RSS

Author Archives: supreetkini

About supreetkini

Test

Merci Arsène

August 15, 2004. A public holiday in India on lieu of the country’s 67th Independence Day, and the first time I watched an Arsenal game. Let’s be honest, I was a glory hunter, wasn’t I? Looking back to the time, I was in school, 9th grade to be precise, pretty impressionable and knew there were only two proper football teams in England – Arsenal and Manchester United, going by what the rest of the kids watched anyway. I had a soft spot for the French, given they had won the 1998 World Cup, and growing in a football-mad nation like Oman where French jerseys of Trezeguet and Zidane were the rage of the day, the choice for me was on the platter.

And Arsenal did not disappoint that day. They trounced Everton 4-1 at Goodison. I barely knew any of the players wearing red and white that evening, but Thierry Henry was running the show. And, so began my tryst with the club. It’s been nearly 14 years since that day and I’ve watched up over ~500 Arsenal games. All of them managed by one man, Arsene Wenger.

October 24, 2004. I developed a deep hatred for all things Manchester United, something I retain to this day. We lost both our league games to them that season, including the infamous Pizzagate, in what was to be the 50th game of our unbeaten run. I can still vividly remember the day, in the lead-up to the game, Arsenal had racked up some easy wins, 3-1 against Villa at home, 4-0 against Charlton with the Henry backheel and easy-peasy wins at Norwich and Fulham. For the first time, I could feel butterflies in my stomach over a game of football. We lost that night, 2-0 in a game where United kicked Jose Antonio Reyes out of the park even as a gutless Mike Riley ensured decision after decision went against us.

These are games I remembered watching. My life had slowly started revolving around the club, and I wasn’t even consciously realising it. I begged my sister to get me an Arsenal shirt, which she duly did, a blue one (a fake, but nonetheless). My desktop wallpaper was the Arsenal squad and the glistening Premier League trophy sitting in front of a wide-smiled Arsene Wenger. I would tune in to watch late night games, much to the vexation of my mother who couldn’t, or rather refused to understand my new-found obsession. I was still trying to figure out the different competitions Arsenal were competing in – the Champions League, the FA Cup and all of these were resulting in more couching in front of the idiot box. But, by then, I was hooked. I knew this was the team I wanted to support. I was born for this, perhaps? To support the mighty Arsenal.

May 21, 2005. We marched into the FA Cup final, by easily brushing aside Blackburn, courtesy two van Persie strikes. I can remember my first Cup Final day. It might not sound as authentic and mystical as stories of actual stadium-goers, but there I was, glued to my little BPL TV as we were taken apart by Manchester United over the course of 90 minutes. Several times, we were just hanging by a loose thread. Fredrik Ljungberg, on one occasion made a goal-line clearance from a van Nistelrooy header and barely knew about it. We held on with our depleted team and I screamed when Jens Lehmann stopped the penalty from Paul Scholes. Patrick Vieira plonked home the winner, and looking back who knew that this would be the start of a long barren run?

The following season, Thierry Henry was running riot, scoring 33 goals in all competitions, including 27 in the league. There were magical nights in Europe – 1-0 away win at Real Madrid with that scintillating Henry goal and the 0-0 home draw that followed where Lehmann was outstanding; 2-0 home win against Juventus when Cesc Fabregas stole the show with Patrick Vieira in the opposition, 0-0 away at Delle Alpi; the final European and floodlit game at Highbury where Kolo Toure of all poked home the winner against Villarreal, and the nerve wracking away leg at El Madrigal where a last minute Riquelme penalty was saved by Lehmann. And, at the end that outpouring of emotion when Pat Rice hugged Wenger. These are memories that just last!

Alas, we wouldn’t walk into our shiny new home as European champions as rain and tears poured on an emotional night in Paris when Barcelona required 77 minutes and some Henrik Larsson brilliance to break the deadlock against our 10 men.

By then, the footballing landscape was starting to change. Arsenal had finished second to Chelsea, who now under Jose Mourinho, were the glamour boys of the Premier League with their lineup of stars. Arsenal, on the other hand had to quickly decimate the Invincibles, as the implications of the £390 million move from our spiritual home to our shiny new stadium loomed large. After Vieira’s departure in 2005, 2006 saw the departures of Robert Pires to Villarreal, Sol Campbell and Lauren to Portsmouth, Ashley Cole to Chelsea, Jose Antonio Reyes to Real Madrid while Dennis Bergkamp called it a day on his career.

We had a new young squad, and while hugely talented, it was inevitable that they would struggle in new environs at such a precocious age. Youngsters like Gael Clichy, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, Denilson and the diamond of Arsene’s eye, Cesc Fabregas were all blooded in the first team. We won only half our league games that season, and yet finished 4th and Thierry Henry, the most magnificent Invincible who had extended his contract at the start of the season and Fredrik Ljungberg would leave in 2007. Within 3 years, Arsenal’s best squad in 119 years of existence was reduced to Jens Lehmann, Kolo Toure and Gilberto Silva, as Manchester United won their first title in 4 seasons, after 2 consecutive Chelsea wins.

Wenger, according to reports, had multiple offers on his table from the biggest clubs in the world, but he stuck to Arsenal, helping them rebuild in financially difficult years. With no sugar daddy and a huge stadium debt to take care of, Arsenal began the 2007-2008 season at a canter, playing some beautiful football orchestrated by a young Fabregas, supported ably by Flamini. By February, the club was in pole position, 5 points clear at the top with 12 games remaining, and had just drawn star-studded AC Milan 0-0 in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out. Then, disaster struck as Eduardo had his leg snapped in two by Martin Taylor on a gloomy afternoon in Birmingham. William Gallas staged a centre circle cryout, and t all went downhill from there. Arsenal never recovered, and the league challenge came crumbling down, ending with a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford to eventual champions Manchester United, who by then had successfully rebuilt their squad. A 2-0 win on a famous night in Milan bore no fruit, as we succumbed to a calamitous quarter-final 4-2 loss in Liverpool.

To be honest, these were hard times. Jens Lehmann, who barely played that season and Gilberto, both left Arsenal and Kolo Toure would leave next season, officially ending the Invincibles era. It was too soon and too quick for our liking. The next two seasons saw us finished 4th and 3rd respectively, even as we recouped £53 million from the sales of Alexander Hleb to Barcelona and Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to Manchester City.

A clear marker of how much the Gunners had fallen was on display in the Champions League semi-final, as Cristiano Ronaldo starred in a 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium to send United into their second successive Champions League final in 2009, 4-1 on aggregate, where they would lose to Barcelona. They had, however, won a hat-trick of league titles by then. The very weird 2009-2010 season saw a young Aaron Ramsey see his leg snapped in two at Stoke, as Arsenal title challenge again crumpled in the business end of the season with defeats to Spurs and Wigan. The Champions League saw a chastening 4-1 loss to a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona.

