The Sad Demise of Andrey Arshavin

Disclaimer: This piece first featured on Sabotage Times.

It’s 21st April 2009. A small, diminutive Russian by the name of Andrey Arshavin has scored 4 goals to inspire his side to a draw against title contenders, Liverpool. The fourth was a lung bursting sprint from the edge of his own box to receive a pass from Theo Walcott and smash the ball past Pepe Reina on his weaker foot. The January signing’s face depicted the ecstacy of a superstar who had smashed through the glass ceiling, a phenomenon who was higher than Justin Bieber’s voice post helium inhalation.arshavin1-e1339079909162

That night is but a distant memory now. Along with the winner against Barcelona it will inevitably be the defining memory of Andrey Arshavin for many football fans, the performance of a player at the peak of his powers, fearless and saturated with enthusiasm. Recent reports that that same player, although a mere shadow of his former self will retire at the end of the season, aged just 32 do not surprise me.

Arshavin is perhaps one of the biggest enigmas the club has ever had. On his day he was capable of the sublime, like the game (although it was not his greatest overall performance) against Liverpool. Compare that to what happened on 22nd January 2012, just 3 years later; when then 18 year old rookie, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, was replaced after a fantastic performance by established international, Andrey Arshavin. The substitute was met by loud boos from the Emirates faithful. In many ways, it was the straw which broke the camel’s back.

Football has become a game more about the collective unit than the individual. Yes, Lionel Messi is the stand out player of that Barcelona side, but where would he be without the work rate and tactical awareness of almost every single player (including himself) in that side? He certainly wouldn’t have won so many titles, that’s for sure. It’s quite ironic that Barcelona themselves had a bid of €15 million rejected by Zenit in June 2008, especially considering the philosophy of teamwork and intensive Guardiola adopted when he took charge. The Russian wouldn’t have survived a season.

Although he’s not a particularly selfish player, Arshavin is a lone ranger on the pitch and just doesn’t have the desire and the fitness to work in the system Arsenal play. He’s never been good enough to warrant a system change in order to get the best out of him – unlike Cesc Fabregas, who was the reason behind the switch to 4-3-3. A player who is being paid as much as he is should surely be doing everything he can to get into top physical condition in order to force his way back into contention. But his love affair with football died a long time ago, and his almost complete absence from the first team just happened to coincide with the divorce of his wife at the start of the season. Arshavin represents a footballer from a bygone era, one whose ideal position is as a second striker – a position nigh on defunct in modern football.

The man with a degree in fashion design is an artist limited not by talent, but by desire, hunger and will. It’s this lack of hunger which embodies a career characterised not by brilliance, but by regret and disappointment. Perhaps the biggest indication of his lack of hunger is his rejection of Reading back in January. The move would’ve been one which would have seen him get regular game time, and a chance to re-spark the dying embers of his career. Arshavin has made the choice to turn his back on playing first team football, seemingly more happy to sit in the reserves and do whatever he does to pass the time than put in the effort required. It’s sad to watch. But he’s not the only one. Look at players like Adriano Lima, Robinho and even Freddy Adu. These were all players with great potential but their attitudes meant that they never reached the heights expected of them. It seems that Arshavin’s finally decided to bite the bullet and retire – few Arsenal fans will miss him. Like the Russian, they’ll see the demise of the player who came 6th in the contest for the Balon d’Or in 2008 as something which was pretty much unforeseeable when he first joined.

I don’t think you can blame Wenger for the demise of Andrey Arshavin – he put his faith in him by paying such a large transfer fee, rarely criticised him in public and started him in games even when the fans were on his back. Or perhaps he was too easy on him? Perhaps Arshavin is the type of player who needs criticism? I highly doubt it.

Who knows, maybe in a few years time when he’s one of the biggest (figuratively) fashion designers in the world, he’ll be happy, truly happy.

Arsene Wenger once said that ‘If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages.’ Either Arshavin has eaten too many sausages or we haven’t had enough caviar – one thing’s for sure, he wasn’t ASDA price.

Enjoy? Leave a comment below.

Follow me on Twitter @JCook_04

Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

Arsene Wenger is the greatest manager in the history of Arsenal football club. Period.

