A different feeling…

Wenger's got this...

Wenger’s got this…

It’s that time of year again. The football season has come to a close and we have to wait patiently like school children for the new term to begin. What with the Women’s World Cup and U21 European Championships, it will not be long until all the excitement of another Premier League campaign returns. In fact, I have left my end of season review so late this year that the fixtures have already been released. There is a month and a half until Arsenal kicks off the 2015/16 season at home to West Ham United (the Community Shield does not really count as the curtain raiser unless of course you win it like we did last year) and I for one am feeling extremely positive.

Last season was a very good one (any season that ends with a piece of silverware is) but I have to be honest and admit that if we had won the Premier League or Champions League, it would have been even better. However, I’m not going to moan that we only won the FA Cup, as it’s still a trophy at the end of the day. Just like last year, the only team in the top flight that had a more successful season than us were the league Champions. I would rather finish third and win the FA Cup for a record 12th time than finish second but empty handed. Eventhough we finished a further three points behind Chelsea than Manchester City the year before, we did improve positionally and only failed to challenge for the title because of our sluggish start.

Some people are directly comparing the 2013-14 campaign to the 2014-2015 one because both ended in FA Cup glory but looking back, I feel we are in a much stronger position now and definitely can push on for the title. You’ve only got to look at our final two games of the season. The 4-1 victory (including a Theo Walcott hat-trick) at home to West Brom and the emphatic 4-0 against Aston Villa in the final sent out a clear message. Everyone was made to sit up and take note of the massive threat Arsenal possess. We can be treated as serious title contenders. Only a fool would say otherwise.

For years, I desperately wanted a CDM in the mould of Gilberto Silva but my prayers have finally been answered with the emergence of the rock that is Francis Coquelin. All the talk is that you can’t win the title with Olivier Giroud up front or Wojciech Szczesny in goal but I strongly disagree (sorry Thierry). It’s that unsung hero in the middle of the park that holds the key to a Championship winning side. If Chelsea had Mikel instead Matic last year, they almost certainly would not have won the title. That being said, we still need to get sufficient cover for Coquelin because unfortunately both Flamini and Arteta cannot recreate what Francis does.

Apart from players such as Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal improving significantly, another positive that puts us in good stead ahead of the new season is the way that the team is set up now. Arsene Wenger rarely gets any credit for his tactical nouse but the way that the team now (it started in our 2-0 away victory against Manchester City) press in numbers, work for each other and have become more stable overall owe a lot to the way he has changed the way they train. I was lucky enough to visit the training ground back in early May and saw first hand how a lot of drills focus on winning the ball back/pressurising the opponent

Of course, all this excitement can be tempered by talking about the disappointment that was the first leg against Monaco in the Champions League round of 16 or the defeats to Swansea and Spurs but unlike earlier in the season, I cannot blame these bad results on the fact they were pre-Coquelin/ pre-our new style of play. You just have to take a loss on the chin sometimes and accept that not every match is going to go to plan. Even the Invincibles had a few poor matches where they scraped a draw or even lost (in the Cups)

So yeah, I think there are so many positives (including a major trophy) we can take into the new campaign. I don’t feel we need big signings this summer but at the same time, I feel we could do with a CDM cover as I mentioned and also a new Per Mertesacker (similar stature but younger and quicker). Apart from that, I’m content with what we have. 2 more squad signings plus Cech if the rumours are true and I feel we are ready…

We’re coming for you!

We’re coming for you!

Chelsea Football Club.

We’re coming for you!

By Glen Shorey

Groundhog season?

Everything's looking up for next season...

Everything’s looking up for next season…

Since my last post, a lot of people have been drawing comparisons with recent years and are still questioning whether we are progressing as a club? As we reach the business end of the 2014/15 campaign, everyone (whether they know about football or not) seems to be starting to judge how well each team has done over the past 9 months. With Arsenal, there are two clear ways you can assess our season. There are many who believe that even if we (hopefully) go on to win the FA Cup and finish top 4 again, the team has stagnated whereas some share my view and feel the team is in a very good position regardless of what happens at Wembley.

I believe the recent winning streak of eight games in the Premier League or in all competitions (depending on how you look at it) just goes to show that we are playing, dare I say it, like Champions elect. Unfortunately, we will not win the Premier League this year but I feel we will push Chelsea close in the remaining 6 matches and can definitely challenge for the title next year. At the end of the 2014 summer transfer window, I would have thought you were mad if you had told me we would be 2nd and not that far off top in mid-April because we still desperately needed to sign an expensive defensive midfielder.

With the emergence of Francis Coquelin, I now think our first team has the perfect balance of being solid defensively and dominant going forward. For me, he just keeps getting better every match and is that world-class holding midfielder we have craved ever since Gilberto departed. Some are still not convinced but the fact we’ve only lost three matches since Christmas and Coquelin has played in most shows that he is vital to all that is good with Arsenal. Yes, we need to buy another CDM as cover because Flamini and Arteta are simply not good enough in that position but spending £20-30 Million on a top class midfielder is not necessary in my opinion.

As always, quite a few are also pondering once again if Arsene Wenger is still the man to take us forward. I have always remained resolute and forthright in my belief that the Frenchman is a genius of the highest order. He may have some flaws and blind spots but the fact is that us Arsenal fans have had more ups than downs in his 18 and a half year tenure. I am confident he has built a very good squad that can challenge on all fronts. What is clear is that the signing of Mesut Özil in Sept 2013 signalled a change, not just because the club were finally spending big money but also because a message was sent out that Arsenal mean business.

By Glen Shorey

Alive and kicking…

He left because you're not very good...

He left because you’re not very good…

Following the horror show that was the Champions League Round of 16 first leg last month where (in case you forgot) Arsenal were crushed 3-1 at the Emirates by AS Monaco, the important thing was bouncing back strongly. No impressive displays were required. It was just crucial to get back to winning ways and secure six points in our next two Premier League fixtures. That’s exactly what we did. You could sense the nervousness in the team and around the stadium in our home match with Everton but we remained patient and got the goals in the end. This gritty determination was again on show a few days later at Loftus Road where we held off a QPR fight back to triumph 2-1.

After those lacklustre and underwhelming performances, I was 100% convinced that we would fail to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford (especially after our recent results in those fixtures). The only way Arsenal could possibly progress in the FA Cup is by nicking a draw and bringing back the Red Devils to The Emirates for a replay. I could not believe it when we actually won up there for the first time since 2006, and the fact that Manchunian Danny Welbeck scored the winner made it taste even sweeter. People accused us of celebrating too hard but as I said, we were expecting yet another away defeat to Man United, and to lose grip of our trophy.

Instead of that, we now have an excellent chance (not nailed on) to retain the FA cup and finish the season with silverware again. The win will hopefully give us confidence to kick us on in the Premier League too so that we can finish second at least, which will be a vast improvement on last year. Following our easy 3-0 win over West Ham at the weekend, and other results going our way, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could mount a title charge. I doubt it, but you never know. If we keep the momentum up in the league, and Chelsea/Man City continue to slip up. All I ask is that Arsenal are there to pounce.

Regarding the near impossible task tonight out in Monaco, I am not holding my breath and cannot see us winning the match, let alone by 3 goals. However, that doesn’t mean I wont be watching it and hoping for a miracle.

By Glen Shorey

Nightmare…

It's difficult to remain upbeat after that shambles...

It’s difficult to remain upbeat after that shambles…

A month ago, I wrote a post titled Happy Days (https://ateameffort.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/happy-days/) where I concluded that life was ‘looking rosy for Arsenal supporters’. Just over a week later, a narrow defeat to Tottenham Hotspur signalled the end of any lingering title hopes that I might have had. However, the team responded well and went on to secure two hard-fought victories in the league. In between the Leicester and Crystal Palace wins, we also overcame the potential banana skin of Middlesbrough and booked our place in the Quarter Final of the FA Cup. Once again, there was much to be optimistic about. 3rd in the League, still fighting to defend our cup and a very winnable Champions League Round of 16 tie on the horizon.

If only I knew what would happen on Wednesday 25th February 2015, perhaps I would have been less excited a few weeks ago (plus I could’ve gone to see Stewart Lee at my local theatre). Losing 3-1 at home is never acceptable but it was made even worse by the fact we were playing AS Monaco Don’t get me wrong, a team who wins their group and only concedes once in six games is anything but poor. However, they were much more preferable to being paired with the European heavyweights such as Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. We had a really good chance of progressing past the first knockout round but unfortunately, we blew it with a horrendous display.

There is basically no chance of progression because the away goals rule means Arsenal have to score three without reply in the South of France to go through, which seems highly unlikely as we didn’t score until the 90th minute and didn’t look dangerous prior to that. Yes, Olivier Giroud didn’t have his shooting boots on but we never truly threatened if I’m being honest. When we finally did score with a lovely goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, we should’ve shut up shop and took the 2-1 defeat. Instead, just like in 2013 against Bayern Munich, we naively tried to get an equalizer, got caught on the break and made the job in the return leg nigh on impossible.

The performance on Wednesday night was so limp and uninspiring that I’m now incredibly nervous about our trip to Old Trafford next week and think the FA Cup will slip out of our grasps, for this year anyway. I’m also worried about our upcoming league matches against Everton and QPR. We cannot afford to let teams such as Tottenham and Liverpool back in the race for the Top 4.

By Glen Shorey

Happy days…

That's why we're FA Cup champions...

That’s why we’re FA Cup champions…

For the first time this season, Arsenal are on a winning streak of more than three games in all competitions. So far in this stop start campaign; we have tended to win two matches (once we managed three on the bounce) and then either scrape a disappointing draw at home or be brought back down to earth with a bump by losing away. I have to admit that, although I am blindly optimistic when it comes to football, I did deep down still believe that we stood no chance at the Etihad. Our record against the top teams in recent years has been horrendous so I had nothing to fill me with positivity. Going to the Champions, scoring a couple of goals and keeping a clean sheet would be nigh on impossible

Somehow Arsenal managed just that and even a diehard Manchester City fan could admit we fully deserved the three points. It was a complete performance and one I haven’t seen from my beloved team for years. Even in the FA Cup last year, we still let in two and it took a while to warm up so it wasn’t perfection. Against Manchester City, every player bar none put in a shift from kick off right through to the final whistle and I was immensely proud of them all. Of course, a special mention must go to Santi Cazorla who demonstrated his class with a goal, assist and man of the match performance but yet again I was left speechless by the dominance of Francis Coquelin.

I can almost say for certain that the result would have been very different had the young Frenchman not played the full 90 minutes up at the Etihad. The way that Coquelin acts as a wall for the Arsenal defence is very similar to the job Nemanja Matic does for Chelsea. I know it sounds absurd because a month ago, Arsene Wenger was probably looking to ship the 24 year old out permanently but he has transformed into a player that the team can really not be without. This was proved on Sunday at Brighton. We won 3-2 so it doesn’t really matter in the end but the two goals we did concede could have easily been avoided simply by having the Coq in front of Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal as opposed to Mathieu Flamini

I have said it before but I will repeat the point as more people may agree with me now. Life is looking very rosy indeed for Arsenal supporters. Our team is through to the 5th Round of the FA Cup where we have been drawn against Middlesbrough at home (not easy as they knocked out City but preferable to a tricky away tie). We have gathered a bit of momentum in the league and there is no reason why this should stop. If we continue winning and other results go our way, we could quietly climb up the table. Then there is the Champions League which will be returning soon. That is three competitions we are still alive and kicking in. Whatever happens, I can guarantee that the next few months will be exciting.

Whether I’ll be crying tears of joy or sorrow is yet to be seen.

By Glen Shorey

Not the end…

There's much to get excited about...

There’s much to get excited about…

It’s early January (Happy New Year by the way) and the winter transfer window has just opened. Cue an internet meltdown, as Arsenal fans post about how terrible the team is and that Arsene Wenger needs to buy a truckload of world-class players or leave. I agree we need a few players, especially in defence, but the rumours of Hummels, Varane and Bender are quite frankly unrealistic. Maybe one but not all three. This is not FIFA. I do however honestly believe the boss is willing to do business. It will simply come down to whether the board give him the sufficient money to spend.

Where I do disagree with most Arsenal fans though is the belief that spending big money will bring about instant success. You’ve only got to look at our neighbours Tottenham Hotspur who spent well over £100 Million in the past two years and are in a similar position to us this season. I’m not saying we shouldn’t invest in the squad, just that flexing the muscles in the transfer market doesn’t necessarily mean success on the pitch. We do need strengthening but it doesn’t have to be massive names. Winston Reid or the like is fine with me.

A quick note on Lukas Podolski who has gone on loan to Inter Milan. We have to let players go to get any in so I can’t understand the same people who are desperate for us to make signings are devastated he’s gone. Yes, top quality finisher but so lazy and does not track back, which is problematic for a winger. If I had to choose between getting rid of Podolski or Campbell, I’d keep the young pacey Costa Rican every day of the week so I’m happy.

I always like to end on a positive note so I’ll quickly remind you all why the season is not dead in the water for Arsenal yet. Maybe it will be come March but negativity doesn’t help anyone. Just calm down and think about it. Firstly, we have the small matter of defending our FA Cup crown. Following our comfortable 2-0 victory over Hull on Sunday, a repeat of the 2013 4th round trip to Brighton awaits. Plus, we have a very winnable tie in the Champions League round of 16 against AS Monaco. Also, don’t give up on the Premier League title. You’re probably all laughing because of our shambolic defensive displays of late but 13 points is retrievable. If we be more consistent and the other teams slip up a few times, you never know. Nothing is certain.

By Glen Shorey

Just enjoy it…

Rambo with a strike that will live long in the memory...

Rambo with a strike that will live long in the memory…

For me, supporting Arsenal is like riding a rollercoaster but the difference is that I refuse to get off regardless of how scary it gets. The thrill of winning is so exhilarating that I forget a dismal loss straightaway, even if it is a few days earlier. For example, I was fearful after the Stoke defeat that our season was about to implode but the 4-1 mauling of Galatasaray in the Champions League put the disappointing result at the Britannia to the back of my mind and I could move on. The wonder strike from Aaron Ramsey was on loop in my mind and the horrific thought of being 3-0 down at half time was becoming a distant memory.

I am pleased to report that the team put in another classy performance against Newcastle on Saturday evening and secured the second 4-1 victory in 4 days. Yet Arsenal fans were coming away from the stadium still pessimistic about the future. I kept hearing mumbles of “this won’t last” and they’re probably right but that’s football and there’s absolutely nothing supporters can do apart from cheer on the team. There’s no point worrying about how your defence is going to cope at Anfield the following weekend after witnessing them cruise to a comfortable win. Just enjoy the acute finish from Santi Cazorla and get excited that he is potentially hitting top form again.

Another reason why I’m full of beans is the Champions League draw for the Round of 16. Luck has not been on our side in recent years; drawing Barcelona back-to-back followed by successive ties against Bayern Munich. I was convinced that this year would be no different as we’d finished second in the group again so the likelihood was that we’d face one of Europe’s big 4. I therefore couldn’t believe when we were paired with AS Monaco. Yes, they qualified as group winners so must be decent but it was the tie Arsenal supporters craved as it gives us the best possible chance to progress.

My positive bubble may well burst on Sunday but I just think what’s the harm of being so optimistic. Most of us are strapped in for the long haul so we may as well enjoy the ride.

By Glen Shorey

Crashing down to earth…

The team needs our support...

The team needs our support…

I really like Arsenal but do you really like Arsenal? Or just with trophies? Dennis Bergkamp

As you can imagine, the mood around the Emirates Stadium before the important Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund was one of trepidation and fear. What with the home defeat to Manchester United a few days earlier and the Anderlecht debacle (we let a three goal slip if you didn’t know) in our last European game, people had a right to be less confident. I must admit that I was sure that we would not win and our defence was so leaky that the only way we would get a decent result out of the game would be with a high scoring draw.

However, I have a little something that more than half of our fan base lack. It’s called perspective. I knew that we only needed a point to secure qualification but regardless of whether we got that against Dortmund, Arsenal were only in danger of being eliminated if we lost both our remaining games and Anderlecht won their two matches (unlikely that the Belgian side will win out in Dortmund). I also realised our league position could be a whole lot worse, even after two consecutive defeats. I mean we could be fighting relegation or stuck in the bottom half of the table like Everton.

The Dortmund match was a pleasant surprise as contrary to my pre-match predictions; we cruised to a 2-0 victory with composed finishes from Yaya Sanogo (who broke his duck) and of course Alexis Sanchez. On top of that was a clean sheet, which is always welcome, especially after shipping seven goals in the previous three games. This new found defensive solidarity was not a one off and two 1-0 wins in the Premier League against West Brom and Southampton soon followed. We were now on a run and everything was looking rosy. That was until Stoke sent us home with our tails between our legs on Saturday.

19 seconds. That’s how long it took for Peter Crouch to open the scoring at the Britannia Stadium. A bad start no doubt but with 89 minutes remaining, retrievable to say the least. The players obviously didn’t agree and seemed to give up. They were very fortunate to only be going in 3-0 down at the break. I don’t know what was said in the dressing room but the team were a lot better after the interval. If Alexis had not hit the post (you would normally put your house on him scoring once he has rounded the keeper) and Callum Chambers had not seen red, I’m convinced the match would not have ended 3-2.

Sadly, all them things did happen and we ended up losing. I am still gutted and annoyed at the team for giving Stoke a 3-0 head start before turning up but I still love Arsenal. I am supporter (clues in the name) through thick and thin. It can be frustrating at times but I think Dennis got it right with the above quote. I’m sick and tired of the fair weather fans who only sing when we’re winning and boo or make banners or leave early when things aren’t going well. Please don’t come to matches because you’re not supporters, just glory hunters.

By Glen Shorey

Get a grip…

Clearly it's all Wenger's fault (Sarcasm)...

Clearly it’s all Wenger’s fault (Sarcasm)…

It’s safe to say that Arsenal have not had a great start to the season; we’ve only managed to win six games, lost four and drawn the other seven in all competitions. However, I believe the reactions that have followed the recent disappointing results are over the top and quite moronic. I would like to remind people that the life of an Arsenal supporter is not as terrible or frustrating as one would make out. We’re only three points off the Champions in the Premier League and are in a similar position to Chelsea in the Champions League (only need a point to qualify for the next round). Everyone just needs to take a breath and calm down!

Winning a football match or a piece of silverware is a brilliant feeling but there is one thing I love even more (family aside) and that is Arsenal Football Club. I wish the same could be said for a growing number the fans I see week in, week out home and away. Instead, they seem to be glory hunters who throw their toys out of the pram when we lose. Don’t get me wrong, it’s like I am mourning a death after a bad result but I have the cognitive ability to understand that this is football and no team in the whole world can be victorious in every single match.

Let’s get on to the boring and predictable criticism/abuse that Arsene Wenger is consistently receiving. Now, people will argue that their disillusionment with the Frenchman is nothing new and losing at Swansea just cements their belief that he is not the right man for the job but it is beginning to agitate me. I have said before that I am not a blind loyalist and I’m not. His weaknesses such as being stubborn have always wrangled with me throughout his 18-year tenure but it seems too easy to blame a string of poor performances on one man and not take into account all the other factors surrounding the club.

Football is a team game so the players need to start taking responsibility. Perhaps, after all these years of being a manager, Arsene Wenger should change his coaching style and become a Martin O’ Neil character (bellowing instructions from the touchline). I mean that is clearly the only way you can hold onto a lead in the modern game. I forgot footballers need to be spoon-fed everything and cannot think for themselves. Obviously, I’m being sarcastic and saying that the experienced internationals such as Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker should know how to see a game out. The boss cannot legislate for idiocy.

Another part of the Football Club that needs to come out of the woodwork and stop letting Arsene Wenger be the fall guy is the board and in particular Stan Kroenke. According to a growing number of fans and know-it-all media pundits, the injuries excuse doesn’t cut it (eventhough Chelsea would definitely not be in such a good position if Ivanovic and Cahill were injured but I won’t dwell) because Wenger failed to buy defensive reinforcements. Really? You expect me to believe that the well educated Frenchman refused to get another defender in?