The fan base had slowly started to crack, and it seems like the manager had lost his golden touch. Murmurs of discontent were wafting around the Emirates. Since David Dein’s departure in 2007 when he sold his majority stake to Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov, Arsene Wenger’s negotiating stock in Europe had fallen. Wenger was shackled in terms of finances, given the club’s position and by 2011, American billionaire Stan Kroenke, notorious for moving the NFL side St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles was the majority shareholder.

He was, for his part, the polar opposite of the other billionaire owners of mega-rich Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City, owned by Roman Abrahamovic and an Emirati conglomerate led by Khaldoon el Mubarak respectively. Aloof from most of the club’s day-to-day functioning, he kept himself away from games, while spending his days in his luxury ranch in Texas, occasionally showing up for shareholders meetings, while the dignified Arsene Wenger was made to walk the plank and answer the toughest questions in front of a packed house and media.

The 2010-2011 season ended in an anti-climax. A mid-season slump saw Arsenal’s title chances fade away. The club had reached it’s first final in 5 years, as they marched into Wembley against Birmingham City with a strong starting 11. Tragedy struck in the 89th minute when miscommunication between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny allowed Obafemi Martins to plod home the winner as Arsenal’s players slumped to the turf. 10 days later, an ominous harsh red card to Robin van Persie at the Camp Nou signalled a 4-3 aggregate loss. To Barcelona, again.

The 2011 transfer window was dramatic in the least. Cesc Fabregas had become one of the world’s most desired midfielders with his work ethic, and eye for a killer pass, and had captained the Gunners for 4 full seasons now. But, his Barcelona DNA came to bite and he departed for £35 million. That must’ve felt like a dagger through Arsene’s heart. Towards the close of the transfer window, Samir Nasri threw a hissy fit and forced his way to a £25 million move to Manchester City, by then in the midst of building their own team of superstars.

August 28, 2011. 6 months on from a famous European night when Arsenal beat Barcelona at their own brand of football in a pulsating 2-1 win, the Gunners were destroyed 8-2 at Old Trafford of all places. We could have conceded 15 goals that evening, we were that atrocious, as Wayne Rooney and co. tore our young side with multiple players in their debut season apart. It was just a horrible sinking feeling watching the game, compounded by the fact I watched it 4 United fans. I even had nightmares of us getting relegated. That called for a last minute trolley dash as the manager bought in experienced players like Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun to steady a rocking ship.

Project Youth had failed, and the club’s fanbase by now, had divided itself. The Football Financial Fairplay, bought in by Michel Platini, by then had failed spectacularly, as clubs with the most money bags were wielding their power in the transfer market. Arsene Wenger, on the other hand had to keep his hands tied and manage finances astutely. This required him to sell off a few stars every summer, while bringing in cheaper alternatives or promoting younger players, which led to the common narrative of a mentally weak Arsenal.

It seemed like the same script was repeating itself every season. The Gunners’ would begin every season strongly, and come November would slowly start to crumble, get knocked out of Europe by a top side, and then rally to finish 4th. Words like ‘trophyless’ and a ‘lack of mental strength’ became synonymous with the club, even as the manager tried to reassure it’s fans that every bunch of players he worked with was mentally stronger than the list.

Thierry Henry returned to the club in a chequered 2011-2012 season for a short stint, even as Robin van Persie finally had an injury-free season scoring 37 goals in the process. He went on to win the PFA Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. A 3rd place finish followed thanks to a 3-2 win at West Brom on final day again, despite the disastrous start to the season. A defining image of the season was Wenger hugging Pat Rice in anguish as Kieran Gibbs made a last-ditch tackle in the dying minutes of the season, as it seemed West Brom were bound to score.

In a literal submission of sorts, Arsenal sold their star player van Persie to Manchester United for what most fans considered a paltry sum of £24 million. He would go on to win the league next season, scoring 26 goals in the league, as Arsene Wenger’s arch nemesis at the turn of the millenium, Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day on his managerial career.

The two men were at loggerheads right since 1996, when Arsene Wenger first arrived on English shores. As Arsene Wenger built 3 title-winning teams to counter Alex Ferguson’s all conquering Red Devils, the two men enjoyed some famous battles, which included flying tackles, two club captains who equally hated each other, famous goals, fistfights, tunnel spats and even flying slices of mozarella laden pizza. By 2009, when Ferguson realised Arsenal weren’t a threat anymore, given their financial status, the relationship between the two became friendly and amicable.

The sale of Robin van Persie caused a huge uproar amongst the Arsenal faithful, including me. It was unbelievable that we had sold someone who was literally our best player the previous season to United of all clubs, a club I had grown to hate given the fierce rivalry in the noughties. Calls to sack the manager were ringing out loud by then. To be bloody honest, I thought it was time for the great man to call it quits. The signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla should have ushered a new era as Wenger again got down to the task of rebuilding the squad.

It was another strange season though. We had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers at home, they were eventually relegated. We played an incredible game of football at The Madejski stadium, when we went 4-0 down to Reading, before mounting the most incredible of comebacks to win 7-5 in extra time in the League Cup. And then, we suffered a humiliating exit on a cold December night to League 2 strugglers Bradford City, despite the manager sporting a strong squad. The Gunners limped to 4th, following a narrow 1-0 final day win at St. James Park and despite a famous 2-0 away win at Bayern Munich, the Gunners were dumped out on away goals. By then, the club had finished 8 seasons without a trophy. The club, it’s fans and the manager were on tenterhooks.

2013 was a big year for me, personally. I was not only moving away from my hometown to pursue my Masters, I had also met the love of my life. On the Arsenal front, there were big changes too. That summer, we were nearing the end of their current kit sponsorship with Nike, and had signed a much more improved deal with Puma. The undervalued sponsorship deal with Emirates too was re-negotiated and for a while it seemed like the shackles had been broken. New revenue streams were pouring in and Arsenal had also signed their first superstars in years, when in the wee hours (for me), we put to paper a £42.5 million deal for Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.

There was some renewed optimism. Could this have been a sign of changing times, and much more freedom in the transfer market for the manager? The league season was the same-old, same-old with the club securing another 4th placed finish they were so synonymous with, and ridiculed for, for liking it to a trophy. There were the fair share of thrashings too, 6-3 at the Etihad, 5-1 at Anfield and a shameful 6-0 at Stamford Bridge on the occasion of the managers 1000th game in charge.

What kept the fans going was the run in the FA Cup. The Gunners were lucky enough to have gotten to play all their games at home, but they also had to knock out Tottenham, who were slowly rebuilding into a formidable outfit and Liverpool. A close shave against Wigan in the semi-final when Mertesacker popped up with the equaliser helped us to take the game to penalties, as Lukasz Fabianski ensured we returned to Wembley for the club’s first FA Cup final against Hull City in 9 years.

