Good day, Gooners! Last night, was a complete polar opposite to what we witnessed on Wednesday night. The remaining two English teams in the Europa League, Manchester City and Manchester United, put in shambolic displays, more like disinterested performances.
I am taking nothing away from Athletic Bilbao, who over the two legs outran, outmuscled and outfought their more illustrious opponents, but just the way the Manchester clubs have treated the competition, as an uneccesary evil, means it is time for UEFA to rethink the structure of the Europa League. Teams that fall out of the Champions League, after the group stages get into the Europa League, be it Viktoria Plzen, or be it Barcelona. Of course, for clubs like Trabzonspor, or even Valencia, the competition provides an alternate platform to compete for European honours, but clubs like Manchester United treat it like a ‘disgrace to be playing there’.
Of course, it may be the poorer cousin of the far more glitzy and entertaining Champions League, but clubs need to treat every competition with respect, because they have ended up there on merit. It is time for Michel Platini to rethink about the Europa League.
Regarding the game, Bilbao showed superior desire, throughout. Players like the young Iker Muniain, and the goal machine Fernando Llorente, bought through the Bilbao youth ranks, are among the most coveted players in Europe right now. Llorente’s volley was a beauty, and Rooney’s consolation was great. Manchester City, meanwhile, were 2-0 down in no time. Of course, they did fight back to win 3-2 and almost won in at the death, through Joe Hart of all people, but they were eventually knocked out.
News, closer to our hearts, then. Former players Sol Campbell and Perry Groves, both saluted the spirit of the Arsenal team. In the lowest of dumps, after the 4-0 mauling in Milan, and a 2-0 Cup exit at the Stadium of Darkness, left the Gunners reeling, but since then they have responded admirably, against Sp*rs, Liverpool, AC Milan and Newcastle United.
I have been impressed with their spirit. They are the first team in Premier League history to come back in four games to win, and that shows the spirit is there,The resilience is back after the disappointing results against AC Milan [in the first leg] and Sunderland. They are playing the Arsenal way and they have that bit of belief.The target right now is to finish in front of Spurs. If you had said that three or four weeks ago, when they were 10 points behind them, it looked unlikely. Now I think it is very likely if you look at our fixtures.This group needs to win a trophy and that gives you even more belief. In the team I was privileged to be part of in 1987, Arsenal hadn’t won a trophy for eight years.We won the Littlewoods Cup and that instilled belief in the players, the fans and the whole Club that we could win trophies, so that is the next step.
Robin van Persie gives everyone confidence with his goals,Tomas Rosicky seems to have that hunger and desire. When we were two down against Spurs it was him who dragged the team up by its bootstraps and drove them forward.Wojciech Szczesny in goal has stature and a physical presence, and for someone so young and learning his trade, he is well on his way to becoming a world-class keeper. You can tell that he instills confidence in the defence.Laurent Koscielny has been one of our most improved players. He has been excellent at bringing the ball out from the back, and that is Arsène’s way.
The lads have shown a lot of spirit. You have to get a bit of the rub of the green, but that tends to come when you start being bolder on the pitch,Gamble on your skill, gamble in the box, gamble in thinking, ‘I am going to try this’. Start gambling your talent, basically. The more you bust a gut to win, the more you are going to see the crowd feed off that.You make your own luck, and against Newcastle there was a little deflection for the winning goal and the ball came to Vermaelen. But he was there because he busted a gut to get into the box.Sometimes it is not about the loss, it is how you lose and that is the same with winning. Winning in the last minute will give the lads confidence,Robin van Persie is flying and banging in goals left, right and centre. Everyone is starting to gel and realising what it means to play for Arsenal.That level of confidence and class is what they should be aiming for all the time. Sure, sometimes you won’t reach that level but you have to work out how to grind out a result, or shut the game down. That is a learning curve.Hard graft and talent go hand in hand. There are not many top players around the world who don’t work on their skill,Being responsible on and off the field is crucial. Everyone likes to have a great time but it is about realising ‘I want to win the league or the cup, so I have to knuckle down here’.You have to make sure you don’t waste your career and actually work hard and be a part of history.
Sol Campbell also spoke about Thierry Henry’s short second stint at the club.
I spoke to him beforehand and he told me the Club were thinking about bringing him back,I had lunch with him and told him to go for it. I said, ‘As long as people know you are coming back and helping out’. But he did more than help out really.He has shown great mental ability to come back and play so well. When he was called upon, he did his best – above and beyond really. It was fantastic.
Amidst all the high spirits, there is one player who is still having a hard time dealing with a low point in his career. Gervinho admitted that he needs to get over his penalty miss in the shootout in the African Cup of Nations Final, against Zambia.
