Phil Dowd Is Spineless

I should begin by saying that I was forced to watch the match late last evening rather than live and fell asleep not long after it was over. Having awoken this morning still feeling ill when thinking about the match, I begin my reflections on our trip to Sunderland.

First, I have to say that a subpar performance was always likely to be in the offing following our midweek Champions League match. But I never, for a moment, expected a performance like that. Sunderland dominated us for at least the first hour. The goal was a fluke but it was solely down to the level of commitment and desire on the part of Fabregas to close down Ferdinand in a situation many other players would not have even bothered.

Also, on a positive note, Almunia looked solid and both Koscielny and Squillaci turned in proper performances at a tough away ground under significant amounts of sustained pressure. If any doubts remained that Koscielny is the real deal, they should be gone after yesterday’s match. The same can be said of Chamakh.

But now let me get down to the real reason I’m writing today’s piece. Phil Dowd’s performance yesterday was disgraceful. For the last week or two we have been treated to a concerted effort on the part of almost half a dozen of the Premier League’s managers to influence referees in matches other than their own. Phil Dowd came out onto the pitch determined not to give Arsenal anything. How else to explain all the fouls which Dowd ridiculously waved away including a blatant handball in the box? By the hour mark, Arsenal had been whistled for a dozen fouls while Sunderland had only one. ONE!!!

This kind of treatment by referees, especially based on what’s going on in the media, is nothing new. After Eduardo’s penalty against Celtic, Arsenal went most of the season without being given one penalty. But this is even more egregious because it’s not just the media, but the other managers in the league making a concerted effort to see that referees allow them to get away with things Arsenal cannot. This was all blatantly obvious and sickening as the match progressed. It’s one thing for an official to try to “even things out,” but Sunderland were allowed to get away with fouls, handballs in the box, etc… while Arsenal were penalized so often you would think they were the thugs.

Arsenal were the victims of a referee influenced by a full-out media attack by a bunch of two-bit hack managers of two-bit clubs. Dowd could have shown some spine and not bowed to the “Arsenal hate campaign” being waged by managers of clubs who get down on their knees and give thanks simply for avoiding relegation. Teams not even their own supporters care to pay to watch.

Now, I am not blaming the result on the referee. Obviously, the goal is our own fault (though we had played two attacks beyond the announced stoppage time) and Rosicky’s penalty miss was especially at fault for the result. Song’s two yellow cards were also legitimate. Nevertheless, during the regular run of play, Dowd was determined to show he was not influenced by the comments made by Wenger, but in the end he showed he was influenced by the comments made by Big Sam, Tony Pulis, ‘Arry, and David Moyes.

Interesting Days To Be A Gooner

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The opening 13 days of the 2010-11 season has been dominated by a few motifs. The first is the emergence of Theo Walcott. The second is the “re-emergence” of Tomas Rosicky. Third, we have the neverending Mark Schwarzer saga. And now, it’s been capped off with the “arrest” of Jack Wilshere. Ah, interesting days to be a Gooner, to say the least.

Well, we were all treated to a rare, but always satisfying, sight on Saturday evening… that of Alan Hansen eating crow. It was nice to see Shearer put Hansen’s comments from the previous week to the test. I mean, who the fuck is Alan Hansen to talk about a football brain? But, anyway…  Four goals in the first three matches for Theo has seen his stock rise and everyone take notice. There is no doubt that he will benefit long-term from being left out of the debacle that was England at South Africa this summer. Ironically, going to the World Cup in 2006 proved to be detrimental to his career, while missing it in 2010 will likely prove to be beneficial.

What else is there to say about Rosicky’s start to the season? I covered it in a post last week. The only thing to do when it comes to Rosicky is pray. I have no doubt that he can sustain this kind of form long-term throughout the season. The key, however, is will he even have the chance. With an injury record that almost makes Robin van Persie look like Superman, Rosicky needs a full season at this point in his career. He is 29 now and has watched what should have been his prime years as a footballer pass him by. He is not too old yet, but he certainly is not too young either.

I think we all knew that the Schwarzer saga would go down to the final day of the window. Hughes was never really prepared to sell him until he could be assured of a deal to bring Given to Fulham on loan. That end appears to have been worked out and I imagine Hughes will now take Arsene down to the wire in an effort to increase Arsene’s desperation and, therefore, the fee. Meanwhile, rumors are that Arsene has upped his original bid of £2.5m to £3m.

Should Schwarzer come in, and Almunia leave, it still will not resolve our long-term keeper situation. I think it is a rare Gooner these days that has any confidence left in Fabianski. He just never seems to have gotten over that night at Porto. That leaves Szczesny and Mannone, neither of which will truly be ready to be a top 4 club’s number one in a year or two, which is the most we can expect from the 38-year old Schwarzer. Having said that, if you were to ask me who will be the Arsenal goalkeeper 3-4 years from now, I would have to say it would most likely be Szczesny.

Finally, as I’m sure most of you have read by now on Young Guns and all over Twitter, Wilshere was indeed “arrested” and released on bail following a fight in which a woman suffered a broken elbow and a man was injured. It has subsequently come out that he is an “important witness” to the events and “played the role of peacemaker.” One cannot help but be reminded of the trouble Robin van Persie got into in Holland during his more impetuous, early spell with the club. Obviously, the media jumped all over this and, while, I’m sure we’d all like this story to go away or resolve itself sooner rather than later, I doubt that will be the case.

As we move into the international break, I think we can feel about as confident as we could have to hoped to be following our first three fixtures. It’s hard not to think back on the opportunity lost at Anfield, but it’s hard to break down a team like Liverpool, especially with 10 men all behind the ball and the lead. The result at Blackburn was encouraging but not quite as significant as some may think. Lazy pundits still expect us to lose when we go up north. The loss at Ewood Park at the end of last season nothwithstanding, our record away to clubs like Blackburn and Bolton in the last 3 years has been very good. I did the numbers last year on our trips to the north over that period, but just don’t have time to dig them up this morning. But trust me, they’re good. Nevertheless, it was a stern test for the club and will have clued in players like Koscielny and Chamakh more into what to expect in England than either of the two previous matches.

Reflections on Milan and Wenger Addresses “Cesc-gate”

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So, just a few thoughts on the Milan match…

Nasri continues to shine in the middle of the park. So far this summer we’ve seen him create and score goals, play high and deep, and generally show consistent creativity. He looks a much different, much better player than when he arrived two summers ago. At the moment, if there need be such a thing, he looks every bit the heir-apparent to Cesc.

Koscielny put in the most reassuring performance of the day. He showed intelligence with good positioning and timing, something necessary to overcome his sleight frame. I still don’t know if he’s first XI material right now, but he seems able to do at least do a job for us.

Also, I just don’t understand how some people have said Vela should be sold. Ever since his introduction in the Carling Cup, it’s been obvious, to me at least, that Vela has as much potential as any other young player at the club. In fact, with a full La Liga season wide left, he’s probably more developed than our other young players. He’s always a threat when he’s on the ball and he is a player who can create goals and make something out of nothing as we saw in his move today.

I also have to single out Wilshere and Frimpong. I could say the same thing about Wilshere’s performances this summer as Nasri’s. Arsene said in the press conference afterward that Wilshere stands to play some games this season. Frimpong was maybe the victim of overzealous officiating but showed he has the motor and tried to show he has the aggressiveness to be a suitable backup for Song.

Finaly, in what has been our most extended look at Chamakh, I have to say I was impressed. He seems more a fit with the side than I had previously thought. His drag-back, back heel  to Arshavin was brilliant and his goal was extremely well-taken.

All in all, I think we put on a good display for the first 75 minutes. After that, subs changed around the formation, finding Djourou at defensive midfield, and Milan finally put together some real pressure. The defending on the free-kick is less upsetting than familiar, which makes it downright disturbing.  Still, for me, there was more to be positive about on the pitch than negative.

In the press conference following the match, Arsene once again was forced to address questions about “Cesc-gate.” In what were his most forceful statements yet, Arsene said that only Cesc could clear the air and stop the inquest upon his return on Thursday. He then said that Barca had “given up for some time.”

That statement makes me wonder whether he means that they had given up some time ago or for some time. The latter doesn’t seem too unlikely considering Wenger keeps speaking about the five years Cesc has remaining on his contract. When asked if he believed Barcelona “had a case to answer for” due to their conduct this summer, the Boss said, “Yes.” It is obvious that Wenger is resolute in keeping Cesc even beyond this season and that he is disgusted with the behavior of Barca’s players in the media especially Carlos Puyol, whom he singled out during the press conference.