May 17, 2014. I still remember the day vividly. I was a bag of nerves, as I watched the game in a pub packed with hopeful Gooners in Delhi, 6693kms from where the action was. The tension was palpable, as Hull took the lead and then doubled it. It was all turning into yet another anti-climax as Hull almost made it 3-0, but for a goal-line clearance from that man Gibbs again. That would have been game over. Santi made it 2-1 on the stroke of half-time and the place was buzzing when Laurent Koscielny bundled home the equaliser. The place went beserk when Aaron Ramsey netted home the winner in extra time. The place was full of grown men and women, literally in tears. The first year of my relationship couldn’t have ended in a better fashion.

It had been a long and arduous wait for everyone involved, the players, the fans and surely, Arsene Wenger who had been waiting for this moment probably more than anyone else. It was a magnificent evening for everyone involved with the club, and majority of the fanbase felt this was the right time for the manager to call it quits, and pave the way for someone else to rebuild the club. Arsene stood by his stance that he was the best man for the job, and we were back in the market spending a whopping £83 million on transfers for players such as Danny Welbeck, Callum Chambers, David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Gabriel Paulista, and obviously, Alexis Sanchez. Another 3rd place finish followed, as Alexis made his mark on the Premier League, scoring 25 goals in his debut season. A flourish of wins between February and March helped the Gunners to this league position, while the cup run kept going strong.

March 9, 2015. I still remember the date, my first day in India’s financial capital, Mumbai. I was starting a new life in a big-ass, busy, brutal city. However, all I was bothered about was whether I will be able to catch the big game that night between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in the 4th Round of the FA Cup. I managed to get an internet dongle in the evening, and had it activated in time for the match. Arsenal did not disappoint as Angel di Maria was sent off for pushing the ref and Danny Welbeck scored and celebrated the winning goal. Arsenal kept the cup at the Emirates for a second season running, with a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa, when Sanchez bust the net with his powerful strike. Good times rolling back, perhaps?

The 2015-2016 season was another strange strange season. Leicester City smashed all odds and won the Premier League, and showed that moneybags isn’t the only route to winning titles. This was a great chance to strengthen the squad, but the only incoming player was goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea. Arsenal, for their part finished in their best position (2nd) in over 10 years, when it seemed highly likely that Tottenham would finally pip the Gunners. Their 5-1 trouncing by Newcastle ensured a 21st consecutive St. Totteringham’s day, 20th under Arsene Wenger. It was a case of what-if’s. Even as the usual contenders like Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea faded away, Arsenal just failed to get grips of their season.

A late Welbeck header ensured the Gunners inflicted Leicester’s second and last defeat of the season. Consecutive losses to Manchester United, when Marcus Rashford marked his league debut with a brace and a haunting 2-1 loss at home to Swansea, before a 2-2 reverse at White Hart Lane meant that the Gunners had thrown away another chance. To Leicester City of all teams. By then, it was heavily mooted that the manager would call it quits after his final season as per his contract ended in 2017.

Things did not change much in 2016-2017. The league form was wayward, as Arsenal finished 5th after nearly 21 years in the top 4. £82 million was spent in Granit Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, but none convinced. Tottenham finished above Arsenal, for the first time in so long, and that too by a margin of 11 points. To make matters worse, Arsenal were humiliated on the European stage by Bayern Munich. Drawing 1-1 at half-time in the first leg of the Round of 16 tie at the Allianz Arena, a second half flourish saw Bayern win 5-1. The return leg was supposed to be a dead rubber, and a chance to regain some pride. And, we were. Going into half-time leading 1-0 thanks to a 20th minute goal from Theo Walcott, Arsenal were sent to the cleaners with 5 goals. A shocking 10-2 scoreline was too much for fans to take.

Protest marches against the manager and the way the board were handling the affairs of the club became commonplace. There was demand for more transparency in the inner workings of the finances of the club. Ivan Gazidis who had promised that the Gunners would be competing at the level of Bayern, was made to bite his own words as the season seemed to be heading towards disaster. Luckily for the manager, Arsenal put together another run in the cup, beating lower league opposition like Preston North End, Sutton United and Lincoln City. The toughest test was yet to come in the form of Manchester City, and in a thrilling contest, Arsenal spirited their way back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 thanks to an extra-time winner by Alexis.

27th May, 2017. I have a superstition, and it was vindicated on this date. Having watched all of our last 3 FA Cup finals in 3 different cities, I decided to watch the 2017 FA Cup final in Navi Mumbai, technically a different district. Arsenal had an early controversial lead, thanks to that man Sanchez again. Diego Costa, who has been a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh for so long, much like his predecessor Didier Drogba, made it 1-1, 3 minutes before Aaron Ramsey bought the roof and the electricity down. As I celebrated in darkness, Arsenal had won their 3rd FA Cup in 4 years.

That said, the truth was there for everyone to see. The club just weren’t performing well on a regular basis, and their form in the league and in Europe had much to be desired. The manager came out with a statement that he was renewing his contract for a further 2 seasons, and this was met with a mixed response from the Arsenal faithful. WOB’s or the Wenger Out Brigade had seen enough, and threatened to bring banners to every game and boycott home games en masse, while AKB’s rallied behind the manager.

Another fantastic opportunity to strengthen the squad with some defensive reinforcements was lost, as the only signings were Alexandre Lacazette for £46 million from Lyon, and left-back Sead Kolasinac from Schalke on a Bosman. Alexis Sanchez, by now, like Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, all those years back, was yearning for a move away from the club, knowing well that he was to play in Europe’s second tier, a no-no for a top player. Late bids from Manchester City failed, and even Chelsea were in the market for the Chilean. In the meanwhile, the club were failing to negotiate contracts for Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere whilst heading into the season with liabilities like Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla.

The start of the season was a disaster. Despite a narrow 4-3 win over Leicester at home, the Gunners lost 1-0 away to Stoke and then were played out of the park by Liverpool in a 4-0 loss, thanks to inspiring performances from their newly formed attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. The failed English project was there for everyone to see. Carl Jenkinson was sent out on loan again, this time to Birmingham, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs would depart for a combined £47 million to Liverpool and West Brom respectively, while Theo Walcott, the perennial underachiever left to Everton for £20 million in January. That month also saw a mass exodus as Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud departed for a combined £30 million, while Mathieu Debuchy was let go on a free.

The most shocking deal happened on 22nd January when Manchester City pulled the plug on their pursuit of Sanchez, and Manchester United offered beleaguered Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a swap. The club accepted, and the best performer from the past 3 season was again sold to United, of all clubs. Sanchez had a mixed season till that point, but was obviously in two minds over his transfer. We did bring in Pierre Emerick Aubameyang though, from Borussia Dortmund for £60 million. This season so far has been far from good. We’ve been shocking away from home, were trounced in the league cup final by City 3-0 and knocked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest 4-2.

The only saving light was the run in the Europa League. When Arsene Wenger announced that he would be calling it a day at the club, after 22 long years, Arsenal were already in the semi-final against Atletico Madrid, having knocked out Ostersunds, AC Milan and CSKA Moscow. There couldn’t have been a more fitting departure for the manager, than with a Europa League win. Unfortunately, a timid Arsenal performance saw them being knocked out by a Diego Costa goal. There, indeed is little place for emotion in football. Wenger called it a ‘sad, sad, sad night’, and it really was.

