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

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Proud of my club…

I will always favour an exciting style....

I will always favour an exciting style….

I actually felt quite sorry for Adam Federici as his mistake in the FA Cup semi-final will go down in history as being the reason why Reading did not beat Arsenal a couple of weekends ago but in actual fact, when you step back and assess the match as a whole, we just about did enough to be deserving of the win. That’s why I can proudly say that we are in the FA Cup final for the second year in a row. Part of me wants us to cruise to a comfortable victory this time but an even larger part of me craves the rollercoaster of emotions that was last year’s final. Personally, I enjoy the excitement of flirting with defeat then snatching a victory as opposed to just winning but that’s me.

Chelsea fans would disagree wholeheartedly and would argue that getting the results to win the title is the most important thing. They’d probably claim that I was being petulant following our 0-0 draw and was just jealous that they’ve won the Premier League already. However, they would be extremely wrong. I used to (not anymore) be jealous of Manchester United growing up. Under Ferguson, they used to win pretty much all the time, played with an attacking verve and were rarely dull. I’m not a secret United fan bur I’m just trying to make it clear that my hatred for them was purely out of jealousy whereas I hate Chelsea because they’re killing the beautiful game.

Most of the British media don’t see this and suck up to Mourinho (I don’t know why because he is so rude to them); believing that negative football is acceptable if it brings results. Like I suggested earlier though, you can win the title playing in an expansive style like Manchester City did last season or Manchester United done more often than not in my formative years. Is it any wonder that the National Team is so bad? Maybe it’s because these ideas of negativity is winning are floating around our game? Is it a co-incidence that the World Champions at the moment are Germany, a country Jose has never managed in? Just saying!

If anything, boring doesn’t work. People will say how can you say that when Chelsea have won the league? Simply because, like the Federici example, what goes down on paper doesn’t tell the whole story. They have been fortunate to say the very least over the past month or so. They should have drawn against Hull City, Stoke and QPR. On all three occasions were handed the 3 points on a plate due to goalkeeping mistakes. Then there’s the match at the Emirates on Sunday where the Blues were a Mesut Özil/Danny Welbeck mis-hit away from losing. Yes, luck is a huge part of football but to say Mourinho is a tactical genius is laughable.

I can only remember Arsène Wenger as Arsenal manager but I have read many history books/watched lots of archive videos and I am so relieved that we are no longer renowned for being boring. I’m immensely proud that we play attractive football and although that has not brought us a lot of success recently, I’m confident the league titles will return soon because being exciting and winning matches are not separate concepts. The Invincibles proved that

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

Brimming with optimism…

More silverware to come please...

More silverware to come please…

As you can imagine, I am still buzzing from the 3-0 demolition of Manchester City on Sunday. I accept that the Community Shield is not a prestigious piece of silverware like the Premier League or FA Cup but it’s still a trophy and a nice one to kick off the season with. Like Arsène Wenger said after the game, “people remind you that you lost a trophy when you lose it and when you win it, it’s only a Community Shield”. Once again, the man has hit the nail on the head. Everyone associated with Manchester City is saying that the match was merely the final preparation before the new season yet if Arsenal had lost, it would have shown our squad is no where near good enough and the FA Cup was a fluke.

Another excuse was that Manchester City didn’t have many first team players available but that is a load of rubbish when you assess the players that Arsenal were missing. The media spoke about how they lacked players such as Zabaleta, Kompany and Aguero but completely overlooked the Gunners’ absentees including Mertesacker, Walcott and our record signing Mesut Özil. The fact that we played the whole of the second half with two fullbacks at centre half and still kept a clean sheet is pretty impressive. City had two central defenders who have both played first team football before (Nastasic and Boyata) but both were torn apart by Sanchez and co.

So we were both not at our full strength yet the comfortable score line suggests that Arsenal have superior squad depth and Arsene Wenger is the better manager. The problem is normally injuries and time will tell whether the issues arise again this season but I am confident that the cover is there this year. This was highlighted on Sunday. No Mertesacker but Chambers slotted in well and looked comfortable. Last year, it was evident that we lacked pace when Walcott wasn’t in the team but now we have Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell who can come in. Even up front, we seem to suddenly have a load of choices because most of our squad can seemingly play in a variety of positions.

I’d also like to point out the tactical naivety of Manuel Pellegrini on Sunday. He played a 4-4-2 and saw his midfield overrun by five, sometimes seven if you count Gibbs and Debuchy, players. If Wenger had done that, he would have been lambasted as a fool but the Chilean got away with it as it was only a ‘friendly’. Anyway, our acquisitions over the summer that have made the squad very strong plus the genius Frenchman in charge means I am (for the first time in ages) optimistic that we can mount a serious title challenge.

Bring on Saturday but knowing my lack, Crystal Palace will burst our little bubble.

By Glen Shorey

Season review…

Back to winning ways...

Back to winning ways…

The Premier League finished 9 days ago but with the FA Cup final coming the following Saturday, I thought it was best to leave my thoughts on the 2013/14 campaign (mainly focused on Arsenal) to now. Fortunately, the FA decided to have the landmark fixture after the league season had ended, which makes the day even more special. I felt sorry for Wigan Athletic last year who were victorious at Wembley on the Saturday before having their cup celebrations cut short on the Tuesday when they were relegated. The final should always be kept completely separate from league proceedings as it allows both teams and fans to fully prepare for the grand occasion

Whether I deemed this season to be an overall success or failure for Arsenal pretty much came down to the result of the Wembley showdown. I know that sounds simplistic but ending the 9 year trophy drought was so important for the Gunners moving forward. Not only that but failing to end the season with a piece of silverware would point to a lack of progression. Yes, we finished with a better points total in the league (79) compared to 2012/13 (73), but it was fourth again. That is still an achievement as there are sixteen other clubs in the Premier League including Manchester United, Tottenham and Everton, who would have killed for that position last term.

