Archive for the ‘Arsenal’ category

Henry goes to Barcelona

June 23rd, 2007

Thierry Henry has confirmed that subject to passing a medical on Monday he will sign a four year deal with Barcelona, reportedly worth £16 million.

While this is not entirely unexpected news, it is still sad to see him go. I had thought I’d be less affected by this, but when I heard the news on the radio this morning confirming his move, I suppose it really hit me what it meant. I think it’s not overstating things to say that this is the end of an era at Arsenal. It’s more than just the fact that he has been an outstanding player for Arsenal, the clubs leading scorer. It’s about the way Wenger has shaped his team and tactics around Henry and his pace. Wenger will now be forced to change this.

There have already been signs last season of this shift when Henry wasn’t fit, and Wenger has tried out different combinations. Adebayor, Baptista, Aliadiere, and van Persie have all stepped in, and the team have had to adjust. However, Baptista did not get a contract and has returned to Spain, while Aliadiere has moved to Middlesborough in his quest for regular first team football. This leaves things very thin up front, though Bendtner will be back from Birmingham, and he looks to be a good prospect.

But there’s the problem – there’s too many good prospects and not enough proven world-class players. With the sale of Henry, and hopefully a good deal for Reyes, Wenger should have enough cash to get hold of some “super, super” players. The team needs them. The fans need them. Another mediocre “transition” season will not be good enough, and could see the departure of Wenger at the end of it to top it all.

So, right now, things are not looking too bright. The only silver lining is that Wenger will now have more funds to chase the top-class players such as Torres and Tevez that the team needs.

Dein resigns from Arsenal board amid takeover speculation

April 20th, 2007

On Wednesday David Dein resigned from the Arsenal board, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the rest of the board. The remaining board members, led by chairman Peter Hill-Wood, have entered an agreement not to sell their shares in the club for at lest 12 months, and have reassured fans that there is a strong relationship between the remaining board members and Arsene Wenger.

It seems that the main reason for Dein’s decision to leave relates to recent share purchase activity by Stan Kroenke, the US billionaire. Kroenke recently purchased ITV’s 9.9% stake in the club, and has been purchasing small amounts of shares that have come onto the market so that he now holds around 11% of the club. Dein appears to be sympathetic to Kroenke’s apparent wish to at least invest in the club, and seems to have fallen out with the rest of the board over this. Peter Hill-Wood has stated of Kroenke and his overtures that:

“we don’t need his money and we don’t want his sort.”

It seems that there was a breakdown in trust between himself and David Dein when Dein’s support of Kroenke became apparent.

The repurcussions of this event are not fully clear at this stage. Dein was responsible for bringing Wenger to the club, and has been responsible for all the transfer negotiations (once Wenger had identified his targets). He has been closely involved with the footballing side of the club’s operations, and has been a driving force behind Arsenal’s recent success – though he disagreed with the building of the new stadium, preferring a move to Wembley as a lower cost, lower risk venture. Dein and Wenger had a very good working relationship, and Wenger described the events as a “sad day for Arsenal Football Club”. Despite reassurances from Wenger and the remaining board members, there is clearly a question mark over Wenger’s future at Arsenal. His contract expires in May 2008, and there has been no official talks with him yet about extending it – though the desire has been expressed by the club several times already.

These events herald potentially turbulent times at Arsenal, full of uncertainty and rumour. Dein and Kroenke may join forces to attempt a hostile takeover, and chief shareholder Danny Fizmann may be ready to sell his 15,000 shares, having finished overseeing the clubs construction of and move to the new stadium, as speculated by Myles Palmer at Arsenal News Review. The approaching summer could be full of takeover speculation and uncertainty – not a good backdrop to trying to attract top talent to the club. If it drags on till next year, it would be even worse, since Wenger’s contract renewal would be added to the mix. Not a scenario that would help settle the players and keep their minds on the pitch, or encourage them to stay. BBC Sport have a good article covering both the background and the potential implications of these events.

Personally, I’m ambivalent about a takeover, though soimewhat inclined to view it positively. Kroenke would bring deeper pockets and a good business sense to the table, though potentially jeopardising the character of the club. However, that character has been gradually eroding anyway, and may be turing into no more than a fond memory.

Henry out for the rest of the season?

March 9th, 2007

Thierry Henry injured at PSV gameTo add injury to insult, it looks like Thierry Henry may be out for the rest of the season following the PSV match this week. During the match he tore his stomach and groin muscles, and is due to have a scan to check the extent of the injury. Wenger gambled when he brought him on, and not only did Henry fail to impact on the match, he has added these new injuries to his dodgy back and hamstring. With van Persie still out with his broken foot and Walcott carrying a shoulder injury, it looks like Arsenal will have to rely on Adebayor, Baptista, and Aliadiere to carry them over the finish line this season.

UPDATE: It has been confirmed on Arsenal.com that Henry will be out for at least three months, which means we won’t see him till next season.

No silverware for Arsenal this season

March 8th, 2007

So, my and many other Gooners’ fears were justified, and Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions Leage by PSV. There’s no real chance of overtaking Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United, so there’ll be no silverware to add to the new trophy cabinet in the Emirates Stadium this year.

Yet again, last night’s match had Arsenal dominating much of the play and having several attempts on goal, and yet failing to score. Their only “goal” was an own-goal by PSV defender Alex, who made up for his mistake by scoring in the 84th minute to leave Arsenal needing to score twice to avoid going out of the competition. This they failed to do, and the empty seats visible in the last few minutes of the game indicated that many fans didn’t believe they were capable of it either.

Arsenal need at least one other consistent goal scorer. In previous seasons they had midfielders such as Pires who got lots of goals each season, plus other strikers who could perform such as Dennis Bergkamp. This season, Robin van Persie is Arsenal’s top striker, closely followed by Thierry Henry and then Gilberto. Henry just isn’t doing it this season like he has in previous years. No doubt injury has played its part in limiting his effectiveness, but I also think that his elevation to Captain has impeded his ability to be selfish and decisive in front of goal. Since he’s not a shouting kind of captain, I think he’s gone for becoming more of a playmaker and assist player, trying to help others score. Frankly, that’s not and shouldn’t be his forte. I want the selfish Henry who runs at and terrifies defenses before curling the ball past the keeper. I want the Henry who thinks of nothing but getting the ball in the back of the net. I want the Henry that can turn on the afterburners after passing to himself in space that leaves defenders coughing in his dust.

However, I fear that Henry is gone, never to return. His pace is gone, his authority is gone, his arrogance is gone. What is left is not enough to carry a whole team for a whole season. Now, maybe Arsene can get that Henry back. Maybe it would mean resting him from now to the start of the next season – I don’t know. But maybe he’ll never be the player he was, and it’s time to cash in on him. I think I wouldn’t be alone in being happy enough to accept a big wodge of cash this summer from Barcelona or whoever in return for a petulant Frenchman past his prime.

But what then? Wenger is not one known to buy ready-made superstars. He seems to delight in developing younger players – and he has done a great job with players such as Fabregas and Clichy, with Denilson looking to join their number before long. But how long can we afford to drop out of competitions and be eternal runners-up while waiting for the youngsters to blossom? There’s no doubt that Wenger’s youngsters did really well in the Carling Cup this season, despite losing to Chelsea’s first team in the final, and they are likely to be an exciting team to watch in the coming years. But what is needed is to blend these up-and-coming players with proven professionals, and specifically a striker with the killer instinct. Whether that’s a player that can work with Henry, or one to replace him, I don’t know. What I don’t want is to see a team that continues to revolve around a single player, and whose success or failure is dependant on that one player’s performance. It’s a team game, after all.

Could Arsenal’s season end tonight?

March 7th, 2007

After losing to Chelsea in the Carling Cup final, and being dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn, Arsenal’s only realistic remaining hope for silverware this season is the Champions League. Tonight Arsenal host PSV Eindhoven in the return leg with the score standing at 1-0 to PSV. Arsenal have to try and score at least 2 goals while keeping a clean sheet, and they have to do this with a less-than-fit Thierry Henry and with other key players such as Rosicky, Eboue, and van Persie unavailable. PSV know they can just hang on for a 0-0 draw and go through, so I expect them to sit back and defend deep, hoping to catch Arsenal on the break. It looks like it’s going to be a tense night for Gooners.

Arsenal dent Spurs’ Carling Cup hopes

January 25th, 2007

Julio Baptista was both villain and hero as Arsenal’s youngsters dented Spurs’ Carling Cup hopes by coming back from 2-0 down to finish with a 2-2 draw last night in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane. Arsenal were 2-0 down at half time following Berbatov’s header and an own-goal by Baptista. However, Arsenal gradually started to dominate the match, and produced some fine football, especially in the second half. Spurs were dangerous on the break, and Almunia had to make a couple of fine saves, but as the match progressed it became all Arsenal.