It was hard, it’s very difficult getting to the final and then losing on penalties,It was a disappointment with the penalty, as the team suffered, and in hindsight it was one of the toughest moments of my career. But I’ve had lots of other hard times. Missing out on a big title was hard, but I’ve had other setbacks in my career and come through them.If you’d have told us at the start of the tournament that we’d be there in the final at the end, we would have taken it, but at the end of the day that’s football. There are always winners and losers, but being with the Ivory Coast, you pick up so much, it’s a great experience, even though it was difficult for us.
We had our big disappointment in the final of course, but we’ll try to make up for it next year, that’s our big motivation. I think that every time we take part in the tournament there is a great desire and determination to win it and we can use our disappointment from this year to try and do better in 2013.We’ll keep hoping and hoping and believing that one day, we’ll win this tournament. We played well and we’ll keep working towards that.
In my opinion, African football has been improving every year,I think that it’s already got to a very good level with all the teams and good players of a very good quality. African football is coming up to a good level, even if we saw to our cost with the performance of Zambia in the tournament, but this competition will make it easier all [African footballers] to progress and we should all be happy with that.
The Ivorian made his return in the 2-0 loss against Sunderland in the FA Cup, and has since featured as a substitute in most of the games. His place has been taken by the impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Gervinho did miss a sitter against Newcastle, and hasn’t looked sharp enough, but Arsenal fans will be hoping he returns to his best soon.
A little injury update then, from Le Prof, Arsene Wenger.
Jack’s scan was positive. There is no problem, it is normal evolution and he is continuing his progression. It’s too early to fix a date though, we go day by day with him.
I believe Per will be out for the rest of the season,Basically there are only six weeks to go [this season] so I don’t think he’ll be sharp enough to come back and play. He would need to train and get back to full fitness.
The return of Jack Wilshere, even for the last 5-6 games will be a huge boost for Arsenal, who have been without a bus of players throughout the season. Abou Diaby, will feature for the Reserves, soon, as he attempts to overcome his long term injury problems. Francis Coquelin is still a few weeks away. Andre Santos, meanwhile played 60 minutes for the Reserves against West Brom in a 3-0 win. He will be available for selection for the trip to Everton, and will provide more options at the back.
“I am very happy to be playing again because it has been a long time,” he said. “I feel good and I hope to be able to play next week at Everton.It has been a difficult time because my ankle was in pain and I didn’t feel good, but now it feels good again and I’m very happy to be back.I’m really pleased the team have been doing so well. The displays have been strong, the spirit is good and we have 10 games left so we must finish well.
In other news, it was revealed by Arsenal’s communication director Mark Gonnella, that the youngster’s at the club will be trained in handling their Facebook and Twitter accounts more maturely.
From day one when they start wearing the Arsenal badge they become people that everybody is interested to hear from. Whether they’re playing for the first team or part of the Academy, suddenly their views are of interest. Thousands of people will follow them [on Twitter, not in person] and react to what they are saying, so they need to learn very early.If you say something on Twitter you’re not just talking to a small group of friends or people who are very close to you, you’re actually talking to thousands and probably millions of people.There can sometimes be problems, while sometimes there can be a great story and it’s all good. What we’re here to do is make sure they get it right more than they get it wrong.
Youth coach and legend Steve Bould, too shared his views on social media.
We were quite lucky, we never had any of this Twitter and Facebook and constant media pressure. It’s tough for them, they have to learn early that things they do and say in the public eye.They grow up. They’ve got old heads on young bodies and so far we’ve not had too much of a problem. Certainly when they get to the fringe of the first team that’s when it really matters because the whole world wants to know what they’re doing. Any little snippet that they find can be used, so they need to be careful.
I think it’s a fabulous opportunity, something as I’ve ever said, we never had to deal with. When I first faced a camera I didn’t have a clue what to do. These kids have got it all early, but everything is set-up for them to be professional on and off the pitch.
Arsenal players have been in much of Twitter’s news as of late. Wojciech Szczesny left Twitter, recently, saying he needs to focus on his career more. Good move, that. But, Emmanuel Frimpong got involved in a verbal kerfuffle with Piers Morgan, who did deserve a bit of a hard talk, after all his negative comments about Arsenal. Jack Wilshere, meanwhile, is one player, who is constantly tweeting. Be it, him having a beer, or taking a stroll down the local park, or even answering nature’s call, he always keeps his followers updated. Probably an overdose. He even claimed once he would prefer winning the World Cup with England rather than the Champions League with Arsenal, and also made it public of his desire to see Chelsea qualify to the next stage of the Champions League, both of which have angered some Arsenal fans, to some extent.
That’s today’s wrap then.
Jai Arsenal 🙂