However, I am very happy to say that we did win on Saturday so the fact we did qualify for the Champions League is merely a nice little extra on top of the FA Cup. That is why we have had a much better season than 18 other Premier League teams (only Manchester City can trump us with the title). Liverpool and Chelsea fans will argue otherwise but the fact is, we won silverware in 2014 and they didn’t. I’d rather finish 4th with a trophy than second/third with absolutely nothing. I’ve had to put up with a lot of stick over the past 9 years about finishing in the Top 4 but empty-handed. Now, the boot is on the other foot.

Before the season, I predicted that Arsenal would ultimately fail to win the league. That was justified on the opening day when we slipped to a 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa so to finish the campaign with a cup is pretty impressive in my opinion. 4th is slightly disappointing as we were top for 128 days and by January, I started to believe we had a chance but maybe I got carried away considering our start. If someone had told me after that horror-show on August 17th that we would finish 4th and win the FA Cup, I would have laughed in their face. So to actually go on and do that makes 2013/14 an overall success and means that I am one very content Gooner.

Away from Arsenal, I have to say congratulations to Manchester City who won the marathon title race. The Gunners pulled a calf muscle by setting off too early, Chelsea had bursts but lacked a final push and Liverpool fell over in the final sprint. It’s not surprising at all considering the money City have but I did think Mourinho’s men would take the title back in August (thankfully they failed miserably).

Commiserations to Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham FANS for being relegated but I’m glad because utter morons run your clubs. Vincent Tan got his comeuppance for sacking Malky Mackay, the Norwich board stupidly got rid of Chris Hughton with only 5 games left and Fulham took managerial musical chairs to a new level (3 in one season). They all got a taste of karma.

A pat on the back must also go to Tony Pulis. I didn’t like the man at Stoke but he kept Crystal Palace up, which was pretty miraculous considering their shocking displays under Ian Holloway earlier on in the season. The surprise for me is that Pulis has not got them playing ugly football. It’s efficient counter-attacking play, which is not that bad to watch, unlike Chelsea.

As well as my pre-season title prediction, I got a couple of others wrong. I said that Michael Essien would be a player to watch out for, what with Mourinho coming back, but I haven’t heard about his where-abouts for ages (I think he went out on loan in January). I also said that Sunderland would be the team to watch out for but I was wrong as they diced with relegation again. However, their run to the Capital One Cup final plus their end of season form shows that they are a team to be reckoned with if they put their minds to it.

By Glen Shorey

Agony to ecstasy

FA Cup and Top 4 would be brilliant...

FA Cup and Top 4 would be brilliant…

In my previous post, I referred to Arsenal’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan Athletic as a must win game in order to save our season. Since the turn of the year, we have been gradually getting worse in the league and were, after the defeat at Everton, out of the top 4. It was (still is) possible that we could finish trophyless for the ninth year running and miss out on Champions League qualification. Of course, I was gutted by our embarrassing loss at Goodison Park but still felt confident we could finish the campaign on a high. The sheer importance of beating a Championship side a Wembley could not be overstated.

So when Gomez stepped up to put Wigan 1-0 up after 63 minutes, I was understandably distraught. For the next 18 minutes, I sat motionless looking at the Wembley pitch (just like I did after our Carling Cup Final defeat back in 2011). My head was full of hateful thoughts towards these established international players such as Sagna, Cazorla and Vermaelen who had bottled yet another big match. Us fans can sort of forgive being thumped in the league but to lose a game of this magnitude where the future of the club hangs in the balance is criminal.

Not only did the team lack courage but also I was sure the footballing God’s were against us. With 10 minutes of normal time left, a Gibbs header was saved but looked to still be going in. That was until a Wigan defender somehow cleared the ball off the line. I sank back in my chair, head in hands and resigned to the fact that the silverware cabinet at the Emirates would remain bare once again. However, Arsenal Football Club has this amazing knack of salvaging hope from the rubble. They push fans to the edge of disappointment before re-kindling their love for the team in an instant.

I felt this sudden change in emotion at Wembley 9 days ago when Mertesacker scored the equaliser in the 81st minute. I nearly fell out of my wheelchair in all the excitement and celebration. I was relieved that there was still life in the old dog but more importantly; I started to BELIEVE (as my t-shirt says) again that the cup dream was still on. The match was still only 1-1 so we weren’t through to the final by any means and would have to play 30 minutes extra time. The crossbar denied Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 110th minute, which summed up our day of misfortune in front of goal.

That’s why when the lottery they call penalties began, I was sure we would miss a couple. However, it was Wigan who had two spot-kicks saved by Fabianski. Arteta, Giroud, Kallstrom and Cazorla all remained calm to put Arsenal into their first FA Cup final since they last won a trophy in 2005. As you can imagine, I was so happy when the winning penalty hit the net. Not only did it potentially mean our silverware drought would come to an end in May but being in the final on the 17th May would extend our season by an extra week (which delays the boring wait for August).

Plus, I felt that the positive result would inject much needed confidence back into a bruised team and we would finish the season well. Two wins in the league following our penalty triumph suggests that this is the case but time will tell whether our season will end in the agony of winning nothing for the ninth year in a row or pure ecstasy with Champions League qualification and the FA Cup.

By Glen Shorey