Special Guest Article: EXORCISING DEMONS

Brett Chase is guest contributor to Arsenal Station. He is a fellow NYC Gooner and has been following the club for over ten years. This piece is originally from his own fantastic Arsenal blog, The Modern Gooner.

The date is the 23rd of February, 2008. Arsenal are about to kick-off against top-flight newcomers Birmingham City at St. Andrews. The Gunners, captained by William Gallas, enter the game topping the table and very much the favorites to win the Premier League during the 2007-2008 season.

With Robin van Persie out injured, the Arsenal have seen a nice strike partnership developing between Emmanuel Adebayor (enjoying a brilliant season in which he could hardly miss a chance) and the very much in-form Eduardo, who was bought the previous summer as a replacement for the departed Thierry Henry. It has taken a few months, but Eddie has begun to demonstrate the talents which caught Arsene Wenger’s eye: Pace, determination, a silky first-touch, and a finish as clinical as we Gooners could hope for. Eduardo was the real deal.

The date is the 26th of March, 2010. Arsenal will kick-off tomorrow at St. Andrews for the first time since 2008 tomorrow, and a great deal has changed since then: Gallas was stripped of the captaincy less than a year after the match (his reaction at the late Birmingham equaliser a sign of things to come), replaced by Cesc Fabregas; Adebayor revealed himself to be a money-grabbing whore that summer and was jettisoned to newly-wealthy Man City a year later (he also revealed he was quite capable of missing a chance or 50); players came and players went. Arsenal began to crumble after the 2-2 draw at St. Andrews, and the title challenge fell apart as an injury-riddled and broken Arsenal side finished a disappointing 3rd.

It is the 23rd of February, 2008, and the Birmingham match has just kicked off. Arsenal have begun to play their normal game, controlling possession, passing the ball and making the Brummies chase around, when Eduardo took the ball headed for the Birmingham box. Defender Martin Taylor, whose name will become infamous to Gooners everywhere, slides in with a high, studs-up challenge that breaks Eduardo’s leg in two near the ankle, the kind of horror tackle a particularly angry fan might say they hope happens to a rival player, but don’t actually mean. Taylor is sent off, but 10-man Birmingham City take a lead into halftime. Theo Walcott scores twice in what should be enough to salvage a win for the despondent Gunners, but a dubious penalty is called on Gael Clichy late on, allowing Birmingham to claw back a point. Arsenal’s title challenge begins to unravel.

It is the 26th of March, 2010. Eduardo has now been back for a year, but despite showing flashes of brilliance, his finish, his touch, his confidence but most of all his willingness to play with abandon seem to have, perhaps understandably, deserted him. Arsenal are scrapping in a real title challenge for the first time this late on in a season since 2007-2008, and we have seen another promising young player, Aaron Ramsey, cut down by a reckless and violent tackle at another away match in February. This time, however, the Arsenal have responded with visibly greater unity and (Arsene’s favorite term) mental strength.

I’m inclined to attribute this change to the leadership in the team. Fabregas, thrust further into the spotlight last season after taking the armband from Gallas, was not initially seen as “natural leader.” While he is not perhaps a vocal leader in the Adams/Vieira mold, Cesc has proven an invaluable resource in leading by example, and his fierce desire to win and his team spirit seem to permeate the team. Add to this the experience of Sol Campbell, pressed into service due to an injury to Gallas (to be fair, a consummate professional despite losing the armband) and fiery play of Thomas Vermaelen and the emergence of a number of other key players, and we have seen Arsenal rise from the ashes of what looked, at several points, like a lost season.

It is the 8th of March, 2009. Eduardo provides a spectacular finish and his return to Arsenal from a horrific injury at Birmingham looks nearly complete.

It is the 26th of August, 2009. Eduardo has drawn a penalty, despite, on second look, getting minimal if any contact with the Celtic ‘keeper (and renowned madman) Artur Boruc. Eduardo will be hounded for weeks, and Celtic will unsuccessfully attempt to convince UEFA to ban Eduardo for several matches after the fact, despite the fact that Arsenal win the match 3-1 and the tie 5-1 on aggregate.