Fabregas was excellent as usual, and Baptista made up for his earlier mistake by scoring twice. For the first one he showed great strength and determination to get through the Spurs defence and fire past Robinson. The equaliser came shortly after with a lovely pass from Fabregas over the defense to meet Hoyte’s run, who placed an exquisite cross into Baptista’s path to tap in for the equaliser.

It was a great comeback in a match that never became dull, and yet again the youngsters showed why Arsene Wenger places so much faith in them. With two away goals and the return leg to come next week in The Emirates stadium, it’s looking more likely that Arsenal will be meeting Chelsea in the final.

The only downside from the match is injury worries. Aliadiere was playing well but had to go off injured, to be replaced by Eboue, who played in midfield. Diaby was later replaced by Hleb, after having a hit-and-miss match with some good spells, but getting caught in possession too often and too many passes going astray. He still needs some work to complete his return from his nasty ankle injury last year. Later in the match Hleb himself had to come off, after pulling up injured. Flamini came on to replace him, and played well as usual. Things got a little worrying towards the end as Eboue seemed to get injured again – possibly the same injury as seemed to affect him towards the end of the Manchester United match on Sunday. Unfortunately he had to play on, and seemed to run off the worst of the affects, but that may have worsened the problem in the long run. It will be interesting to see who plays in Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Bolton, and who may be rested for the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final next week against Spurs.

Robin van Persie out for at least six weeks

January 24th, 2007

Last Sunday’s victory by Arsenal over Manchester United has come at a cost – Robin van Persie fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot while scoring the equaliser, and is likely to be out for at least six weeks. As Arsenal’s leading goalscorer this season this is quite a blow.

The only consolation is that Henry’s other strike partners such as Adebayor, Aliadiere and Baptista are all having runs of good form. It’s likely that Adebayor will get preference over the others. Arsenal will need all the strikers we can muster during this busy period while they compete in four competitions. However we may well see Aliadiere leaving during the January transfer window, despite his great performance against Liverpool in the Carling Cup.

Tonight sees the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Spurs. Wenger looks set to field his usual selection of reserves/youth players, but if they can repeat their performance against Liverpool they should be fine. Last night Chelsea secured their place in the Carling Cup final, so it’s going to be tough for the young Gunners to go all the way. However, Arsenal’s team spirit is great at the moment, so they have that over the Blues :)

Arsenal news catchup

January 23rd, 2007

OK, so season 2006-2007 is over half-way through, so there’s lots to catch up on since my last post about Arsenal. First up is transfers in and out. During the summer the two main stories were the final farewell to Dennis Bergkamp, and the sale of Ashley Cole to Chelsea. DB10 bowed out in a great testimonial in the first match in The Emirates stadium, which I was thrilled to get tickets to. I will do a proper write-up of it at a later date. Ashley Cole went to Chelsea on the last day of the transfer window, with William Gallas coming to Arsenal as part of the deal. I for one am glad to see him go, since his attitude had gone wrong, and I don’t believe he was welcome at Arsenal any more. Plus it’s great to get a defender of the calibre of William Gallas to join the side.

Other departures during the summer included Robert Pires, who went to Villareal on a free transfer, who were prepared to give him the two-year contract that Arsenal wouldn’t. Shortly after his move he got injured again, so while it’s sad to see him go, it’s probably not a huge loss for Arsenal. Also leaving was Sol Campbell, who ended up in Portsmouth after lots of speculation that he would leave England. His loss was ameliorated somewhat by the arrival of Gallas, but Campbell was a great buy for Harry Redknap, and he has performed really well for Pompey this year. Campbell has just been joined on the south coast by Lauren during the January transfer window. Lauren has been out injured for months and months, and during this time Eboue and Hoyte have had the chance to show their worth. Apparently Wenger could not justify bringing Lauren back into the squad ahead of them, and so Lauren went somewhere that he would get regular football. I’m sure it helped that Kanu was also there as well as Campbell, plus Tony Adams is helping Harry Redknap on the coaching side of things. I wish them all well, and it’s great to see them having success in this years Premiership.

During the summer, Jose Antonio Reyes left for Real Madrid, with Julio Baptista coming the other way. It’s supposed to be a one year loan, with presumably the option to make things permanent at the end of the year. Since returning to Spain Reyes has been much happier, but has been giving out about Arsenal and London. He really didn’t like it there, and does not look like he wants to come rushing back. Baptista has taken a while to get going, and still has some rough edges, but he put 4 past Liverpool in a recent Carling Cup match where Jeremie Aliadiere played out of his skin, so he looks like he might be worth keeping. Wenger was after him during the summer of 2005, and we’re getting glimpses of why Arsene valued him so much.

