Knowing the face of God

Just a brief post today (he says, like these posts are frequent/daily). We at Bergkamp Wonderland are delighted to have seen that Arsenal have announced a statue of God will be built at the stadium in the near future.

In all honesty, they shouldn’t just be giving him a statue. God deserves a full-blown bloody temple, with at least 7 statues of him in it. And a shrine. A shrine to Bergkamp, where lesser players can come to pray for better technique.

Beware. The Iceman Cometh.

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Will Wilshere prove the point?

Steve Hankey returns to the blog today. I say returns like I’ve blogged in between. I will do soon, I promise. Anyway, this is slightly out of date (apologies Steve), but nevertheless, as ever, the man makes some excellent points. Find him on Twitter @Steve_Hankey.

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After attending Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Swansea on Wednesday a few things came to mind. Firstly, though there were reportedly only 50,000 spectators at the Emirates for the fixture, the atmosphere was absolutely raucous. I believe that was partly to do with the cheaper prices allocated to cup games by the club, therefore fans who have been priced out of most league games could actually attend. However there was something visceral about the support for Arsenal against Swansea. With the FA Cup are most likely route to a trophy, plus the added momentum that victory would bring, the continuous chanting seemed to be a call to arms; a resistance to the criticism leveled at the club. This was 50,000 people, minus the away contingent, saying we are the Arsenal and we won’t go down without a fight.

No player epitomised the transferal of energy from crowd to pitch more than Jack Wilshere. However it was his change of position that I wish to discuss here. Wilshere played in the trequartista role, the traditional number 10. Santi Cazorla moved to the left hand side of midfield and Walcott  occupied the right hand side.

Wilshere’s penetrating runs are to my mind what make him the best player for Arsenal in this role, ahead of Cazorla. Wilshere’s running through the inevitable banks of four that opposition teams construct against Arsenal breaks through these battlements, as well as giving much needed support to the lone striker. Wilshere’s technique and passing ability mean that he can play this role behind a big man such as Giroud or a zippier frontman such as Theo. As shown against Swansea, Cazorla drifted inside often, to the extent that his ability on the ball was not diminished by being nominally stationed out wide.

One crucial element makes this tactical switch work however: the midfield base, formed on Wednesday by Diaby and Coquelin. Diaby’s fitness ‘issues’ shall we call them, mean that he cannot be relied upon to fill that role regularly. If Wenger were to switch to more of a 4-2-3-1 however, Francis Coquelin is likely to be the main beneficiary. Assuming the limited availability of Diaby, when Arteta returns from injury Coquelin would be the perfect partner for him. However as far as we know Diaby is fit for today’s game against Chelsea and, if Wenger sticks with this formation, will most likely start alongside Coquelin.

Changing Arsenal’s formation to more of a 4-2-3-1 than the 4-3-3 we have used predominantly this season is in my humble opinion the best way to optimise this group of players. If the worst were to happen and Wilshere gets injured or needs a rest, Rosicky could have a repeat of his late season renaissance last year in the same position. Unless something changes in the next 12 days it seems unlikely Arsenal will sign anyone in January. If we are going to stick rather than twist, I hope we line up tactically as we did against Swansea for the rest of the season.

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In defence of Theo Walcott: the problem lies more with the club than one player.

Steve Hankey’s back (@Steve_Hankey, he also has a non-Arsenal blog here). Today he discusses Theo Walcott. I promise to write something here soon, been a bit bogged down at the minute. Not a great time to be bogged down. I will write before Christmas. For now, here’s Steve.

In defence of Theo Walcott: the problem lies more with the club than one player.

During my daily trawl of the football sections I came across yet more column inches on Theo Walcott’s impending exit from Arsenal. I tend to agree with arseblog that if Walcott were to stay he would have signed a deal by now. Therefore I think Arsenal fans should brace themselves for yet another high profile exit. Much has been said by Walcott as to why signing a new deal has taken time: it’s not about the money, he wants to play through the middle and that his last contract took five to six months to sign. Personally I think these are merely diplomatic statements by a player who wishes to retain a good relationship with the fans of the club he is currently with. Maybe Theo the man does want to stay at Arsenal. I’ve got a feeling though that Theo the professional is heading for the exit door.

