Barnet, New Signings, Cesc, Cole, etc…

Arsenal put in a measured performance  for a 4-nil victory at Underhill on Saturday in their now-traditional pre-season opener at Barnet, who finished 21st in League Two last season. As usual, Wenger fielded two different sides in the first and second halves.

There is always a tendency to say too much about these early pre-season matches, but good matches were had by Emmanuel Frimpong and Jay Simpson. Arshavin looked lively at times and Wilshere was involved for much his 45 minutes on the pitch.

It is not the end of the world that new-signing, Koscielny, did not look particularly impressive, though it is slightly worrying to see his thin frame being pushed off the ball by League Two relegation battlers. Koscielny is young and will need time to adjust to both the speed and power of the English game.

Marouane Chamakh came on in the second half and, despite not scoring, had some good touches. As we saw at Bordeaux, he is capable of scoring big goals. The biggest question surrounding Chamakh, for me, is how and how often Wenger will employ him as the season progresses.

There are renewed rumours regarding our interest for Phil Jagielka, in the form of an £18m offer. To me, this seems to paying way over the odds for such a player. But no one can deny the desperation involved in finding a suitable partner for Vermaelen in a timely manner. Having just missed most of last season, it is highly unlikely that Djourou can step right in and do the job and Koscielny does not look anywhere near ready for that level of responsibility either.

Speaking of paying over the odds, Wenger’s comments about Barcelona’s transfer tactics do not seem to have had much effect. Some report that Rosell is flying to London with a new £34m bid. Do they really think that Arsenal’s rejection was a quibble over a few million pounds? Barcelona’s heads are so far from reality when it comes to the Cesc situation it is staggering.

They obviously expected the player to demand the request meaning they could then get away with these ridiculous offers. However, that has apparently not been the case. The only way Cesc can do right by Arsenal in leaving, and to protect his reputation at the club, is to ensure that Arsenal are fully compensated for his leaving. At the moment, he does not seem anxious to go to Barca at any cost.

Meanwhile, Joe Cole appears to be choosing money over staying in London and staying in the Champions League. Apparently, a £90,000 per week offer from Liverpool is enough to turn Cole straight-up mercenary and make the things that were, supposedly, most important in his considerations, family and football, not so important after all.

Nevertheless, Joe Cole is not what the Arsenal need. It seems most of us would much rather see Jack Wilshere given more responsibility and more first-team minutes. One would hope that in the coming weeks, Arsene is able to secure a quality keeper to replace Almunia and another central defender to plug the gap left by Gallas’s departure.

In other news, the club has confirmed that Robin van Persie will be wearing the #10 shirt upon his return from his post-World Cup vacation. Carlos Vela will take over van Persie’s old #11 shirt. Also, Chris at Gooner Talk exclusively claims that Arshavin is set to sign a 1-year contract extension locking him up through the 2012-13 season. Finally, with Eduardo not making the trip to Austria, it appears that his rumored move to Shakhtar Donetsk is imminent.

Now, the club travel to Austria for their regular pre-season tour. However, instead of the usual lower-division opponent ala Burgenland XI, Arsene is preparing the side for a friendly on tomorrow evening with Sturm Graz, who finished 4th in the Austrian Bundesliga last season. The club’s 27-man roster for the trip is available here. Then it is on to Neusiedl for another friendly next Tuesday before returning to London for the Emirates Cup where Arsenal will face AC Milan on July 31st and Celtic on August 1st.

Arsenal put in a measured performance  for a 4-nil victory at Underhill on Saturday in their now-traditional pre-season opener at Barnet, who finished 21st in League Two last season. As usual, Wenger fielded two different sides in the first and second halves.

There is always a tendency to say too much about these early pre-season matches, but good matches were had by Emmanuel Frimpong and Jay Simpson. Arshavin looked lively at times and Wilshere was involved for much his 45 minutes on the pitch.

It is not the end of the world that new-signing, Koscielny, did not look particularly impressive, though it is slightly worrying to see his thin frame being pushed off the ball by League Two relegation battlers. Koscielny is young and will need time to adjust to both the speed and power of the English game.

Marouane Chamakh came on in the second half and, despite not scoring, had some good touches. As we saw at Bordeaux, he is capable of scoring big goals. The biggest question surrounding Chamakh, for me, is how and how often Wenger will employ him as the season progresses.

There are renewed rumours regarding our interest for Phil Jagielka, in the form of an £18m offer. To me, this seems to paying way over the odds for such a player. But no one can deny the desperation involved in finding a suitable partner for Vermaelen in a timely manner. Having just missed most of last season, it is highly unlikely that Djourou can step right in and do the job and Koscielny does not look anywhere near ready for that level of responsibility either.

Speaking of paying over the odds, Wenger’s comments about Barcelona’s transfer tactics do not seem to have had much effect. Some report that Rosell is flying to London with a new £34m bid. Do they really think that Arsenal’s rejection was a quibble over a few million pounds? Barcelona’s heads are so far from reality when it comes to the Cesc situation it is staggering.

They obviously expected the player to demand the request meaning they could then get away with these ridiculous offers. However, that has apparently not been the case. The only way Cesc can do right by Arsenal in leaving, and to protect his reputation at the club, is to ensure that Arsenal are fully compensated for his leaving. At the moment, he does not seem anxious to go to Barca at any cost.

Meanwhile, Joe Cole appears to be choosing money over staying in London and staying in the Champions League. Apparently, a £90,000 per week offer from Liverpool is enough to turn Cole straight-up mercenary and make the things that were, supposedly, most important in his considerations, family and football, not so important after all.

