he was not.) Santos is a wily defender with a great sense of timing, when facing an attacking winger. The time spent defending against tricky Brazilians appears not to have been lost on Santos as his anticipation defending a one-on-one situation is as good as you’ll see. He will perhaps as we seen twice already chip in with a goal or two as his history suggests.
Having options is more than welcome and having two players of this calibre, fighting for the same position is positively mouth-watering. Both of whom I might add are fighting to regain positions in their respective international set ups. However, it does beg the question, who is Arsenal’s first choice left-back?
Until next time and thanks for reading and do follow Ronan @GoonerIrish today
The past few days I have been suggesting we all change profile pictures to ‘Rocky Rocastle’ until the 31st March as a mark of respect to an Arsenal Legend who died tragically young at the age of 34, on that date in 2001. Many readers have done so but many younger fans are not so aware of David Rocastle and what he meant to this great club, and those who watched him, in my case from the North Bank Highbury, in the later 1980s and early 90s.
Well Rocky was a legend for so may reasons and for me, as Brady was in the 70s, he was my Arsenal of the 80s. A home grown talent with the flair of a Brazilian, a shoulder drop that seemed to fool every full back again and again, vision, an accurate pass and the ability to score spectacular goals. He helped England qualify for the 1990 World Cup and the 1992 Euros and was taken to neither. Under appreciated by a foolish Graham Taylor perhaps but not by Graham or the Highbury faithful. Only sold in 1992 to Leeds due to recurring injuries, a day on which he openly wept, Rocky was Arsenal from 1986 to 1992 and integral to 2 League titles and in 1987 our first trophy for 7 years, the Littlewoods Cup.
In fact it was Rocky’s last minute winner in the Semi-final replay at White Hart lane that was the birth of his legendary status, and voted number 30 in the all time greatest Arsenal moment - Here is the text from Arsenal.com
The final whistle - and extra time - beckoned, but then came a moment to savour for Arsenal fans. A shot from Allinson rebounded into the path of David Rocastle. Rocky took the ball in his stride and calmly stroked Arsenal’s winner past Clemence. Arsenal had never been ahead in a tie which had stretched to five hours, and yet they won it in the final seconds.
This semi-final gave birth to the fanzine ‘1 nil down 2one up’ and repeat scoreline an come back in the final cemented the scoreline in Arsenal folklore and gave me the name for my blog
I could go on but others will do it so much better than I. However what I am going to do with the kind permission of David’s son Ryan, is to repost the interview we did back in December to mark the 125th Anniversary celebrations.
For those who have read before please read again and for those who missed it in December or who are less familiar with Rocky and what he means to so many Gooners please enjoy and begin to understand:
December 16th 2011…..
It has been an historical week for our beloved Arsenal. With statues of legends unveiled and a multitude of Gunner heroes honoured before the Everton match last Saturday, but for us middle aged Gooners it was also a time to remember the legend who could not be there.
David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle graced our team in the late eighties and early nineties, winning two titles and a League Cup under George Graham. Whenever the ill-informed recall this side as ‘boring’ and functional, I always remind them that we lost one game in the whole 1991 season, scoring a hatful of goals in the process and had in the team one of the most graceful and skilful midfielders of his era in Rocky.
I was fortunate enough to be able to conduct an online interview with David’s son Ryan, but before hand I had sent him this, a quote that Ryan did remember his dad sharing with him at a young age:
‘I ran home immediately to my wife in excitement and said, ‘I’ve seen the nearest thing to a Brazilian footballer you’ll ever see in our Academy…..and he’s from Lewisham!’ – David Dein on Rocky Rocastle.
I consider myself enormously honoured that Ryan, 20, agreed to this interview. After all I am just a passionate fan and his father was a hero to me when I was Ryan’s age. I hope you enjoy the questions and honest answers and take the opportunity to pay your respects to his father, a true home-grown Arsenal legend by leaving a tweet. Ryan will be checking my TL.
Here is how the interview went down:
Hi Ryan, I saw you pictured with Thierry Henry last week at the celebrations at the Emirates. Do you still get to most games and where do you sit?
Yeah that was just after he had been given his statute, I’ve met him a few times now and he’s such a good guy. I go to the Emirates as often as I can and sit just behind the away dugout. I really like the seat.