6 May, 2018. Arsene Wenger’s final home game against nearest rival, ‘Burnley’. The team produced a 5 star performance, that has been so lacking this season. There were flashes of brilliance, Wengerball they call it, as some slick football confirmed 6th spot and qualification for next season’s Europa League. It was followed by a, lets be honest, emotional farewell. The greatest achievement of the club, the gold Invincibles trophy was awarded to the man who won it. I would be lying if I said I did not shed a tear.

I’ve experienced some of my worst and best days with him at the helm. 8-2 at Old Trafford, 6-0 at Stamford Bridge, 5-1 losses to Bayern, the 2-1 loss to Birmingham in the cup final, 3-1 at Camp Nou right onto 1-0 at the Bernabeu, 2-0 against Juventus in 2005 and Bayern in 2015 stand out as do the 3 cup wins, each of them special and emotional in their own way.

From a nobody to one of the most influential persons in the game we all love, he has been a fantastic servant to the club, and one we should always be thankful for. His initial methods, fitness regimes were heavily questioned but he extended the careers of several stalwarts at the club, winning titles in 1998 and 2002. He bought in some of our favourite players – Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Robert Pires, Fredrik Ljungberg, Cesc Fabregas – the lot.

He’s left an indelible mark on the club, there’s absolutely no second thought about it. There are few managers these days who have a profound impact on the club, beyond trophies. Right from overhauling the club’s training ground to building and strategising the stadium move, ensuring a smooth transition whilst on limited financial resources, building the scouting and recruitment network of the club, to bringing continental flair into the English game.

Arsene Wenger’s story will be remembered in two parts unfortunately. The first part of the story was a fairytale. Beautiful, swashbuckling football with some of the most talented players on the planet, and laden with trophies too. The second part of the story has been a struggle. Injuries, bad luck, younger players failing to make the mark, buckling under pressure; albeit 3 FA Cups.

What did not change is the managers belief in his own players to go out there, express themselves and do their jobs. His values, his belief in his system and his style remained the same. He carried himself with dignity, and at times too much class. As John Cross described during the farewell speech as a representative of the media ‘There is no escaping there has been some criticism along the way but the fact you never hold a grudge or never dodge a question and are always respectful shows what a class act you are as both a human being and a football manager.’

Arsene Wenger has been an enigma, during his entire 22 year tenure and there has been no one more influential on the club. We haven’t met ever, and may never even do so. I may even never get to see him in person, yet there is a lot of emotion there. In his own words ‘It is sad, but all the love stories come to an end. They do not always finish well. Most of the time they don’t finish well. I feel sad because I love this club and what the club represents. 22 years of your life and to walk away is not easy.’

I have supported the Gunners for 14 seasons now (that’s half my life), watched countless games at odd hours with red eyes, celebrated every goal like it was the first, have had nightmares of us losing games, sunk my head into my palms every time we conceded, seen players right from Pascal Cygan to Thierry Henry to Manuel Almunia to Mesut Ozil, grown from a gawky kid to a man, completed my graduation, and post-graduation, gotten engaged and a few months away from marriage, changed jobs and yet amongst all these constant changes, Arsene Wenger has been the one constant. It’s going to be very strange on the first day of the new season when a new manager sits in the Arsenal dugout.

Thanks for everything, thanks for bringing Arsenal into my life and thanks for all the memories, the good, the bad and the ugly! Merci Arsène, merci indeed.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 13, 2018 in General, Personal

 

#HenryMemories #LetsFootballWithHenry

You ask people who their favourite footballer is, and the usual names that come out of the hat are Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zidane and the perennial Beckham. You ask me who my favourite footballer is. There’s only one name I will tell you. Thierry Henry. TH14. The King of Highbury. Arsenal Legend.

The official Twitter handle of the Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague), asked its fans to describe their favourite Thierry Henry moment. Come to think of it, this is a very tough ask. Cherry-picking one moment out of so many, is nearly an impossible task for me. I mean, this man has given me and my fellow Arsenal fans countless moments of magic. 228 goals, in 377 games. And each one a beaut.

Here are my 14 best Thierry #HenryMemories

Who can forget that magical night at the Bernabeu, when Henry strode past several Galacticos defenders? I remember watching that match, it was well past midnight, and I woke up the entire house.

A swivel and turn against Chelsea left the Blues with really no chance at all.

Or when he fooled a bunch of Liverpool defenders to score a beauty against Liverpool, when at one point it seemed like the title was slipping away from us.

Do you remember that time when Denis Irwin didn’t realise that a wily Frenchman had bamboozled him?

How about when the best goalkeeper in the world, Gianluigi Buffon stood absolutely no chance?

Remember when he made the Tottenham fans cry and got himself a statue of that moment? Oh my word, what a goal that was!

You absolutely cannot cannot forget that cold night in Prague, when Thierry wrote himself into Arsenal books as their record goalscorer.

Javier Zannetti had no chance when Thierry was on fire in Milan. He scored a cracker when he ran the length of the pitch, beat the Argentine and slotted the ball home.

It all started on a balmy evening at Southampton’s old ground – The Dell.

That late late header at the Emirates against Manchester United. I screamed like there was no tomorrow. Henry doesn’t score too many headers, and when he does, it’s like this!

Electrifying, electrifying – These words still ring in my ears, for that goal against Leeds, back in 2004!

Remember that blazing shot against the rain and wind against Manchester City! That was simply majestic.

To cap it all off, he signed off from Highbury with a penalty kick and a kiss of the turf in front of the North Bank. The most iconic Thierry Henry moment.

You thought he was gone, and then he came back to score a goal in the most Thierry Henry style possible. Called for another unbelievable night of late night shouting 😀

So, there you go! My 14 favourite Thierry Henry moments for Arsenal!

Here’s a picture of me trying to be Thierry Henry, way back in 2009 at the Emirates Stadium 😀

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2016 in Best of the Best

 

Arsenal 2 Southampton 1 – Lucky Arsenal leave it late!

382989c600000578-3783133-image-a-19_1473519771339 3829884500000578-3783133-image-a-18_1473519766486 382b530f00000578-3783133-image-a-90_1473525412688

Arsenal 2 (Koscielny 29, Cazorla 94 (pen)) – Southampton 1 (Cech 18 (O.G))

Man of the Match – Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

A lot happened at Arsenal Football Club over the past week, since that 3-1 win over Watford at Vicerage Road. With rumours making their rounds that Arsenal had blown their chance to sign German international defender Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia, after dilly-dallying over his price, the two clubs sat down and negotiated a price. £35 million later, and Arsenal had a world class centre back in their ranks.

That wasn’t all. With the fans crying for some firepower up front, the club fulfilled their wishes, by purchasing £17 million striker Lucas Perez from Deportivo la Coruna. He may not be the Higuain or Lacazzette we all desired, but hey, he scored 17 goals and provided 8 assists, for what is, at best an average La Liga club. He definitely could do better with the likes of Cazorla, Ozil and Sanchez playing behind him.