In terms of performances, Arsenal were runners-up in the Champions League Final last season, and have progressed through the group stages pretty well. They now face PSV Eindhoven in the next round, and should be able to overcome them. In the Premiership they got off to an uneven start, with several home draws in the new stadium to teams they should have beaten. Coupled with some away defeats to the likes of Sheffield United before Christmas, and an extended period with Henry out injured, pundits were writing off the Gunners early in the season. It didn’t help that Chelsea and Man United were pulling away from the rest of the teams. However, things are definitely improving, with Henry back, the youngsters stepping up the the plate, and two recent cup wins against Liverpool in Anfield to dump them out of the Carling and FA cup competitions, topped off with coming from a goal behind on Sunday to win 2-1 against Man United courtesy of two late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry. Arsenal have now done the “Leage Double” on Man United, beating them away courtesy of Adebayor’s single goal and a great team performance, and Sunday’s victory.

However, Arsenal currently lie in 4th place, a point behind Liverpool, 6 behind Chelsea, and 12 behind Man United. The team are still saying they’ve a small chance, but realistically at this stage 2nd place may be the best they can hope for. Chelsea are having problems internally, with a rift supposedly opening up between Mourinho and Abramovitch, and long-term injury to John Terry damaging their defensive capabilities. They look vulnerable, and Liverpool easily beat them 2-0 at the weekend. So, the second half of the Premiership season looks exciting, with Arsenal having an outside chance of a top two finish, progression in the FA Cup where they face Bolton on Sunday (I’ll be there!) and the Carling Cup with the first leg of the semi-final against Spurs on Wednesday night, and hopefully relatively easy progression into the next round of the Champion’s Leage. The team are growing in stature and understanding, the young players are developing into a strong, cohesive unit, and looks like a team that will really come of age in the next season or two. For a “transition” season, it’s not shaping up that badly.

Arsenal clinch 4th place

May 8th, 2006

Thierry Henry ended Arsenal’s stay at Highbury with a hat-trick to lead his team to a 4 – 2 win over Wigan, while Spurs defeat to West Ham meant that the Gunners clinched 4th place in the Premiership, guaranteeing them qualification for next season’s Champions League.

The other match in North London between West Ham and Spurs had earlier been in doubt following news that up to 10 members of the Spurs squad had come down with food poisoning. Spurs had eaten in a local hotel where they were staying prior to the match, and it seems a dodgy lasagna may be at fault.

Spurs had requested 24 hours delay, but following police advice that they could not sanction more than a short delay, and the likelihood of Spurs being docked points if they called the match off, the decision was made to go ahead. Supposedly some of their team members were vomiting immediately prior to taking the pitch.

Apparently police and health and safety officers are investigating the matter, but results will not be forthcoming for a few days. Reportedly Spurs are considering what, if any, legal routes they can pursue regarding compensation for losing out on up to £10 million due to failure to qualify for the Champions League.

Further north, Highbury looked magnificent, with an immaculate pitch with the Highbury Final Salute logo cut into the grass, and giant red and white stripes in the crowd all around the stadium due to the commemorative t-shirts given to all supporters that managed to get tickets to the match. The Wigan supporters all were given blue t-shirts, and witnessed their team providing decent opposition – they were not there just to make up the numbers.

Arsenal opened the scoring when Robert Pires netted on the second attempt at close range. This was soon followed by the news that West Ham had taken the lead in the match against Spurs. The party mood was spoiled somewhat when Wigan scored an equaliser with Scharner getting on the end of Thompson’s free kick to poke the ball past Lehmann into the net. This was followed not long after by a second goal for Wigan, when Thompson took advantage of Lehmann’s positioning and fired in a curving free kick from long range that left the German keeper scrambling innefectually to get to the ball in time.

However, all was not lost, and Henry soon latched onto a Pires through ball and slotted past Pollitt to equalise shortly before half time. However, moods were dampened quickly when news came through that Spurs had equalised. Half time came with Spurs holding onto 4th place.

The second half started in much the same way, with Arsenal gradually dominating the match – though Wigan did pose a threat on the break. The crowd groaned as they heard that Teddy Sherringham had failed to score from the penalty spot against his old club. However, spirits were soon soaring when Henry latched onto a poor back-pass by Thompson, took the ball round the keeper, and cooly slotted home to edge the Gunners into 4th place.