As fans we could rage vociferously about there being too much money in the modern game, no loyalty to clubs etc. These are valid points. However just for a second let’s look at it from Walcott’s boyish-faced perspective. Two years ago he was in a team with Song, Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy. Combined with the talents such as Wilshere, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Szczesny  and himself who remain at the club, there was genuine potential for that team to compete for the title. If it had stayed together and been added to by the experience that we now have in Mertesacker and Arteta, who knows what may have been. Yet we’ve had the worst of both worlds, firstly the talent without the experience and latterly the experience without the same level of talent. How much would Fabregas have benefited from having Arteta at the club at the same time as him for example?

From Walcott’s perspective again I think of all the exits Van Persie’s must have been the hardest to take. Whilst Nasri, Fabregas and Song we’re all “a dream to play with”, on and seemingly off the pitch Van Persie and Walcott were close. Not only that but coming after the exits of the previously mentioned trio, it’s not hard to see Walcott questioning his own position. If he perceives a club going backwards and his contract situation as a potential way out, one can start to see why we’re in the situation with Walcott that we are.

If Theo signs now he has no control, he may commit himself to a team playing Europa League football in the near future and being further away from challenging for the title than when he arrived at the club. Where he is right now, he decides whether he signs with a foreign club in January, he decides whether he leaves on a free for a Chamakh-sized wage. Equally he can decide to sign a new deal with Arsenal. For a player who has never publicly stated his love for the Gunners in the same way Wilshere or Jenkinson has, you can understand why he would want to carry on holding all the cards. Not agree with it, but understand it.

I want Walcott to stay. Not because he’s any better than the players that have previously left, in fact I think he would be the worst of them, but because he is one of if not our best attacking options at this moment in time. No-one else in the squad is as direct or arguably as good a finisher. It’s not just for his qualities that I want Theo to stay though. I believe keeping Walcott despite all and sundry stating he would go would be a statement that the club can keep its best players, that the need to sell our assets to remain in the black has gone. However those in charge of Arsenal in recent years have had a habit of claiming to be doing things the right way yet producing results which indicate that something is wrong, on and off the pitch. I worry that the rot will continue, that Walcott will leave and those running the club will stay in their ivory tower until something disastrous happens. I hope I am wrong and this is all part of the master plan, but I worry that I’m right.

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Reading 5 Arsenal 7 & Manchester United vs Arsenal: A microcosm of Emirates era Arsenal – by Steve Hankey

We have a new contributor writing his first post today. Today’s gubbins comes from the pen/keyboard of Steve Hankey (Twitter). Enjoy.

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Reading 5 Arsenal 7 & Manchester United vs Arsenal: A microcosm of Emirates era Arsenal

It seems well established that Tuesday night’s comeback against Reading was remarkable verging on miraculous. However, in many ways it symbolised everything about the Arsenal teams of what I like to call the Emirates era. Woeful defending characterised by aerial vulnerability and flappy goalkeepers combined with an attacking potency that vacillated between being devoid of direction and devastatingly direct. It is this concoction that has made Arsenal’s post-Highbury incarnation popular with neutrals and frustrating for fans.

The past few days can also be seen as a microcosm of Arsenal’s recent past. Theo Walcott’s performance once again brought the spectre of his contract situation back into the spotlight. This is unfortunately another situation that Gooners have become all too familiar with in recent years. The positive thinker in me thinks he will stay, however that same positive thinker thought he who shall not be named would stay; and we all know how that turned out. Something decisive will happen in January either way.

 

The fusion of old and new: the famous clock from the Clock End at Highbury adorns Arsenal’s new home.

This microcosm of Emirates era Arsenal continues with this weekend’s fixture against Manchester United. This fixture has lost a lot of the fire it had in the early Wenger years, predominantly because Arsenal have not consistently challenged Utd for the title since the emergence of Chelsea and latterly Manchester City. However with Van Voldermort playing against us for the first time the tension shall return, but not for the reason Arsenal fans would like it to.

Will history look back at the early years at the Emirates as a period of transition before the return to the glory days? Those who cite the effective introduction of Financial Fair Play see a far more level playing field for self-sustaining clubs such as Arsenal in the future. Whether FFP is effective or not, the shackles of the Nike and Fly Emirates commercial shirt sponsorships will soon be removed which will certainly increase Arsenal’s revenue substantially. I could go on but I feel this is a discussion to expand upon in another blog.