The biggest news, however was the departure of Jack Wilshere on loan to Bournemouth. A move that raises a lot of questions. Has the club lost patience with his injuries and his promise of being the next big homegrown thing to come out of the club. Press reports say it was a move Wilshere requested, in order to gain first team football and build on his fitness, so he can cement his place at Arsenal in the long run. Makes sense, to some extent, considering Eddie Howe likes his teams playing free flowing football, and he will be away from the usual scrutiny he gets every week with Arsenal.

Coming to the match itself, the manager started both his new signings. Rob Holding made way for Shkodran Mustafi at the back, while Lucas Perez started up front, with Alexis on the bench, the manager keeping an eye on the big Champions League opener vs Paris Saint Germain. Elsewhere, Francis Coquelin returned to the starting lineup, with Granit Xhaka making way.

It was Southampton, who started brighter, with Jay Rodriguez heading just over the post. Arsenal were guilty of giving the ball away far too often. Mesut Ozil, still finding his feet this season, found himself unmarked in front of goal, before losing his footing. Nacho Monreal then fouled just outside the penalty box, in the 16th minute. Serbian international Dusan Tadic’s freekick struck the underside of the post, with Petr Cech completely beaten. It bounced off the back of the stopper and rolled over the line, as the visitors took a 1-0 lead.

A free-kick from Santi Cazorla was header over by Theo Walcott, before the Spaniard was booked for dissent. Dutch international Virgil van Dijk then had to clear the ball to safety from a Monreal effort. Seconds later, the Gunners were level, when from the resulting corner, Laurent Koscielny, celebrating his birthday, pulled off an overhead kick. Ridiculous stuff from a central defender. The goal changed the momentum into Arsenal’s hands, as the home side opened up. Cazorla played in a couple of wonderful cross field balls, before an Ozil effort from a Bellerin cross was blocked. Then, former Saint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saw his shot deflecting just over, as the first half came to a end at 1-1.

The wily Shane Long came on for Southampton in place of Jay Rodriguez, at half time. Arsenal had the first chance of the second half, as Ozil failed to control a Walcott pass inside the box. Lucas, who had had a quiet debut till that point, saw his shot blocked by Ryan Bertrand, having been set up by Ozil. Santi Cazorla had to be alert to break a dangerous Southampton counter, before Bellerin’s effort went just wide, as Arsenal probed Southampton in search of a second goal.

On 62 minutes, the manager bought on Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez in place of Lucas Perez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Shane Long then had a great chance to put the visitors ahead, but he squandered his chance, with only Cech left to beat. The dynamics up front seemed to have changed since the introduction of Giroud and Alexis. First, the Chilean saw his shot go just over the bar, from an Ozil layoff. Then, he combined with Giroud, only to see his effort being blocked this time round. At the other end, Shane Long could only head over from a free-kick.

On 75 minutes, Alex Iwobi came on for Theo Walcott. A mistake from van Dijk allowed Alexis to set up Cazorla, but the Spaniard by the slippery pitch at the Emirates, something even Giroud fell prey to. An effort from Monreal was deflected wide, as both sides looked to score the elusive winner. Shane Long missed another guilt edged chance at the other end, moments later.

A free-kick from Santi Cazorla floated in, but Giroud couldn’t make much of it, under close scrutiny from Southampton’s towering defensive pair of Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk. In the dying moments, when it seemed like points would be shared, a Cazorla cross caused chaos in Southampton’s area. First, Koscielny was bought down and Giroud was fouled, the referee awarding a penalty for the latter incident.

It seemed like Koscielny would need some treatment, and he was momentarily taken off the pitch. Southampton tried to ward off Cazorla’s concentration, as he stepped up to take the spot kick. It didn’t matter though, as the ball found the back of the net, in the 94th minute.

It was too little, too late for the visitors to score an equalising goal at this point in the match. A much needed 3 points, as Arsenal now travel to Paris for a daunting game against the all conquering PSG.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.

While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 9, 2016 in 2016-2017, Match Reviews

 

Watford 1 Arsenal 3 – First half walkover overrides second half scare!

37a0b54000000578-3761396-image-a-23_1472310102267 37a0f39800000578-3761396-image-a-37_1472310555631 37a0fbf700000578-3761396-image-a-43_1472310753110

Watford 1 (Pereyra 57) – Arsenal 3 (Cazorla 9 (pen), Sanchez 40, Ozil 46) 

Man of the Match – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

With a quite boring Interlull weekend gone by, it was again time for some much needed Premier League action, as Arsenal made the short trip across London to play Watford. The Hornets, now managed by Walter Mazzari, have had a mixed start to the season themselves, drawing away at Southampton, before losing a hard fought game at home to Chelsea.

With no new signings imminent at the back, new signing Rob Holding kept his place in the centre of defence, alongside Laurent Koscielny. Elsewhere, the manager decided to start with Granit Xhaka in the centre of midfield, alongside Santi Cazorla, in place of Francis Coquelin; as Mesut Ozil started his first game of the season.

A quiet start preceded a 8th minute penalty in favour of the Gunners, when Nordin Amrabat barged into Alexis Sanchez in the penalty box, with his elbow. Santi Cazorla obliged with a neatly taken penalty, as former Spurs stopper Heurelho Gomes guessed wrong. Cazorla then saw his shot go across the goal, having been setup by Alexis. Walcott, who was on the other end, managed to get to the end of it in the nick of time, only to see it strike the knees of Gomes and out.

At the other end, Laurent Koscielny made it awkward for Petr Cech, with his attempted clearance threatening to go in. The Czech stopper, however, managed to palm it away. Watford enjoyed some possession as Arsenal were happy to allow the home side to play in front of them. Defender Christian Kabasele’s header went just wide. Moments later, Gomes pulled off two saves in quick succession, first when Ozil played in Alexis, and the Brazilian stopper used his feet to save; and then a shot from Ozil which he saved from his near post.

It didn’t matter though, as Arsenal were 2-0 up within minutes of that. Hector Bellerin played in Theo Walcott, whose cross was clumsily bundled over the line by Alexis Sanchez. Really doesn’t matter where they come from.

Granit Xhaka was impressive in the first half, putting in tackles and distributing the ball around with consummate ease. He set up Walcott, but Gomes managed to pull off another save. Xhaka, then created space for Alexis on the left, drawing defenders into him, and the Chilean crossed into the box, with Mesut Ozil heading home Arsenal’s third goal of the afternoon. The Gunners went into half time with a resounding 3-0 lead.

The second half was a completely different story though, as Watford appeared a transformed team. Record Argentine signing Roberto Pereyra replaced Algerian international Adlene Guedioura, at half time. Arsenal got sight of goal early in the second half, when Walcott cut back a cross, but no one was on hand to meet it.

Dutch international Daaryl Janmaat came on for Kabesele in the 51st minute. A right wing cross from Bellerin was too quick for Alexis to catch, before in-form French midfielder Etienne Capoue saw his shot from distance being saved by Cech. Watford would soon pull one back, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was robbed off the ball. Arsenal failed to deal with a cross that came in and Pereyra netted home to make it 1-3.