It is the 26th of March, 2010. Nicklas Bendtner has revealed that he may not be fit for Arsenal’s first trip to St. Andrews since what has become known as “the Eduardo game.” With Arsenal down to bare-bones at striker, the much-maligned Number 9 is even more of a focal point with the Gunners needing every possible point to keep title hopes alive among Manchester United and Chelsea. Eddie has had a disappointing season, with many fans suggesting that his days in North London are numbered. The influential Vermaelen being suspended, there are questions asked in defense and in midfield as well.

It is the 27th of March, 2010…


Heart & Sol and Video of Ade’s Interview

I wanted to wait to write today’s piece until I had a chance to view the ATVO highlights of the first half of reserve match at Upton Park. The most we got to see of Sol was his jog onto the pitch. He didn’t appear to have much to do at all in a first half that saw two Jay Emmanuel-Thomas goals put the Gunners in front at the break, the first being a deft header. However, on a night when one of our most promising youth/reserve players scored a hat-trick, Sol was the big story.

Early on, Sol made a strong tackle on the edge of the box dispossessing Fabio Daprela. The only other moment of note came when Sol seemed to get his footing a bit wrong and so just missed picking up a low cross to Freddie Sears in front of the goal. Luckily, he put it over the goal.

What to take from this? Well, there are already reports complaining that he could only play 45 minutes, but how much more would you expect in his first competitive match in months? Many want to question his physical level but we know the kinds of tests Arsene puts the players through in the preseason, and he undoubtedly put Sol through the same over the last week or two.

If the Boss is convinced by the numbers and watching him in training that he can do a job for us if called upon, then I don’t see who I am to disagree. Of course, it could turn out that the Boss is wrong, but we won’t know that until Sol is called upon in a crucial situation or asked to play a few consecutive matches.

Some blog pieces, spurred by the re-signing of Campbell, are now asking about Matheiu Flamini being brought back. But the two are completely different circumstances. First, Flamini has never said he wanted to come back and, second, there is no real place for him. Song has mitigated the loss of Flamini, but, in reality, we have never mitigated the loss of Campbell, with Vermaelen’s signing this summer being the closest thing. Though I even I must admit that the Flamini-to-Spurs articles are a bit unsettling.

For a reported 20,000 quid a week, Arsenal get a proven winner and leader in the dressing room and some desperately needed cover in the center of defense. Anything that keeps Silvestre out of a CB role is fine with me. Now, in all fairness, many have brought up the way in which Sol left the club. It was distasteful, no doubt. But is it really worth holding a grudge at this point?

Anyway, Cesc looks to be back for the Bolton match this weekend and Clichy continues to get closer to a return as well. Despite the losses of van Persie, Walcott, Bendtner, periodic losses of Fabregas, and being forced to play with a third-string left-back throughout the crowded December/January fixtures, we still have the slight possibility of actually being top of the league come Sunday evening should we win, Chelsea lose, and United draw.

Below, see Sky’s interview with Adebayor wearing an Arsenal polo shirt:

In response to criticism by City fans, Adebayor has said:

I realised this morning when I woke up that I was wearing an Arsenal shirt yesterday. What happened was that on the Angola border, we left all our baggage on the bus and ran away. So I had nothing to wear and the first person I asked gave me that shirt. I didn’t even realise what I was wearing. Even yesterday, instead of going to my room to sleep I went to the wrong room. Everyone is confused about what happened. In our heads we don’t know what we are doing.

Someone on the Angolan border or in the Togo party just randomly had an Arsenal polo in his size? Nice try, Ade.

UEFA Steps Up and Kolo Falls Down

Eduardo penalty

So what really happened here? Along with their rescinding of Eduardo’s two-match ban, UEFA released this brief statement:

The UEFA Appeals Body today accepted the appeal lodged by Arsenal FC against the two-match suspension handed to striker Eduardo.

Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees’ assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to the panel’s satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty.

Therefore, the decision of the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body of 1 September, in which the player was suspended for two UEFA club competition matches, is annulled.

Good news for Arsenal… but better news for UEFA. They have obviously taken all the talk about precedence, not the least from Wenger himself, very seriously. What would it have meant for UEFA to institute post-facto reviews and punishments? For one, it would mean a lot of money. It would take a multi-person committee working double-time to review all possible incidents on a weekly basis. It would mean money would need to be spent to house and support this new body with the technology necessary to do the job right. Also, it would open UEFA up to criticism on individual incidents on a weekly basis from dozens of nations.

EduardoA final consideration for UEFA would have been that instituting the use of video like this, in any but the most exceptional and extraordinary incidents, would only pave the way more quickly for the use of video on the pitch, which UEFA diametrically oppose. The argument would be, if you can use video AFTER every match, why not just save the money spent on the committee and just use it during the match. Not that they might be pressured into it from outside but that it might become too easy for them to just finally give in on the video issue.

It also seems that Arsenal’s claim of having video evidence that Eduardo was indeed touched by Boruc has stood up. And none of this even addresses the absolute ridiculousness of awarding a player a two-match ban for an offense that is only worth a yellow card in the match. If UEFA really wanted to save face, they could have just issued Eduardo a yellow card.

We Expect Better From You, Kolo

Inevitably, the Adebayor issue drags on as the FA is expected to make a decision today. But even more disappointing is the fact that Kolo Toure has jumped into the fray now claiming:

Even though he was the first to go and salute them in the tunnel, even those who had an affinity with him didn’t want to shake his hand. For me that is unacceptable.

He is saying that the Arsenal players refused to shake Adebayor’s hand in the tunnel. This doesn’t seem to make sense considering everyone saw each player on the team shake his hand on the pitch after the lineups and some even hugged him. The culture and atmosphere at City is so corrupt that it has even turned Kolo Toure into a liar. Now, that is depressing.

Kolo also claims,

At the start of the game they were whistling at him as if he never brought anything to the club.

No, Kolo. They were whistling at him as if he had just insulted them all the day before in the national media. Adebayor deserves everything he koloade.jpggets and while I would hate to see Toure’s involvement in this case affect the reception he might get from Arsenal supporters at the Emirates, I can’t say he wouldn’t deserve it.

Even if it were true that the Arsenal players snubbed Adebayor, that is no excuse for his stomps on Fabregas’s ankle or van Persie’s face or even his kick out at Alex Song. And that is exactly what Kolo is saying here. He’s trying to justify Adebayor’s actions and that is even more despicable for him to do than Hughes.

The story has taken a turn where despite reprimands from Richard Scudamore and the Greater Manchester Police, some newspapers, including Martin Samuel at his rag, want to now put all the blame on the Arsenal supporters.

After Adebayor’s behavior throughout the match, I think he is lucky there wasn’t a bigger disturbance. He chose to antagonize the supporters because he knew he was in no personal harm and didn’t care if his actions put a few dozen under-paid stewards in danger.

Then Kolo goes on to comment on the circumstances regarding Adebayor’s departure from Arsenal:

Certain people want others to believe he left for the money but we know he was pushed to leave. I know it because I was present. I firmly believe he left to bring money to the club.

Well, which is it, Kolo? Do you “know” he was pushed to leave or do you “believe” it? Those are two different things. One implies fact and the other implies assumption. I highly doubt that the Board was keeping Kolo Toure abreast of either the club’s financial situation or their dealings with Man City regarding Adebayor. ‘

Kolo Toure was a faithful servant of the club for almost 10 years and won everything there was to win except the Champions League with Arsenal. However, in a few short weeks he has done damage to the great reputation and rapport he had built up in 7 years with Arsenal supporters. Kolo could have, in fact, would have been, one of those former players who were applauded upon their returns to North London. Whether that will now be the case is uncertain.