As the half progressed, nerves were on edge. Freddie Ljungberg came on, and moments later he was brought down in the box by Johansson – himself barely on the pitch. Referee Rennie showed him the red card – presumably for preventing a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and Henry stepped up to take the penalty. He sent Pollitt the wrong way, and sealed his hat-trick with a kiss of the Highbury turf.

Minutes later, Jose Antonio Reyes and Alexander Hleb were subsituted for Robin van Persie and, in his last competitive match for Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp. As the Dutchman was welcomed onto the pitch by the fans, the cheers became more joyous as it became clear that West Ham had scored. The last ten minutes were tense, though Bergkamp and Gilberto both had chances.

Two minutes of added time seemed to stretch on for eternity, but finally Rennie blew the whistle and the end of an era came to Highbury. The party started in earnest soon thereafter as the result at West Ham was confirmed, and Champions League football was confirmed for the Gunners next season, regardless of the result in Paris on May 17th.

The Final Farewell to Highbury continued on with a marching band, Arsenal legends, songs from The Who’s lead singer (and Gooner) Roger Daltrey, Thierry Henry being presented with the Golden Boot (again!), fireworks, and a “sky banner” flown by a helicopter circling the area. In addition to the Golden Boot as the Premiership’s leading goalscorer, Henry also won the FA’s Premiership Player of the Year, as well as the PFA’s Player of the Year award (voted by the press). Hopefully he’ll add a Champions League winners medal to that list in 10 days.

There’s a full match report, photos, and more over at Arsenal.com.

Here’s the final standings in the Premiership for 2005/6:

Pos. Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 38 29 4 5 72 22 50 91
2 Man Utd 38 25 8 5 72 34 38 83
3 Liverpool 38 25 7 6 57 25 32 82
4 Arsenal 38 20 7 11 68 31 37 67
5 Tottenham 38 18 11 9 53 38 15 65
6 Blackburn 38 19 6 13 51 42 9 63
7 Newcastle 38 17 7 14 47 42 5 58
8 Bolton 38 15 11 12 49 41 8 56
9 West Ham 38 16 7 15 52 55 -3 55
10 Wigan 38 15 6 17 45 52 -7 51
11 Everton 38 14 8 16 34 49 -15 50
12 Fulham 38 14 6 18 48 58 -10 48
13 Charlton 38 13 8 17 41 55 -14 47
14 Middlesbro 38 12 9 17 48 58 -10 45
15 Man City 38 13 4 21 43 48 -5 43
16 Aston Villa 38 10 12 16 42 55 -13 42
17 Portsmouth 38 10 8 20 37 62 -25 38
18 Birmingham 38 8 10 20 28 50 -22 34
19 West Brom 38 7 9 22 31 58 -27 30
20 Sunderland 38 3 6 29 26 69 -43 15

Man City 1 – Arsenal 3

May 5th, 2006

Freddie Ljungberg and Jose Antonio Reyes were on the scoresheet last night as Arsenal kept the pressure up on their north London rivals going into the last weekend of the 2005/2006 season. Arsenal are 1 point behind Spurs who visit West Ham on Sunday, while the Gunners entertain Wigan in the last ever match at Highbury.

Henry acted as provider for Freddie’s goal, slipping a pass through the defence. Replays showed Freddie was marginally offside, but he managed to get his shot past David James and into the far corner of the net. In some ways the fact that this was his first goal of the season reflects the underperformance of Arsenal this season.

Man City drew level 9 minutes later from a corner, when David Sommeil scored from a yard out following a scramble in the box. Lehmann might have done better, but Vasell’s touch didn’t turn out to be the shot the German was expecting, and his reactions were not enough to turn it out of the path of the Frenchman.

Lehmann was in one of his belligerent moods during the match, and constantly complained to Graham Poll about being shoved and pushed. He managed to provoke Vasell into pushing him over by treading on his toe, and Vasell ended up with a yellow card. Despite these shenanigans, Lehmann pulled off some excellent saves in the second half to keep Man City’s score down.

Reyes, Pires, and Fabregas were introduced midway through the second half, and Arsenal benifited from Cesc’s vision and passing. Reyes’ first came from an overlapping run with Eboue, who cut the ball back from the byline for Reyes to slot it home under James to retake the lead.

Six minutes later Henry was provider again, as he maurauded into the box before calmly passing to Reyes, who proceeded to curl a beauty of a shot into the top left corner.

The three goals went to two Arsenal players who have been misfiring for most of the season. Hopefully these tastes of goal will help them on Sunday against Wigan, and on May 17th against Barcelona.

There’s a full match report over at Arsenal.com.

Next up, the conclusion of the battle for 4th place, and the final farewell to Highbury.