Walcott, then spotted Gomes off the line, and attempted to chip him, but missed. Chamberlain repeated the trick and failed too, when he should ideally played in Alexis and Walcott who were in a better position to score. Matches like these can be decided by thing margins, and Chamberlain’s miss could have proved costly, had Watford’s effort, moments later gone in. A shot from distance was fluffed away by Cech, and Nigerian international Odion Ighalo couldn’t capitalise on the loose ball, as Cech grabbed the ball just in time.

Jack Wilshere and Mohomad Elneny came on for Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on 70 minutes. Ighalo then attempted an overhead kick, but it went just inches over the bar, as the score remained at 1-3. An injury to Nacho Monreal, meant Kieran Gibbs came on to replace the Spaniard, as the manager looked to close the game. Watford bought on their wonderfully named new signing, Isaac Success, whose first involvement was a header from a corner, which was dealt with by the away side.

Xhaka’s international teammate, Valon Behrami, then screwed a shot wide from the edge of the box. Younes Kaboul was then robbed off the ball by Alexis, who too tried to chip Gomes, when he should have played in a better positioned Walcott. In the end, Arsenal made home with 3 points.

Finally, a first win of the season, and hopefully the season can kick on from here. Defensive and attacking reinforcements, hopefully to come in the next few days.

Jai Arsenal! 🙂

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.

While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 8, 2016 in 2016-2017, Match Reviews

 

Leicester City 0 Arsenal 0 – Drab draw to open the account!

376fb8a400000578-0-image-a-15_1471714125641

Leicester City 0-0 Arsenal

Man of the Match – Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)

Arsenal’s stuttering start to Liverpool at the Emirates garnered a lot of negative attention to the club and manager. Travelling to the home of the champions, the following weekend was always going to be a tough task, even if Arsenal were the only side in the league to beat the Foxes home and away last season. Leicester had a losing start themselves, when they were beaten 2-1 at Hull City.

With Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding, the only signings in the summer, pressure has been increasingly growing on the manager to recruit some much needed firepower up front and cover at the back. With Laurent Koscielny available for selection, it was Callum Chambers, who looks set to go out on loan to newly promoted Middlesbrough, who had to sit on the bench for this one. With Mesut Ozil still being eased into action, the manager decided to start with the trio of Xhaka, Coquelin and Cazorla in midfield, with Alexis plying up front. The injury to Aaron Ramsey in the Liverpool loss meant England duo Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got a starting berth.

The defending champions could have gone to a fast start, when last season’s top scorer, Jamie Vardy, ran straight at Koscielny, earning the hosts a corner. Moments later, Cazorla’s shot deflected just wide. Leicester allowed Arsenal enough time on the ball, in the first half, choosing to hit on counters, a tactic that won them bucketloads of games last season.

Francis Coquelin picked up a yellow for a foul on Vardy, midway through the first half. On 25 minutes, a curling effort from Chamberlain flew just wide, while Alexis and Xhaka failed with efforts from distance. On 30 minutes, Arsenal almost had the first goal of the match, when a Cazorla free-kick nearly creeped it’s way in, only for Kasper Schmeichel to make an acrobatic save.

At the other end, the pace batteries of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were causing little trouble to Arsenal, especially with the expert defending of Koscielny. On one occasion, Mahrez set up Vardy, who was thwarted by a diving Petr Cech. Koscielny then had to be aware to hoof the ball away from an approaching Danny Drinkwater. The home crowd tried to ruffle the feathers of Mark Clattenburg, crying for a penalty, but he was having none of it, as the half came to a close at 0-0.

Francis Coquelin was walking on very thin ice, early in the second half, when he hacked down Mahrez near the edge of the box, but he escaped punishment. Mahrez duly fired his free-kick over the post. The game increasingly looked like the first goal would win it, and both sides asked questions of each other. A Xhaka allowed Vardy a free run, but with Koscielny for close comfort, the England striker couldn’t score.

The manager bought on Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil, in place of Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla, to infuse some freshness in midfield, on 72 minutes. Ozil masterfully orchestrated an attack, but it ended with a goalless left-footed shot from Theo Walcott. Olivier Giroud, then came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Minutes later, Walcott was guilty of missing a great opportunity, when he should have really passed to Olivier Giroud, having been set up by Hector Bellerin. The last five minutes were frantic in the least. Schmeichel saved from Ozil, who was set up by by Alexis. Leicester’s genuine call for a penalty was turned down when Ahmed Musa was bought down by Bellerin in the box. Walcott then failed, rather miserably with a chip.

A Riyad Mahrez shot was then parried on to the post by Cech, before the last effort of the game fell to Drinkwater, whose freekick just ended up bouncing off Arsenal’s wall. Into the international break we go!

Jai Arsenal!

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.

While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 8, 2016 in 2016-2017, Match Reviews

 

Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4 – Bottled on Opening Day!

3738C10500000578-3740114-image-m-105_1471190675292 37389E6000000578-3740114-image-a-115_1471191775683 3739991D00000578-3740114-image-a-132_1471192218231 3739B27B00000578-3740114-image-a-130_1471192188158 3739CEB400000578-3740114-image-a-32_1471195268764 3739EE9A00000578-3740114-image-a-27_1471194300938 3739B79D00000578-3740114-image-a-134_1471192224953

Arsenal 3 (Walcott 31, Chamberlain 64, Chambers 75) – Liverpool 4 (Coutinho 45, Lallana 49, Coutinho 56, Mane 63)

Man of the Match – Phillipe Coutinho (Liverpool)

In the end, it was all too predictable. Another season opener, and more moans and groans from the Arsenal faithful, urging the club to splash some much needed cash. If last season reminded us what we lacked in our team, last evening was a reminder of how unprepared the squad looks ahead of what looks like the toughest Premier League season in recent history.

With Petr Cech our only signing last season, we ended up losing to a West Ham side on opening day last season. A West Ham side that had a 16 year old midfielder, Reece Oxford, debutant Dimitri Payet and Birmingham reject Mauro Zarate in their starting lineup. Even a late Alexis cameo wasn’t enough to salvage anything from a 2-0 loss. 3 years back, we lost at home to Aston Villa, after going down to 10 men.

The age old argument that our first day performances are affected by the activity in the summer, in this case the Euro’s, Copa America etc. But, that is true for all teams, and not only Arsenal. Add to that, our injury concerns. With Danny Welbeck out for a good part of the year, Olivier Giroud still recuperating from the Euro’s, Theo Walcott being a bit poo, and our only strikers being rookies Yaya Sanogo and Chuba Akpom, it cries in desperation for the signing of a striker. And our pursuits of Messrs Vardy, Lacazette and Higuain indicated that we were going to patch up that hole. But, instead we play Alexis Sanchez out of position as a striker on the opening weekend. A player who loves hogging the ball, in a position where he is now expected to latch on to anything from midfield and win headers against a tall centre back partnership of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.