They say that a week is a long time in politics, football and life. The maxim certainly applies this week, where to my mind the whole narrative of Arsenal during the Emirates era has been played out in a mere seven days.

Steve Hankey.

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Horror Show(s)

The man from East Lower has summed it all up pretty nicely (http://eastlower.co.uk/?p=2421). Last night was dismal, spineless and entirely predictable. We were taken apart by a Schalke side that, put simply, had more talent in more areas of the pitch than we had.

I stopped watching after 65 minutes. Firstly because I had to go the curry house to pick up the dinner. Secondly, and much more importantly, I couldn’t stand it anymore. We were abject from the word go and by the time I had to leave, I didn’t want to watch any more. When I found out through twitter that we had conceded, I didn’t fly into a rage at yet another goal conceded after dominating for no reward. I just sighed and read the Mirror while waiting for my food.

I’m wholly against jumping to snap conclusions after two admittedly very poor results but I can’t help the feeling that something is desperately wrong at the club and it has been simmering under the surface for some time. Today’s AGM was possibly the most fractious on record. Peter Hill-Wood was, if reports are to be believed, dismissive and rude towards the fans, yet again.

I don’t like to criticise Hill-Wood. I really mean that. I don’t. His family, including him personally, have invested their time, money and energy into our football club in a way that doesn’t just deserve, but rightly demands, our respect. However, he was, as mentioned, rude and dismissive towards the fans at the AGM, who, as far as I can see, appeared only to have the temerity to ask some very pertinent questions about the direction of the football club and its goals and ambitions. Following two summers where we have lost our best players and not adequately replaced them, there is a lost of ill-feeling towards those who run the club, particularly after Ivan Gazidis’s much reported bonus on top of his £1.6m a year salary.

During the process of the move to the Emirates, we were assured by the Board and by Arsene that the stadium debt would not impact on the club’s ability to compete in the transfer market. Since then, there have been some mitigating circumstances to deal with, namely the emergence of the mega-rich in the football world, whose reckless and unsustainable spending has inflated the transfer market to the point where we struggle to compete.

I like the fact that we haven’t gone down that road, despite the fact that our owner is worth an estimated $3.2 billion. When we do win something again, and we will, it will mean more. But at the moment, I just get the feeling that things are being hidden from us. I can’t shake the feeling that either a) we aren’t totally reinvesting all the money available in improving the ability of the playing squad or b) that money was never actually there in the first place. If it’s the latter, I would much rather be told. For all our desire and passion for victory, we fans are an understanding lot. If the club is struggling because, temporarily, we simply cannot compete, then so be it. The road is long and sometimes hard and I, for one, would understand. However, at the moment, it appears to be wilful blindness on behalf of those in charge, an inability to accept the fact that if you sell your best players you have to go out there and get adequate replacements. If you sell that Dutch guy, you don’t go and get Ligue 1’s top scorer and call it an adequate replacement.

There are a lot of open wounds surrounding Arsenal right now and they don’t appear to be going away any time soon. The only way this situation can be improved is by action on the pitch, not words off it. A result against QPR will be a start on what is now going to be a very long journey towards restoring the idea that board want the same for the club as the fans. Until that time, we may be in for a bit of a rough ride.

It is, as ever, Arsene for whom I feel most sorry. His commitment, desire and love for the club cannot be questioned. I do wonder if we could do with freshening up the backroom staff thoroughly to bring in some new ideas but overall, I trust and respect him more than any other human being whom I haven’t met. In an ideal world, we’d take all our money (if we have any), go and buy out the Ajax backroom staff and also get Christian Eriksen, and then start building from there. That isn’t going to happen. For now, we just have to trust that Arsene knows the way.

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Oh Bugger.

Good morning. Well, it’s not really a good morning. Not if you’re an Arsenal fan, which I assume you are if you’re reading this blog. And to be honest, it would be odd if you were reading and you weren’t. The big Arsenal news of the last 24 hours is the statement war that erupted yesterday afternoon between Robin Van Persie and Arsenal. Mid-afternoon yesterday, Van Persie (from now on I am refusing to use the terms RVP or Robin. He doesn’t deserve that loving familiarity anymore) released a statement saying that he does not intend to extend his contract at Arsenal because, after his meeting with Arsene and Ivan Gazidis at the end of the season, ‘it has again become clear to me [Van Persie] that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward.’

My initial reaction was shock, anger and a lot of sadness. Say what you will, but Van Persie was by far and away our best player last season, he lead the team, he carried the damn team for most of the season and he was our most important player. After I had got over the initial rage, sadness and slight feelings of murderous intent, my emotions morphed towards something more like disappointment for two reasons. Firstly, I’m going to have to think of a new name for this blog and none of our other players have confectionery appendages. Bacary Sagna’s Liqourice Bootlace Dreadlocks doesn’t quite roll of the tongue as nicely as RVP’s Chocolate Leg.

Secondly, I was, and continue to be, very disappointed in Robin Van Persie. I genuinely thought he was different. I genuinely thought that those pictures of him as a kid wearing an Arsenal top, the fact that his father said in an interview that ‘He is a real Gunner,’ the commitment and will to win that he showed last season, putting himself on the line, playing out of his skin for the Arsenal. He seemed like one of that rare breed who cared as much as we do. Now it seems that, just like all the others, he’s only interested in his 30 pieces of silver. Well, he can take them. The Club will live on without him.

A further aspect to my feeling of disappointment came from the further comments he made about the club in the statement he released. He talks repeatedly of his ‘respect’ and ‘loyalty’ to the club, while at the same time making it very obvious that his intention is to leave. I think someone may need to buy him a dictionary because nothing that happened yesterday was the by-product of either ‘loyalty’ or ‘respect.’ Yesterday’s occurrences were the product of a player being told that, after one admittedly outstanding season, he was literally The Greatest Striker Who Ever Lived and that he could do better elsewhere. And if he goes, fine. But he should go knowing that if he had displayed true loyalty and had true respect for the club, he would have gone down in the Arsenal annals as a true legend. Now he’s just going to be a footnote.

His statement smacks of a player who wants a move but has also realised that there is currently very limited interest in him. And, looking at it objectively, it’s very easy to see why teams would be cautious to spend money on Van Persie. He’s 29, last season was the first time in 7 years at Arsenal that he has actually completed a full season without a serious injury and any buying clubs can be certain that if they want to buy, Arsenal will be looking for big money. The Telegraph suggested yesterday that City were ready to offer £20m for him, but given that Andy Carroll cost almost twice that again, I’d be inclined to think they won’t settle for anything short of £30m.

The Club seemed to be taken aback by the timing and wording of Van Persie’s statement and soon after issued their own statement, saying:

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We have to respect Robin’s decision not to renew his contract. Robin has one year to run on his current contract and we are confident that he will fulfil his commitments to the Club.

“We are planning with ambition and confidence for next season with Arsenal’s best interests in mind.”

I saw some fans immediately jump on the Piers Moron led bandwagon about how this is all Wenger and the Board’s fault for not showing enough ambition but, frankly, it doesn’t wash with me. If Van Persie wants to leave, that’s fine. We all knew, in our heart of hearts, that there was a decent chance that his departure would happen this summer. I think that what rankles with most Arsenal fans is that a player we loved and respected chose to screw over the Club like a common or garden Nasri. A Club, let’s not forget, that invested millions of pounds in him, stood by him through injury, through allegations of rape and he has repaid us with one great season.

And imagine how Arsene must be feeling right now. In two successive summers, he is going to have lost players who he nurtured, who he invested his time in and, judging by the way those players talk about him, he also invested in on a deeply personal level. To have another one of them leave like this must be a hammer blow to the boss.

However, despite all this, the Club we love lives on. We are the Arsenal and we will survive. Til next time (when this blog will have a new name).

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Fever Pitch

Those of you out there who have read Nick Hornby’s magnificent autobiography and Arsenal book Fever Pitch will know of the parallel the he draws between his own emotional state and the fortunes of the club. As things got worse for us and we went 18 long years without winning the league, indeed, without even looking like we’d ever win the league ever again, Hornby’s own fortunes in life were equally as bleak leading him into a period of clinical depression that was overcome at the same time as we went on to lift the league in ’89.