If you’re answer is yes, please answer these next few questions seriously: Does Arsene Wenger have a learning disability that impairs on his ability to make decisions? Did Stan Kroenke offer Wenger additional funds after the initial summer signings to buy a striker AND a defender? Does Wenger believe Nacho Monreal is a better centre back than Mats Hummels? The answer to all three is of course no. He’s not a clinical moron; he knows the defence is not good enough. Has anyone else thought that after the draw at Leicester when fans were crying out for a striker, Kroenke gave him the £16 Million and as Welbeck took up all the money, Arsenal finished the summer without sufficient defensive cover.

I’m guessing most people won’t be swung by my argument but that’s fine, everyone is entitled to an opinion. You just keep taking the easy option and heaping all the blame on the man behind our greatest achievement in Arsenal’s history. You can boo, hiss, make banners, throw your season ticket and go on protests. It’s a free country. Just remember the man’s a good for nothing imbecile next time you’re singing “49 undefeated” or boozing it up on a European away day. I will end this post with two words: Manchester United.

By Glen Shorey

The thieves take advantage…

An unexpected goal-scoring hero…

Arsenal are beginning to make late comebacks their own, in the same way that Manchester United became renowned for stealing results in injury time when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. On one hand, it shows great resolve and character because the team do not know when they’re beaten. However, the fact that it’s nearly November and our performances continue to be so bad that we have to keep relying on late goals to salvage the points is quite alarming. This past week has not been bad in hindsight, as we have come away from three matches without losing, but the manner in which we have played tells a completely different story

The opening 17 minutes of the match against Hull City was very promising. Arsenal had come out of the blocks quickly and were obviously desperate to make a mends for the defeat at Stamford Bridge before the international break. Alexis Sanchez soon put the home side 1-0 up and it surely was only a matter of time until the lead was increased. That wasn’t the case though as Diame equalized (with a rather questionable goal) and the Gunners capitulated from there on in. Soon after the break, the Tigers went 2-1 up and it took the rest of the half for Danny Welbeck to steal the point.

If the Hull game was a light robbery, then what happened last Wednesday evening was a complete smash and grab. It was by far the worst Arsenal performance of the season to date yet we still managed to win. How did that happen? Perhaps it was because I had made the trip to Brussels (lucky European charm)? Or maybe it was a perfectly timed Kieran Gibbs volley and Lukas Podolski’s lethal left foot in a crazy end to the match? Joking aside, we were plain awful and probably should have lost 3-0.

Sunderland on Saturday was another underwhelming and disappointing display but again, somehow we managed to leave the Stadium of Light with all three points. The Black Cats looked like a team who had been beaten 8-0 the previous week and were totally bereft of confidence, especially in defence. If the Arsenal team had put their mind to it, they probably could have ran away with it. Instead of an easy game, we never left first gear and treated it like a training session. Our two goals only came from mistakes so it was more of a mugging this time as opposed to robbery.

It is quite clear that our performances have been below par and I cannot argue that we would have been very lucky to leave Brussels with a point, let alone grabbing a late winner. However, there is at least one obvious positive to be taken from the past two results which perhaps could act as the turning point of our season. For the first time in this campaign, Arsenal have secured back-to-back victories. Hopefully the two away wins can be the start of a streak because our main problem in recent months has been an overall lack of consistency.

Up until now, we have failed to build on positive results. The late win against Crystal Palace on the opening day was followed by an excruciatingly dull 0-0 draw out in Turkey. A week later, Arsenal secured Champions League football for an incredible 17th year in a row but were soon brought down to earth with a bump when new boys Leicester City held them to a draw. The next victory was a comfortable 3-0 up at Villa Park but the euphoria didn’t last long as Southampton soon dumped us out of the Capital One Cup.

Our most impressive win to date was when we demolished Galatasaray 4-1 in a game where Arsenal could’ve and should’ve hit double figures. Again, a disappointing and some might say inevitable 2-0 loss at Chelsea a few days later showed that the triumph in the CL was a one-off. The win out in Anderlecht last week followed by the 2-0 up at Sunderland might be the start of a decent period where we can kick on and continue to grow in confidence. Then again, Burnley could make this whole post irrelevant so I won’t hold my breath. Football is just so unpredictable.

By Glen Shorey