I watched your dad so many times and have so many wonderful memories of his skill and talent. What are you favourite memories of your father as a footballer?
As a player you have watched him many more times than me. I’m only 20 so did not really get to see him play too much. I remember when he was playing in Malaysia towards the end of his career, he scored a brilliant free kick, but from his time at Arsenal I’ve mostly seen video of youtube clips. From those clips the best bit of skill was the goal at Old Trafford.
For those who haven’t seen this incredible goal please view HERE.
Many of his team-mates were Pall bearers at the funeral. Are you and the family still in touch with Davis, Adams, Thomas, Smudger, Wright etc?
The ones who we are in most contact with are Smudge and Mickey (Michael Thomas). Smudge is my little sister’s godfather and we keep in contact with him a lot. I’m very good friends with his daughters so we see each other as often as we can. Mick comes round quite a bit as well and we are also very close to his family. Wrighty is Wrighty – you won’t hear from him in ages and then suddenly he just turns up at the door, or will send you a random message. I also bumped into Paul Davis and his son the other day at an Arsenal game funnily enough.
Your dad’s great quote, ‘Remember who you are and who you represent’ is so powerful. Do you think the modern day Arsenal player understands what it means to represent the Arsenal?
That quote always makes me laugh a little bit. It’s quite intellectual for a footballer isn’t it? I think maybe the quote is not as powerful as it used to be amongst players because they probably don’t know a lot about the history of the club and its tradition. However, I think quite a few of the present team are either Arsenal fans or have been at Arsenal for a while so maybe they understand it a bit more.
Were you blessed with your father’s talent to any degree and if so do you still play at all and in what position?
Unfortunately not really. I played for my local and school team and really enjoyed it but nothing more serious than that. I played left wing but am right footed so liked to cut in. A bit like Gervinho, but with better finishing lol!!
I was at the Spurs semi-final at Old Trafford six weeks after your dad’s tragic passing. The continuous chanting of Rocky moved me to tears, so it must have been amazing and so moving for you at only 9 to be the mascot at Cardiff for the final?
To be honest, that was the day I became a proper Arsenal fan. Before then I always followed them a bit because Dad did but was not that into it. Then being the mascot was an amazing experience, I still remember it very clear, I was sad that we lost but the day was incredible, one I’ll never forget no doubt.
I gather from some of your tweets that you are studying at present. What are you studying and what do you hope the future holds?
I study Journalism, but I’m not a bad person lol!! I’m not really sure if Journalism is for me or if I’ll go into it after Uni, but I wanted to get a degree in something and this interested me at the time. I would quite like to go into TV or entertainment or something like that and I guess journalism could lead me there. There’s also the option of being a football agent as I do have the contacts for it and has always interested me but we’ll see.
Your dad broke through in the late 1980′s with so many home-grown talents such as Thomas, Hayes, Merson, Quinn, Adams etc. Which of the current youngsters do you rate?
There are the obvious ones like Wilshere, Ramsey and Szczesny, but one who has really impressed me this season is Oxlade-Chamberlain. Not going to lie, I was very under whelmed with this signing in the summer because I didn’t feel we needed another youngster. However, I’m happy to say I was wrong. He’s going to be a huge talent and easy to see why we splashed all that money on him.
It must be special when you hear the whole crowd sing your dad’s name. He was one of us. Can you describe the emotions you feel?
I thought about this question for a while. It’s not really something I can describe. It’s a mixture of emotions I guess, but it’s great that the fans still remember him and sing his name.
We have been so close but so far when it comes to trophies in recent seasons. Do you believe we can win something in 2012?
For sure we can win something. This is my favourite Arsenal team for a long time, probably since 07/08. Thing is you can tell the players are happy to be playing for each other now and also happy to be playing for Arsenal which is important.
So many fans are desperate for big name signings. I’m not convinced we need to strengthen so much. Do you think we need to buy and if so who?
I think we definitely need another striker. I know we have probably the best striker in the world at the minute, but I think he needs a little help up there and there’s always the risk of an injury. I’ve heard David Villa is unhappy at Barca. I know it’s unlikely to happen, but for me that would be an amazing signing. He can also play on the wings if needed and in home games we could drop Robin’s position a little deeper to accommodate both. He would also be a marquee signing – Arsene I hope your reading! (shortly after answering, Ryan heard the news on David Villa’s leg break so has updated his request to Pato from Milan, which he says should still work)
Have you met Arsene Wenger apart from at your father’s funeral and if so what is he like to chat with?
I met him at the Blackburn game last season on the 10th anniversary of Dad’s death. I really like Arsene, he’s just a very nice man and asks you a lot of questions and also has a great sense of humour. I told him I was studying journalism and he gave me and evil look then said ‘could be worse you could be a referee’. Hahaha!!
Thanks so much for taking the time Ryan. Gooners will love this small insight into your life. Do you have a message for all our readers?
No problem. Yeah thanks for all the love that people show me and my family and hope the answers weren’t too long!
Interview conducted by David Seager in December 2011
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As a forty something gunner who has seen many peaks and troughs supporting our great institution, one of the things I still struggle to come to terms with is the size of squads in the modern game. The Arsenal I first watched and loved was the Terry Neill side of the mid to late 1970s and for every season with one or two exceptions I knew the team and who would play every week, and I could name the 11 players now for each of those years. I guess the reality is that I miss this and it still seems crazy that my blog before last was examining our summer options for the 25 players to be named for the EPL and suggesting 8 under 21s we might sneak in. Yes I wrote a blog which advocated how we could have a 1st team squad of 33. The world of football has gone mad and had dragged me with it.
I apologise up front that this piece is a series of musings which I hope you will find interesting, perhaps amusing and for younger fans probably surprising, but I do promise to draw it into a valid point for the here and now by the time I finish.
Let me start in the present and then go back to my youth. Here is a disturbing fact about our Premiership season to date. Arsenal have so far used 32 different players and we still have 11 games left. To me this is an astonishing and ridiculous fact plus we know that it will be at least 33 as Jack Wilshere will return.I am beginning to dislike the Number 33!
In 1979 I saw Arsenal lift the FA Cup. I knew which 11 players Terry Neil would select, we all did and most of us knew there was only one decision to make and that was which player would be named substitute and who would miss out. Would Terry opt for a defender in Steve Walford or a midfielder in Steve Gatting? Yes youngsters you are reading correctly you could only name one on the bench and Stevie Walford pictured celebrating the 89th minute winner got the nod. There was still the League, the League Cup, the FA Cup and Europe and there could only be 12 players in the match day squad. The first team squad had about 17 full time professionals in it.
By 1986/87 when George Graham lifted his first trophy there had been a revolution in the corridors of the FA and you were allowed 2 substitutes. In this season we reached the FA Cup Quarter Finals, won the League Cup and played a 42 game league season and Graham used only 19 players. We played 55 matches in all competitions and Tony Adams played in them all.
I989 after an 18 year wait, yes 18 years (not 7) Graham and his young Arsenal squad brought the Division 1 Winner’s trophy back to Highbury, after the epic finale at Anfield. Now due to a ban for English clubs in Europe we only played 45 matches in total but we won the league over the 38 games using just 17 players, with Lukic, Winterburn and Rocky ever present.
In 1991 we again one the title, losing just one game in the entire season, with Seaman, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn ever present, and we still only used 19 players in the entire campaign.
Three years into the Premiership in 1993/94 Managers were allowed to name 3 substitutes, but only 2 could be introduced. In reality the third and unused was a goalkeeper so this minor change should not on its own lead to increased squad size or usage.
In Wenger’s second year we lifted our first Premiership and 1997/98 also saw the introduction of the new rule allowing 5 players on the bench and this is the first year in which we see a real jump as Arsenal fielded 26 players in the league that season.
In Wenger’s superb campaigns of 2001/2 and the unbeaten season of 2003/4 he used 25 and 24 players respectively. In reality in the ‘Invincibles’ year we only truly used 22, as Bentley and Hoyte appeared once each.
So why and how have we moved from winning titles with 17 to 26 players to not winning any with 33?
In the later 1970s and 80s players were still playing in multiple competitions, with perhaps a few less matches in Europe than with the advent of the ECL, and the core of the team selected was the same week in week out. The pitches were worse, one assumes footwear technology/design was inferior, footballs were heavier and tackles were not outlawed as they are fast becoming today. So why are Arsenal using twice as many players as it took George Grahams 1989 side to win the old 1st Division? Readers have asked me to look at why Arsenal of the past few seasons seem to be so rife with injuries but in reality I do not feel qualified to do this as I am not armed with the facts or indeed the knowledge. But I do know that in Wenger‘s earlier triumphs that we all knew the strongest team and the core players played virtually all the key games. For example in 2002 we won the double and Patrick Vieira played 54 games for Arsenal and several for France. In 2004 Kolo Toure played 55 matches as well as fitting in the African Cup of Nations.
So what I will concentrate on his how we use the squad system in relation to the heirs apparent to the Premiership Crown. Now none of us like Man City or Mancini, less so after his ‘supposed’ RVP comments this week. In truth we all hoped and probably all believed as I did, that he could not build a team just by throwing the money and he would never keep so many top players happy. However I do know exactly what Mancini’s first 11 is, his go to side, and he plays it far more then Wenger has or has been able to do so at Arsenal. Interestingly Man City despite everyone laughing at how they might keep a squad happy have only played 24 players in the Premiership and 6 of them have played 3 times or less. So in reality City have topped the league from the start, pretty much and have utilised a settled squad of 18 or so professionals. Now it is not the Arsenal way as it will not allow any of the famed City Youth academy to break through but it does work.
Mancini will pretty much retain the spine of his side so Hart, Kompany, Lescott, Barry, Toure, Silva and Aguero will play virtually every game. In slighty less core position where is comfortable with rotation Mancini will rotate based on the opponents and their strengths. The best example of this is that Clichy and Richards are his go to full backs but Zabeleta and Kolarov have started 10 and 8 league games as well. Similarly Silva and Aguero will always start and the one remaining place will be taken generally by Milner, Nasri or occasionally Johnson.
So there you have it but what I am I saying? Well a big squad is not necessarily a strength but retaining a core/spine of a side is. We have been desperately unlucky with injuries but history tells us that top athletes in their prime can easily play 50 plus games a year. At the start of the season many sceptics said Arteta was a risk due to his past misfortune with injuries. The same people said how could we possibly build an attack centred round a player who will only play 30 games. Let alone make that player the skipper. Well Robin van Persie has played in every league game to date and in total since July has played in 41 games for club and country. All things being equal he may play in over 55 games by the end of the Euros. Have to say chaps he is not looking tired to me. Mikel Arteta for this season was not a panic but an exceptionally shrewd buy by Wenger, He has featured in all but 3 of our league fixtures and his misfortune to be playing in a golden era of Spanish football is to our advantage. We have an international quality midfielder who at 30 can rest in international breaks.
So if our two eldest players can play 40 to 50 games a season there is no reason why our other mature professionals cannot do the same with a fair wind. This being the case we have to play our core now and in every game until the end of the season, which means for me Vermaelen, Kosielny, Sagna, Song, Arteta and Van Persie. By all means rotate around the edges at left back if you must and on the flanks, perhaps even behind RVP but retain the backbone of quality and experience.
This will make it interesting for next season as I do believe when fully fit Wenger will know his first choice 11. He has a go to team last season from beating Chelsea onwards and he will do again, which I feel may disappoint those of you wanting more marquee signings. Because if he retains the current shape and we start the season will a fully fit squad after the Euros I can name his core here and now – Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Wilshere, Song, Podolski and RVP. So if I am right and he has 8 virtually guaranteed starters, perhaps 9 if we include Oxlade-Chamberlain, how can he seriously hope to keep perhaps 22 other players in a squad content? Of course he can rotate Santos and Gibbs and even rest Sagna for Jenko as Mancini does with his fullbacks. But can he keep Theo, Gervinho, Ox and Ryo happy in the wide positions assuming they are behind Podolski? If Song and Wilshere are the first names on the team sheet can he juggle Ramsey, Arteta, Coquelin, Diaby, Frimpong or even Oxlade -Chamberlain? Even if he moved to 442 it will be the same 8 names down on the team sheet.
Sorry more questions than answers but in some ways it makes you pine for the simple days of giving out shirts 1 to 11 on match day and then deciding from two or three who would be number 12 on that day.
Until next time and thanks for reading.