The reason for that precis of a great book (if you haven’t read it, do) is that at half-time on Sunday, I felt like my life was becoming more and more like Hornby’s by the minute. The end of a long-term relationship on Friday night had compounded the general malaise that I was feeling after the 3 league defeats and some pretty poor general life situations (debt, joblessnes etc.) and at 4.45 on Sunday, I sat staring at my computer screen about as blue as I have been for four or so years. Everything in life seemed a little bit pointless. I (we) couldn’t get a win from anywhere. We were going to get dumped out of the cup by a team whose sole attacking threat is a filthy Spurs cast off.

I don’t believe in fate or higher powers. But there’s something in me that likes to think that in that dressing room at half time, those players were thinking of me. Robin was stood giving his inspirational team talk and pulled up a photo of me and said to the assembled team: “This guy has supported the club for the best part of twenty years. His girlfriend left him on Friday night. He’s generally pretty upset with his life. Let’s give him some hope.’

Of course, the above didn’t happen but the turn-around did feel like it had been planned for me. The team were playing with my emotions and I was very near breaking point. The first half was so very typical of our recent form. We were fairly dominant, we were knocking it about nicely, Rosicky, who had a generally good game, was running things in midfield but there was no end product. We weren’t getting the ball to RVP, Theo was having a shocker, Oxo-Cube hadn’t got into the game and then we concede basically against the run of play. Aaron Ramsey was left two against one from a short corner, Robbie Keane lifted up a decent cross and Richard Dunne, a man who we have punished more than any other player apart from Paul Robinson, got on the end of to head past a despairing Fabianski. My head hit the desk.

Their opener was followed by a decent bit of possession for us, then in the 41st minute, they broke and scored the kind of goal we used to score. They moved it quickly up the pitch, got it Darren ‘Sp*rs Reject’ Bent and his first effort was blocked by Fabianski, but he made no mistake of the second from a tight angle. I sighed. I went to make a cup of tea.

I’ve already hypothesised as to what was said at half-time and, whatever was said, we were a different team. Mertesacker had a header that went straight to Given, Ramsey had a decent chance on his weaker foot, Vermaelen cracked a shot in from distance a little wide. We looked like we were playing with purpose.

When it came, the penalty, like most penalties, was merely a result of the dominance we were showing. Ramsey was put through nicely, Richard Dunne went through him and never looked like getting the ball and we got the spot kick. Quite how Dunne stayed on the pitch is beyond me, as he was already on a yellow for a nasty challenge on Rosicky in the first half. Neil Warnock called the decision to keep him on by the referee as a ‘good one’. Or it’s not a proper enforcement of the rules. But now is not the time for complaining. Robin stepped up, Given went the wrong way and suddenly there was hope.

The second came just two minutes later and was probably the most satisfying, not only because it was from open play but also because of the quite frankly hilarious circumstances. Theo, who in the first half had looked like a contestant on Jim’ll Fix It who’d won the chance to play for Arsenal and who Arsene had bizzarely picked in a competitive game, waltzed into the box, beat what appeared to be half their team, tried to knick it round Given who palmed it up for former Sp*rs player and general antagonistic prick Alan Hutton to smash against Theo’s shoulder and into the back of his own net. Ha. 2-2.

Redemption and my own slow rise out of a depressive funk was completed five minutes later. Koscielny was fouled by Darren Bent in their box. Quite what they were both doing there, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter now. Robin took his second penalty of the game, Given went the wrong way again and our Number 10 smashed it high into the top corner to give us the lead and equal Dennis Bergkamp’s scoring record of 120 Arsenal goals. Well done Robin.

What happened in the rest of the match is, quite frankly, pointless. They went close once but apart from that we saw it out. From a personal point of view, it was exactly what I needed. We’re through to the next round of the cup and I felt a burden being lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t perfect but somehow it was just what I needed. They dragged me down the the depths of despair and then took me to the heights of ecstasy. It’s moments like this that make all of the pain worthwhile.

Til next time.

P.S.

If you want another good way of getting over the end of a relationship or any other lifetime malaise, may I recommend watching all 49 games of the unbeaten run. You can find it here.

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