Per Mertesacker injured himself in a pre-season game against Lens, and Gabriel recently in a pre-season win against Manchester City at Gothenburg. Yet, we only had two Under-21 England defenders in Callum Chambers and Rob Holding, playing in central defence against a skilful attack that boasted names such as Coutinho, Firmino and £34 million acquisition from Southampton, Sadio Mane. Quite baffling was the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi in the squad. You would have though the manager would have started instead with Santi Cazorla, who has had a full pre-season, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been our best player in pre-season.

What is sad is that the deficiencies are there for everyone to see, yet no one seems to be take retrospective action in order to fix those issues, which are plaguing the team. Yes, we have a deep squad. But, quite clearly, we were short on Day 1, a day when you need to put a marker on your ambitions for the season.

To the game, then. Arsene Wenger opted to start with Rob Holding and Callum Chambers in defence. Ideally, a partnership of Holding/Chambers and Monreal, with Kieran Gibbs at left back would have made more sense. In midfield, Francis Coquelin started alongside Mohamed Elneny. Arsenal made the brighter start, on a sunny evening at the Emirates, zipping the ball around in confidence, against a Liverpool side that were happy to allow the Gunners to play in front of them.

Aaron Ramsey had the first attempt on goal, after combining with Alexis Sanchez, but his effort went straight at Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet. Nathaniel Clyne, then dragged an effort straight into the safe palms of Petr Cech. Ramsey had another go from way out, when he spotted Mignolet off the line, but it was wayward in the least; when instead he could have played in Walcott who would have been in an one-on-one situation.

Roberto Firmino, sporting a ponytail, had a shot from distance, before Adam Lallana was booked for a challenge on Ramsey. Minutes later, Arsenal were awarded a penalty when Spanish left back Alberto Moreno bought down Theo Walcott in the box. The England striker/right winger stepped up to take the penalty, but it was easily palmed away by Mignolet, much to the groan of Gooners all around the globe, including me. With abuses being hurled in from all over, Walcott made up for his earlier miss, as he was played in by Alex Iwobi, after Francis Coquelin robbed Lallana of the ball. He created a bit of space, evaded his marker Moreno and finished past Mignolet at the far post. It was 1-0 on 31 minutes, and Arsenal were in the ascendancy.

Liverpool saw a bit more of the ball after Walcott’s goal, and after a string of passes, Firmino could only pull an effort wide. A mistake from Chambers could have proven costly, but Georgio Wijnaldum’s effort was tame. Lovren then picked up a yellow for a foul on Alexis, and the Chilean’s effort was wide from the resulting free kick. Callum Chambers then saw his header from a corner go wide as well.

When it seemed like the Gunners would go in to the dressing rooms at half-time, with a 1-0 lead, a free-kick was awarded to Liverpool just outside the box, after Holding was harshly adjudged to have fouled some Liverpool bloke. Coutinho stepped up and found the top corner with aplomb. It was a thing of beauty, and things were back on level terms. By the passage of play, Arsenal deserved the lead at the break.

The second half began badly for Arsenal, as Wijnaldum was released into Arsenal’s penalty area, and he spotted the run of Lallana, who calmly chested the ball and put the ball into the back of the net. It was 2-1 to Liverpool. The visiting side then took complete control of the game, and put in a string of passes, which culminated in a Clyne cross from the right, side-footed in by Coutinho to make it 3-1 to Liverpool.

The home side and supporters seemed shocked at what they had just seen. But, there was still more to come from a rampant Liverpool. Another cross came in from the right, and Cech was in the right place to save from what would have been a tap-in from Firminho. Adam Lallana couldn’t take advantage of the loose ball. However, in a matter of minutes, Saido Mane bamboozled three fourth’s of Arsenal’s defence, to release a left-footed screamer past Cech on 63 minutes. 4-1 to Liverpool.

Arsenal managed to pull one back, though; when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on for the injured Iwobi cut between to Liverpool defenders to put one past Mignolet on the near post. It was a fine goal. Santi Cazorla, also on for Aaron Ramsey tried to infuse some creativity and urgency into the team, and new signing Granit Xhaka also got a chance to strut around, when he came in for Elneny on 66 minutes. Emre Can came in for Coutinho in the 70th minute. An effort from Cazorla went over, before the Spaniard’s free kick was deflected in by Callum Chambers to make it 3-4 on 75 minutes.

It seems like Arsenal would complete an improbable comeback, but Liverpool looked organized and allowed little in terms of space, despite playing the error prone Alberto Moreno. Jurgen Klopp threw on Belgian striker Divock Origi in place of Lallana to create an attacking outlet in the 76th minute. Arsenal huffed and puffed, with Liverpool closing most of the attacks down.

When Arsenal did manage to put in a good move together, Theo Walcott tripped and fell over the ball, having been in a good position in between two defenders. Another late move collapsed when Santi Cazorla’s pass/cross struck Nacho Monreal to go for a goalkick. All in all, it was a poor start to a season, where expectations seem to be pretty low. A clear indication of lack of preparedness in terms of the squad as well as fitness and match-readiness was on display.

But, what a result for Liverpool. An opening day win at a ground of a rival, scoring 4 goals, including 2 for star man Coutinho. It’s back to the drawing board for Arsene Wenger and Co., as they face a daunting trip to champions Leicester next weekend, who are also smarting from an opening day loss to Hull.

Jai Arsenal!

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.

While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 15, 2016 in 2016-2017, Match Reviews

 

The season is upon us!

I won’t be lying. It’s been hard, the last 3 months. While personally, I was switching jobs; the lack of club football made me jittery. Yes, there were the Euro’s to keep us going, and then there was the Indian indoor league, Premier Futsal, and the Olympics. But, nothing matches the Premier League. Period.

To add to it, being an Arsenal fan during the off season is an even more torturous position to endure. This time, it was no different. While you have to deal with the incessant bullshit of the English press and their linking us to every professional footballer walking on the planet, there was also the frustration of the club missing out on signing real prospects, due to underbidding.

While the news of Arsenal looking to sign Jamie Vardy sounded ridiculous, when it emerged it was actually true, you would expect a club of Arsenal’s stature to go ahead and complete the signing. No, there was a saga of dilly-dallying between the two clubs; Leicester looking to hold on to their top scorer and Arsenal not budging above their bid of £20 million (which was the initial release clause of the player anyway). The player in question was in France, with the national team, and decided to take a decision only once the tournament was done. England being England, were knocked out after the group stages itself; and as expected, Vardy turned down Arsenal’s offer, opting to stay with Leicester.

Arsenal have been perennially linked to Gonzalo Higuain, and when the transfer window opened, the Argentine was inevitably drawn into the tornado of Arsenal rumors. We know, how it all went, Italian champions snapping up the striker for £75 million. And more recently, the Gunners have been linked to France and Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of this guy, but hey, we need a striker better than some of the ones we have. And surely, anyone would be an upgrade to Sanogo and Walcott. Arsenal’s bid of £29.3 million was rejected by Lyon, and now Lyon have quoted £60 million. Definitely, out of the question.