Nevertheless, Joe Cole is not what the Arsenal need. One would hope that in the coming weeks, Arsene is able to secure a quality keeper to replace Almunia and another central defender to plug the gap left by Gallas’s departure.

Now, the club travel to Austria for their regular pre-season tour. However, instead of the usual lower-division opponent ala Burgenland XI, Arsene is preparing the side for a friendly on Wednesday evening with Sturm Graz, who finished 4th in the Austrian Bundesliga last season. Then it is on to Neusiedl for another friendly next Tuesday before returning to London for the Emirates Cup where Arsenal will face AC Milan on July 31st and Celtic on August 1st.

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…

COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!

The Dream is Still Alive!

…and the march goes on. A last-gasp winner from Nicklas Bendtner removed millions of Arsenal supporters all over the world from the precipice of despair and ruin. I, personally, had spent the last 5-10 minutes of the match mentally preparing myself to accept the end of our title challenge. And then… Denilson was able to get a shot from over 35 yards on goal and with enough movement to trouble a mediocre keeper who then ridiculously made the simplest of keeping mistakes… don’t parry the ball back in front of goal. But there were a ton of talking points and controversial moments on a day when Arsenal refused to let our title dreams die.

Arsenal started very brightly with the first goal coming inside the first 15 minutes, a rare occurrence this season. A very fluid string of passes eventually led to Arshavin being able to take on two defenders into the box and produce a great finish with his laces. Hull had no handle on the match whatsoever, until the referee handed it to them.

The Offiside Penalty Dive

Let’s be honest… have you ever seen a player looking more for a penalty than Vennegoor of Hesselink? He made no attempt to play the ball, only to get directly in front of Sol and, when there was not the immediate contact he anticipated, plopped face down. He only lucked out that after he was already going down Sol gave him the slightest of contact with his raised knee from behind. On the replay, you can see that he was so much more concerned with getting in a position where he could go down than with playing the ball because his movement in front of Sol found the ball on the BACK of his neck. As Alan Shearer said on Match of the Day, a man with the ball on the back of his neck and falling down is hardly enjoying a “clear, goalscoring chance.”

So I don’t see how Phil Brown can claim Campbell should have been sent off. Especially considering that Vennegoor of Hesselink was offside to begin with. Brown is complaining about a missed call on a run of play that only materialized because of a missed call. Ironic, idiotic, or just unattractively desperate? You decide.

The Sending-Off

I also don’t see how there could be any complaints over either of Boateng’s bookings. The first came after he put his hand in Bendtner’s face twice. The second after that ridiculous tackle on Sagna. The challenge was so high and mistimed that, if it wasn’t malicious, you really have to question the player’s overall ability. The commentator said it was a “silly” challenge, but that kind of language trivializes the tackle. It was dangerous, pure and simple. Had Sagna’s leg been planted, he could have sustained serious damage to his knee. Andre Marriner let some tackles go early on and these kinds of challenges are the direct result of both the culture of the English game and that type of officiating. I am not saying it was malicious, but it was reckless.

Sol’s Tackle

Apparently, Jon Champion was claiming that Sol should have been sent off for his challenge on Zayatte. The same people whose main occupation last week was “Defender of Ryan Shawcross” and the English game are the ones complaining about Campbell’s challenge. Sol’s tackle was strong, well-timed enough to get the ball first, and perfectly fair. His feet were on the ground, his studs were down, and he was completely playing the ball. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what everyone was saying they loved so much about the English game only a week and a half ago? The media’s double-standard against Arsenal is sometimes subtle, but, at other times, is just blatantly obvious-as this blog often points out.

Sol was caught for pace a few times, as he has been in every match so far and will be in every match to come, but he has made up for it with a combination of intelligence and experience. Yesterday, he was forced to deal with Hull’s loan-striker, Jozy Altidore. I have watched Altidore since he was 17 and the kid is fast and strong. Yet, Sol did his best and kept Altidore to only one real half-chance, which he dragged wide of goal early on. The signing of Campbell can now be seen as, if not a masterstroke, then certainly a very prescient decision by the Boss. Campbell is what we didn’t have last year when Gallas went out injured at almost the exact same time of the season. Then we were forced to play Silvestre, whose inability due to to age to be able to deal with Drogba cost us our FA Cup run last season. And while we would all rather have a fit Gallas back there with Vermaelen, the situation is not nearly as desperate as it was last season.

The Dream Continues

Somehow, we have done it again. No team has scored more goals than Arsenal in the last fifteen minutes of the match. We had a similar dynamic in 2007/08 when we snatched results in the dying moments on an almost regular basis beginning right with the very first match of the season home to Fulham. It shows a level of fitness, determination, and spirit when a team regularly snatches results from the jaw of fate. There are 8 matches remaining and we are now level on points with Chelsea, though they have a game-in-hand. United play later today and the pressure will be on them to match the results of us and Chelsea. We now face West Ham at home, who Chelsea just beat 4-1, and then Birmingham City away before the Champions League Quarterfinals. Sandwiched in between those two legs will be a visit by Wolves. Make no doubt about it, the Birmingham City match will be anything but straightforward as they have punched above their weight all season and despite a recent run of indifferent results, will be buoyed by their result against Everton yesterday.

The paths to the title and the European Cup are laid out right in front of us. We can just about see the trophies peeking out over the horizon. 13 mountains, though, stand in our way and we must climb them one at a time. We have the confidence, we have the momentum, and, most crucial of all, we have the belief.

NOTE: Since my primary guest contributor, Ted Harwood, has accepted an offer to write an Arsenal blog for SBNation, I am looking for a new guest contributor, preferably an American Gooner, but I will consider anyone that can write well. Also, I have fixed the videos by replacing those that had been deleted from their respective host sites.