He’s won 3 Premier League titles, 4 F.A Cups, and reached both the UEFA Cup final and the Champions League final. Under his reign Arsenal have managed to finish in the top four every time, and progressed from the group stage 12 seasons in a row; something Arsene Wenger would attribute as the club’s ‘remarkable consistency’.  There’s no doubt that the man from Alsace is a very good manager, despite protestations from ‘WOBs’ and the exiled former Arsenal player, Stewart Robson, along with Piers Morgan, who in August 2008 claimed that ‘Arsène Wenger is the best manager Arsenal have ever had, and one of the top three or four in top-flight British football history (along with Shankly, Clough and Ferguson).’

Things change quickly in football.

'We want our Arsene back!'

In recent years, Arsene has seen his team decline to a state in which they can no longer challenge for the title and are usually omitted from the cups in the early round. As a fan, you can’t help but feel there’s a sense of paralysis inside the club. Wenger was previously accused of not taking the domestic cup competitions seriously, yet over the last couple of seasons has regularly put out strong sides to no avail. He clearly knows how much this team needs trophies to give it the confidence and belief it needs. Indeed, last September he claimed that this side was his ‘most complete squad ever’.

Although most would beg to differ, Wenger clearly believes in the team despite shocking results such as the loss to Bradford in the league cup,  the recent defeat to Blackburn in the F.A Cup, and the league defeat to Swansea.

Is this blind faith?

Does he not see the glaring errors made by the defence which has seen us become the side with the most errors leading to goals this season?

Why won’t he sign the players the squad needs to challenge for trophies again? The squad simply doesn’t have the steel or the winning mentality required to achieve this.

Arsene Wenger cares about Arsenal Football Club as much as every Arsenal fan. Why else would he have turned down lucrative offers from the likes of Real Madrid? It must be hard for him to see players he’s nurtured and put so much faith into abandon him to rivals, improving them and inevitably making Arsenal weaker.

The mentality of the club has to change.

I’m not an AKB, but I do believe there’s life in the old dog yet. Yet, Arsene hasn’t adapted to the sudden decline in the quality of his squad. Once upon a time, he could send out almost any team without much tactical preparation or much acknowledgement of the opposition and be confident of a result. That’s not the case now. Even against Barcelona in 2011, the team still had world class players in van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri, where are those world class players now? Jack Wilshere is one, arguably. Bayern Munich were going to be very difficult to defeat without changing the style of play or the tactics. Just look at Milan on Wednesday night. Milan managed to defeat Barcelona using Arrigo Sacchi style defending, with a lineup who didn’t really have players you would see as capable of executing such a regimented strategy and still came out with a win.

It can be done.

Arsene has too much pressure on his shoulders, and needs someone to take that pressure off. Maybe Arsenal need a Director of Football, someone who Wenger admires and whose advice would listen to and take on board?  Or would Arsene see the implementation of the role as an insult? It’s difficult to see anyone making the decision to create the role at the club. Although, in a sense, Arsene is already a manager, a coach and a Director of Football all rolled into one. There seems to be little pressure from inside the club on Arsene and someone to scrutinise Wenger could bring out the best in him yet again.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

I don’t want to see Wenger go but if he does decide to leave when his contract expires I don’t want the likes of Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis choosing his successor. It’s imperative that Arsene has a hand in deciding who should replace him. Could that replacement be Remi Garde? Jurgen Klopp? Laurent Blanc? Maybe a pre season without losing players whilst adding those with quality will give Arsene a chance to work on the players and the tactics used, allowing the team improve and hit heights not seen since the 07/08 season, the last time we actually looked close to winning the title.

I’ll leave you with a nice quote from the Aston Villa manager, Paul Lambert, whose side we face this Saturday:

“If people shout ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ at Arsene, then there’s no hope for the rest of us.”

Follow me on Twitter @JCook_04

Why I’m Excited About the Future of Arsenal Football Club

Yesterday, Theo Walcott finally agreed terms with Arsenal on a new three and a half year contract worth £100,000 a week to the relief of Arsenal fans everywhere. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with the high valuation of his new contract, (effectively forced on the club) I do believe that this deal was imperative for the present and the future in terms of the club’s short term ‘success’ and also long term success as we look to build a side theowalcott_1657332awho can challenge for the title over the next few seasons. I, unlike many others think this is possible.

It is clear that the club have changed their transfer policy since the summer of 2011 where we saw the last minute recruitment of more experienced players like Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta as opposed to the strategy before that summer which had for the most part been to recruit young players and make them into world beaters. Many would argue, and I would agree with them, that the sales of players like Nasri and van Persie could, and probably should have been prevented. However, retaining the services of a player like Theo Walcott who is still young with potential but also a player who is finally starting to develop some consistency in what has already been his best season at the club is without a doubt very positive news which breaks the recent cycle of the club struggling to tie down some of our players to long term deals.