It wasn’t all gloomy of course. We completed the signing of Swiss defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka, from Borussia Moenchengladbach (I hope I’ve spelt that one right!) for £35 million. He put on some tidy performances at the Euro’s, and seems like a guy who will add some much needed bite to our midfield. Relying on Francis Coquelin being fit throughout a gruelling English season is too much to ask for. The departures of Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini meant we needed some freshness in midfield as well.

Apart from that, we only managed to sign an unheralded centre-back from Bolton Wanderers, a club that got relegated to League One. Rob Holding comes in at a reported fee of £2 million, and the young English defender made 26 appearances last season. He is still raw, and along with Callum Chambers could be the future of Arsenal’s defence. With Per Mertesacker suffering an injury in pre-season, it looked like a good signing. But then, Gabriel too suffered an injury in the pre-season win over Manchester City. This means that the possibility of Holding and Chambers starting against Liverpool tomorrow looks real. As we speak, Arsenal are apparently scampering for the signature of Valencia’s German defender Shkodran Mustafi, once an Everton reject.

There was also the Riyad Mahrez saga, with Arsenal apparently hot on the heels of the Algerian winger, also the current PFA Player of the Year. With Leicester keen to hold on to their star man, and Claudio Ranieri adamant about not letting him go, it all seems to have quietened down a bit. According to me, he would have been a terrific addition to the squad, on the right; where players such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have miserably failed. Last season, the manager played Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Joel Campbell all on the right, and none of them seemed to have sufficiently impressed the manager. A attacking midfield of Ozil, Sanchez and Mahrez would have been mouth watering. But, Alas.

I don’t mean to sound all negative, but it seems like we have again been left behind in the transfer market. With Arsene Wenger saying the same things about signing only ‘top, top’ players and then underbidding for those very players, it all seems like a vicious circle. Ivan Gazidis’ recent statement about not really having to spend to stay competitive, and that the club not being able to afford costly mistakes just adds fuel to the fire.

Looking over our shoulder, most other clubs have done the business they wanted to do. Sp*rs started with the low key signing of Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama for £11 million from Southampton. Leicester’s trio of Vardy, Mahrez and Kante were always going to be in the spotlight; and Chelsea, under new Italian manager Antonio Conte did well to prise away N’Golo Kante, the unsung hero of Leicester’s season for £32 million. They also landed young Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi from Marseille for £33 million. Liverpool quietly got about their business, just the way Jurgen Kloop operates. Saido Mane arrived from Southampton for £34 million, and Giorgio Wijnaldum from Newcastle for £25 million. They also signed two goalkeepers, Loris Karius from Mainz and Alex Manninger (remember him?).

The biggest stories of the transfer revolved around the Manchester clubs. Pep Guardiola was announced as Manchester City’s manager, as early as January. Manchester United had to do something about it, and retaining Louis van Gaal was definitely not an option. Hours after winning the FA Cup, the Dutch manager was shown the pink slip, with the arrogant twat Jose Mourinho, linked to the job at Manchester United for so many seasons, being appointed as the new gaffer. Guardiola signed Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund for £20 million, Spain winger Nolito from Celta Vigo for £13.4 million, German winger Leroy Sane from Schalke for £37 million, Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras for £27 million and Everton defender John Stones for a whopping £47.5 million.

Staying with inflated markets, Manchester United paid a whopping £89 million for a player whom they had sold just 3 years earlier for a paltry £1.5 million. The much heralded transfer of French midfielder Paul Pogba, also coincided with the signing of super Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Armenian winger Henrikh Mkhitariyan from Dortmund for what can be defined as a meagre £26 million and Ivorian defender Eric Bailly for £30 million from Villarreal. Manchester United moved from being a 5th placed team to genuine title contenders within the space of 3 months.

It seems like other clubs have managed to get the business they wanted done, while we have clearly struggled with that. Identifying players is one thing, but actually going all out to sign those players, who can fill holes in your squad, is another. With the season a day way, you can’t help but think we are going to start with two makeshift central defenders, a rag-tag midfield and Theo Walcott up front. Yeah, not a pretty picture.

But, this post is not about negativity. However bad our prospects look, it is the start of the season. And starts should always be positive. To be honest, our squad looks really good on paper, and it is all about translating that into results on the pitch. Last season was a real downer, considering we were top till one point, had a bad patch, seemed like we would come back, but then our title challenge completely fizzled out. Sp*rs did provide some comedy relief on the final day, but honestly, it was a chance thrown away. With the traditional top guns failing to show up, and Leicester leading the way, we really should have mounted a proper title challenge.

Nonetheless, a midfield of Xhaka, Coquelin, Elneny, Cazorla, Ramsey, Campbell, Ozil, Sanchez, Wilshere, Iwobi, Chamberlain looks formidable. Defensively, we will miss Mertesacker for the rest of the year and Gabriel for about 2 months. If Spaniards Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin can keep up their high standards from last season, we can expect a solid season defensively. Laurent Koscielny is about a week away from returning to first team action, due to his exertions in Europe. On the flanks, we have Debuchy and Gibbs as cover, while Jenkinson nurses his injury. Chambers and Holding look like they’ll pair up for a few League Cup games.

Our problems, however lie up front. Olivier Giroud is a 20 goals a season striker, but across all competitions. His 24 goal tally last season was good, but he fizzled out in an extremely important period of the season, which also coincided with our slump. Theo Walcott has never convinced me, or Arsenal fans, or anyone for that matter that he can lead the line for a top club. His consistent inconsistency has often drawn calls from Gooners to sell him while we can actually get some money for him. It looks like he will lead the line till Giroud is declared match fit. Danny Welbeck showed glimpses of what he can do last season, before joining the long list of injuries. Apart from that, we have Chuba Akpom and Yaya Sanogo as our only fit strikers.

I have stood by Arsene Wenger through the barren years between 2005 and 2014 and will continue to do so. I have admired his views on football, pragmatism, his transfer dealings and in general the way he goes about his work; and will probably sing his praises decades from now. With him entering his final year on his current contract, it seems highly unlikely that he will be renewing it, whether or not we add something to the honours board. If that is the case, we’re probably looking at the 21st and final season of the long-serving Frenchman. 21 years of hard work, dedication towards a club, day in and day out.

In his own words, he says he is addicted to the club, and admits he is scared of ‘leaving’ something that has been part of his fabric for over two decades. For him, I hope the players deliver on the pitch and repay the manager’s faith.

The season promises to be yet another roller coaster ride, with teams signing exciting new managers and players. It looks it could be one of the closely contested seasons in recent times. Arsenal under Wenger, Chelsea under Conte, defending champions Leicester under Ranieri, Liverpool under Klopp, Manchester City under Guardiola, Manchester United under Mourinho, Sp*rs under Pochettino and West Ham under Bilic. Have you seen a better managerial line up than this? Let the ride begin!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.

While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 13, 2016 in General

 
 
%d bloggers like this: