Thursday, 28 July 2011

Welcome Home Thierry

Warning: This post featyres endless, shamelss, gushing

Ask any Arsenal fan who they think is the best player to pull on the red and white and you will always get the same answers; Ian Wright, Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp, Nic Bendtner (no? Just me then). Speak to the slightly older generation and you will get names like Liam Brady, Alan Ball and of course the local boy Charlie George. But there is one name that you will hear more than all of the others put together and that name is one Thierry Henry. And this weekend he is back at his spiritual home as his New York red Bulls take part in the Emirates Cup.

The mecurial Frenchman joined the gunners as a world cup winner in 1999 for what seemed like a costly £11 million from Juventus where he had hardly set the world alight playing on the left wing, but Arsene Wenger, who had worked with the youngster at Monaco knew that there was a talent there just waiting to burst out. Wengers first move was to switch Henry from the wing to thee middle, playing him at centre forward. Although he didnt immediatly settle in to his new role, taking eight games to score his first goal, he finished the season with an impressive total of 26, and then went on to lift the European Championship in the summer of 2000.

Thierry Henry in typical celebratory mode
The following season was a largerly fruitless one for Henry, fewer goals and assists, but he was the clubs leading scorer for the first time. He was however frustrated at not winning anything with Arsenal as of yet. But all that was to change. In the 2001-2002 season he, and the whole squad, ripped through all comers, winning the league by a huge 7 points and winning the FA cup final 2-0 against Chelsea. It was a defiining season, as Thierry scored 42 goals in all competitions, a huge total by anyones standards.

There was success again in the following season, another 32 goals and another FA cup winners medal, as well as the man of the match award for the final victory over Southampton. He was also named PFA and football writers footballer of the year, and came second in the FIFA player of the year competition.

Having missed out on the league title the previous year, Arsenal were determined to regain their crown from current champions Manchester United, and Thierry Henry led them to that title in style; 38 games played 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 defeats. Perhaps his finest hour, being one of the invincibles, going the entire league season undefeated, the first team to do so in the modern era and the first for more than a century. The Frenchman was instrumental, with 39 goals in all competitions. Another stellar season.

Henry didnt win any more honours with the gunners, missing the final victory in 2005. He was also a part of the side that agonisingly lost in the 2006 champions league final against Barcalona, even missing a one-on-one when Arsenal were already 1-0 up in his home capital.

Although he may not have won any more medals with Arsenal, he did go on to achieve more personal honours. He surpassed Ian Wright's record of 185 goals with his brace against Sparta Prague and he broke Cliff Bastin's record of 151 league goals. He scored also fittingly scored the last ever goal at Highbury and in true Henry style it was the final goal of his hat trick against Wigan. He departed Arsenal for Barcalona in the summer of 2007, perhaps the only club he could have joined in terms of footballing capability.

So why is Thierry Henry such a legend to gonners? Simple. The goals the man scored where phenomenal. his flick and volley against Manchester United, his mazy dribbles against Tottenham and Liverpool, his swerving piledriver against West Ham, I could go on and on and on. But not just the goals. He had such class, and air of grace, he came across as a true gentleman. He completley endeared himself to gunners fans and in turn, they all loved him back. He was also funny. Who could forget him instructing a young Cesc Fabregas to respond "yes", when in an interview he was asked "was it a penalty?". I think it is safe to say that every Arsenal fan would take him back in a heart beat.

So it is with bated breath that i will be taking my seat at the Emirates stadium this sunday, the 31st of July. For when the announcer reads out the teams for Arsenal vs New York Red Bulls, and he says the name "Thierry", I will be shouting "HENRY" louder than any other of the 60,000 fans, and then I will; cheer myself hoarse and clap my hands raw, for there is only one, and will only ever be one, Thierry Henry.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

German Training Camp

F.C Cologne 1-2 Arsenal
Jenkinson (og) 45   Gervinho 7,15

Gervinho shines in debut victory
For the second game of their pre-season preperations, Arsenal found themselves at the RheinEnergie stadium in Cologne. The match was notable due to the debut of Arsenals marquee signing of the summer so far, the Ivorian Gervinho.

The match kicked off at a frantic pace and a strong Cologne line up caused all sorts of problems early on, Lukas Podolski earning a free kick on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area after only 2 minutes following a superb jinking run. However, after that early burst, Arsenal started to show their superiority, and after only seven minutes, Jack Wilshire played a delicious ball over the top of the German sides defence. Gervinho timed his run to perfection and provided the finish that the pass deserved, dispatching the ball over the top of the onrushing Michael Rensing with aplomb for his first Arsenal goal on his first ever appearance.

Gervinho celebrates his first goal
If the new front man thought his debut couldn't get any better, then he would be proved wrong almost instantly. Once again, Wilshere was integral, as his pass found Theo Wallcot on the right wing and he found the delivery that has so often been lacking from him, picking out Gervinho at the near post to flick past the keeper. 2 goals in his first 15 minutes in an Arsenal shirt.

Those two goals came either side of a classic Thomas Vermaelen break from defence which provided shades of Tony Adams against Everton almost 15 years ago, only the big Belgian will be disappointed to have not finished off his chance.

The rest of the first half was played at a frenetic pace with chances at either end for both teams. Gervinho had left the stage after half an hour to be replaced by Ryo Miyaichi, and the Japanese starlet was straight in the thick of the action when, following a cologne corner, he picked up the ball and ran the length of the field and fed Walcott on the left wing. TheEnglish winger then was caught in 2 minds wether to shoot or cross to the totally unmarked Marouane Chamakh. In the end he did neither, in the process frustrating Arsenal fans who were no doubt prematurely celebrating the third goal.

The half finished on a some what bizarre note for the gunners when, with the very last kick, Carl Jenkinson attempted to volley clear a hopeful long ball with his right foot from all of 25 yards, only to see his effort spoon over the stranded Wojciech szczesny and nesttle in the back of the net. The dismay was evident as the youngster buried his head in his hands as the whistle went to end the first 45 minutes, and end his match in the process.

The second half never really lived up to the billing of the first, as Arsenal replaced the entire squad at half time and Cologne made their changes more sporadically throughout the half. There was no flow to the game and it eventually petered out and Arsenal won the game 2-1.

On a slightly sour note however, there was a possible serious injury to Conor Henderson, whose knee appeared to badly twist as his studs got stuck in the turf. No doubt Arsene Wenger will be hoping that the young man is not too badly hurt as he was expected to break through this season, having made his debut last year in the F.A cup.

Arsenal will now finish a week of training in Germany before returning home for the Emirates cup, whereI will be attending Sundays games, including the gunners against Thierry Henry's New York Red Bulls.In anticipation of this match, expect a thierry themed blog during the week.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Asian Adventures

This week saw Arsenal participate in their first pre-season tour of Asia, with games against a Malaysia XI and Hangzou Greentown. Here I review both games.

MalaysiaXI 0-4 Arsenal
                       Ramsey 5 (p)
                       Walcott 37
                       Vela 58
                       Rosicky 90

Malaysian stroll for the gunners :
Arsenal began their tour in style with a very comfortable win against a weak Malaysia XI side. Aaron Ramsey opened the scoring on 5 minutes with a well taken penalty after a poor challenge on the charging Jack Wilshere, giving the gunners the perfect start.

The lead was doubled half an hour later courtesy of a delightful Theo Walcott lob which came thanks to a sublime ball over the top of the Malaysian defence from the impressive Ramsey. This was the type of finish that Arsenal fans have been waiting to see from the man who was widley tipped to follow in the footsteps of the great Thierry Henry, and is hopefully a sign of things to come for the forthcoming season.

Having taken a two goal lead in to the half time break Arsene Wenger rang the changes, making seven substitutions. He was completley vindicated on 57 minutes when an excellent through ball by Robin van Persie was picked up by Carlos Vela. He then beat his defender and finished the only way he knows how- with a deft chip over the keeper which is now all too familiar to Arsenal fans. It was a sweet moment from the little Mexican who spent the second half on loan at West Brom, where he struggled to make an impression. No doubt he will be hoping that this is his year.

The rout was completed in the final minute as Andrei Arshavin danced around defenders before delivering a brilliant, albeit deflected, cross right on to the head of Tomas Rosicky who could not miss from barely six yards out.

All in all the first game of a busy pre-season can only be seen as a sucess, with a comfortable display capped with plenty of goals. From here it was on to saturdays game in China against Hangzou Greentown....

Hangzou Greentown 1-1 Arsenal
Vazquez 15                       Vela 45

Arsenal labour in game of two halfs

The second game of the tour of Asia was a game of contrasts. A contrast between the first half and second half, between two completley different Arsenal sides in one game and, most importantly, between the team of wednesday and between the team of today.

Arsenal entered the game bouyed by their performance against Malaysia XI and also by the fact that the last time their opposition faced an English side, they where humbled by Manchester United two years ago by a scorline of 8-2. What they came up against however was a well organised side and the same old defence frailties that have hindered them for so long.

The game began poorly for Arsenal. Unable to find any rythm on a poor pitch, they fell behind after 15 minutes due to a defensive mix up from a set play allowed Sebastian Vazquez to prod home a simple finish. It was classic Arsenal defending with players sitting too deep , unsighting keeper Vito Mannone who could only flap at the delivery, allowing for the simplest of finishes for Vazquez.

It didnt get much better from there. Arsenal continued to struggle to break down a well drilled Greentown defence, only getting the odd half chance. Samir Nasri coming closest following a classic jinking run. Passes were continually going astray, with one of the main culprits being Emannuel Frimpong, who has returned from his season long injury lay off.

However, on 45 minutes Arsenal finally made their breakthrough. A neat piece of combination play between Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin led to a beautiful ball over the top for Robin Van Persie, whose left foot volley could only be parried by the keeper, straight to the feet of Carlos Vela who is unliky to score an easier goal in his career. It was the second goal in as many games of the tour for the Mexican, who will no doubt be delighted with his performances and hoping the the manager has picked up on what he has to offer.

Arsene Wenger again made mass changes at half time, on this occasion bringing on a whole new XI. This included Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and new boy Carl Jenkinson. The substitutions changed Arsenals fortunes completley, as they dominated second half posession and made countless chances. Chamakh had a couple of decent efforts as did Keiran Gibbs, both drawing fine saves from the goalkeeper who had fast become the most emplyed player on the pitch. Walcott himself had several sights of goal yet will be very disappointed to have not hit the target on several ocassions. Jack Wilshere was running the show, the youngster showing the power, pace and vision that has quickly endeared him to Arsenal fans' hearts and was easily the most impressive player on the pitch. And Carl Jenkinson was also impressive, showing great energy and enthusiasm in running non-stop up and down the right touch line, flinging in some great crosses. No doubt Arsene Wenger will be delighted with the contribution of his young contingent.

As the game petered out to a draw, there was still time for Ryo Miyaichi to test the Greentown keeper. Having been quiet for the whole half, he recieved the ball on the left wing before cutting in on his right foot and unleashing a fizzing shot which was well saved by the finger tips.

All in all this game was classic Arsenal. Undone by set plays, dominating possesion but not scoring goals, it was a snap shot of why Arsenal have struggled over recent seasons. However there were also positives for the manager to draw upon. The second half display, the performance of the immense thomas Vermaelen and of the young English players. He will also know that he has to fnid a way to sort the classic problem of the defence. Only time will tell if he can do this.

Arsenal will now return home before again flying off, this time to Germany to face Cologne in what should be a tough match a week from today.

*Apologies for the foreign commentary on the video for Hangzou Greentown Vs Arsenal*

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ger In There

Wow!! Finally Arsene Wenger has heeded the fans advice and splashed out a bit of money on a new player. Gervinho. An Ivory Coast international and league and cup double winner last season with Lille. Admidttedly I do not know a great deal about the player, but I am still filled with a fair amount of optimism with this signing. Hopefully he will be able to forge a good partnership with RVP and provide the added goals that we have been lacking from our other strikers in recent seasons and who knows, maybe this may lead to some more big money, big name signings. Here is a small factfile on our new acquisition:

  • Full Name: Gervais Yao Kouassi
  • Squad No: 27
  • Position: Forward
  • Age: 24
  • Birth Date: May 27, 1987
  • Birth Place: Anyama, Ivory Coast
  • Height: 5' 9'' (1.75m)
  • Weight: 66 kg 
  • 14 goals in 34 league appearences last year

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Pre Season Options

Tomorrow Arsenal set off on their first ever tour of Asia and there is only one question on my mind. Why?

The obvious answer to this is the endless commercial opportunities. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all previously been to the far east and now have enormous fan bases out there generating a huge amount of income. The amount of shirts that can be sold on the back of a jolly in Japan is phenomenal.

The other explanation is to build up a certain amount of match fitness before the beginning of a long season. Playing a couple of matches against some admittedly not brilliant opposition should do the body nothing but good. Right?

Is Ryo Miyaichi just a pawn to increase revenue?
Lets look at both points. Firstly money. Arsenal acquired a new player a couple of seasons ago by the name of Ryo Miyaichi. No prizes for guessing where in the world he is from. Japan. So naturally a money spinning trip to Asia to milk this new superstar was bound to happen. However, young Ryo is from Japan. Arsenal are only visiting Malaysia and China. This makes absolutely no sense what so ever to me. Surely you go back to the boys home country, show of the 'local boy done good'. Everyone loves those stories and in turn, everyone would buy a Miyaichi shirt. Arsenal make a mint, mission accomplished. So why the hell have we gone to the wrong countries? This is a huge missed opportunity if you ask me.

The second reason is to get players match fit. Now call me old fashioned, but I don't see what is wrong with trotting around a few lower league clubs, handing out a few spankings and building up confidence that way. Hell, I was even a fan of the pre season trips to Germany and Austria which often yielded a couple of high scoring wins against fairly decent opposition. And the best bit about this? It was only an hour on the plane, so no jet lag. Excellent, the players land and straight away they are ready to play. But instead they face a gruelling 13 hour flight to a completely different climate to what they are used to, so a couple of days are already wasted trying to adapt to the different conditions.

The other downside to this sort of trip is that the players over there are all unknown to us. They are players who may well be looking to put themselves in the shop window, engineer a move to a premier league club. It would not surprise me if there where tackles flying in and at least one serious injury which will lead to an Arsene Wenger moan about how we should not have taken this trip.

Let us not forget that on July 30th and 31st, Arsenal will be hosting the annual Emirates cup. This is a tournament which has always provided high class opposition and games that are played in the right spirit. The best thing about this tournament? The other teams come to us! How about extending this competition a little? Play all three teams rather than just two. Revenue would increase through ticket sales and people using the club shop, players would be regaining their fitness without having to traipse half way across the globe. Its got to be worth thinking about.

That's that done with. Anyway, the first game of the tour is on Wednesday so I should be able to bring you a review of that soon after. Who knows, I may be able to write about the arrival of some new faces before then. But this is Arsenal, so maybe not..


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Book Of Exodus: Chapter 1; Gael Clichy

As I expressed in a previous blog, Gael Clichy wanted to leave Arsenal this summer, and his wish has come true. However, This is not going to be a bitter rant about how our top players are all leaving the club. Well, not just yet anyway.

I would like to start by thanking Gael. At the club for eight years, he was also the last standing member of the much fabled "invincibles" and therefore, the last remaining league title winner we had in our squad. Having joined the club at the tender age of 17 and continued to improve year upon year under the guidance of Arsene Wenger, even breaking in to the France International team.

Gael has quite easily become one of the best left backs in world football and there is no doubt that Manchester City are getting one hell of a player. I can only hope that he was able to pass on some of his knowledge on  to young Keiran Gibbs. Good luck Gael.

Gael Clichy, the last of the invincibles
Now, on to the negative side of all of this. Clichy has said that he has joined City because he wants to win trophies. Well, you have gone to a club who has won only one trophy in the past 30 years, their best player, their talisman Carlos Tevez is desperate to leave, albeit for personal reasons, and if there is the predicted influx of more big name signings, the how long will it take for the new look squad to gel?

Furthermore, what is the need to criticise the club that has nurtured you, encouraged you and helped you to improve every year for the last eight years of your career? Surely you should leave with good grace and gratitude, thanking Arsenal for helping you to win whatever few pieces of silverware that you have.

So mini rant over, I do genuinely wish Gael all the best with his new club, although i hope is best at Eastlands isnt as good as what we have witnessed at the Emirates and of course, Highbury.

I fully expect there to be a chapter 2 of my book of Exodus very shortly, now doubt featuring either Samir Nasri or Cesc Fabregas, so watch this space.