I’m not an ‘AKB’, nor am I one of the ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ but I still believe that Arsène Wenger knows what he’s doing to bring the club back to the top level. The move to the Emirates probably set us back considerably because it meant that we had to rebuild team after team to pay off stadium debt, however it also means that the club will bring in more revenue which is supplemented by the massive £150m sponsorship deal agreed with Emirates last year.

Wenger’s not an idiot. He knows what it takes to build Championship winning squads and he’s done it time after time on a fairly limited budget. I am also of the opinion that not many managers would have been able to keep a team in the top four on a net spend of -£45m over the past five years, which by the way is the lowest in the Premiership. It’s not necessarily something to be proud of, the main goal of a big football club like Arsenal should be to win games, not to run exponential profits, however what it does suggest is that if we can reach the top four on that limited budget then when we start to keep players, whilst being financially stable enough to buy the best out there then I don’t see why we shouldn’t be challenging for the title in the next three years at most.

The reality is that the British core we are forming is a step in the right direction. They are all talented, they have all committed the best part of British Coretheir careers to the club and they are all players who can form the backbone of our team for years to come. By building on this core group of players we can add players of great quality who can add to the side. If the rumour of a £30m bid for an unknown player (rumoured to be Cavani) is true then it shows the type of ambition and puts to bed the theory that all the club are interested in is profit and that we are afraid to spend money. If that was true then we would have sacked Wenger, hired a far inferior manager and would probably have been relegated a long time ago.

I just hope that if Arsène doesn’t win another trophy for us but sets the foundations for another manager to come in who wins us titles then I just hope his legacy isn’t forgotten. The amount of work he has done and the love and commitment to the club he has shown is second to none, I don’t agree with every decision he makes but his contributions far outweigh his mistakes.

The game against Chelsea will show where we are in terms of quality, and two stats which make me confident that we’ll be able to close the gap on our rivals include the fact that we’ve lost just three of our last 19 Premier League away games, winning nine of those and that Chelsea have won only one of their last seven Premier League home games. This game is for the taking. Come on The Arsenal!

I’ll leave you with a quote from the great Dennis Bergkamp:

“I really like Arsenal. But you, do you like Arsenal? Or just Arsenal with Trophies?”

Follow me on Twitter @JCook_04.

Why I’m Excited About the Future of Arsenal Football Club

Why This Arsenal Side Isn’t As Good As Previous Ones.

I’m sure you all saw the game. It was dire, boring and finished with a shocking conclusion which, for the first time ever, lead to me simply clicking the ‘x’ on the tab which contained the stream to my beloved Arsenal and closing myself off to the anarchy which would invade Twitter in the coming hours.

There was a lack in tempo for much of the match, little movement or interchange from any of the players and what seemed to be a serious lack of desire to win. So why is this particular Arsenal side so lacking in creativity? Well, I’m not saying I know more than Arsene Wenger, but the lack of goalscoring chances created in comparison with the 2010/2011 season, all the way back to the start of the Wenger era, has to be down to the change in the style of players brought in by Arsene Wenger.

The current midfield is based on a trio of players who are very capable of keeping possession. They should find it fairly easy to be creating enough chances for us to win football matches. However, it’s not happening. Mikel Arteta isn’t showing form anything like what he produced last season, which is affecting our build up play due to the fact that he looks sluggish in his speed of thought and in his agility, something which often costs us possession or he now tends to simply passing sideways without any real purpose. Now, this may be down to him having to adapt to an entirely new position, or tiredness as is the case Santi Cazorla, but should they really be tired at this point in the season? We’re only in December after all and as Arsenal fans we’re more used to this kind of thing happening in March than halfway through the campaign. However, we were witnesses of a less sincere version of ‘ slow start to the season syndrome’ occur last season, one that has reared it’s ugly head yet again.

'We want our Arsene back!'

‘We want our Arsene back!’

The reality is that we look far less creative than we did in previous seasons, and in my opinion that’s down to our wingers. Of course, last year we had the genius of a certain striker called Robin van … oh, errm I forget his name … anyway he decided to jump ship, but if you look at our wide players in times gone by, we had the creative talents of Robert Pires, Marc Overmars, Freddie Ljungberg, Alex Hleb, Andrey Arshavin when he was on form, and hell, even Samir Nasri to admire and watch in awe as they caressed the ball with ease, created chance after chance and still chipped in with the goals at times. When you look at our direct front three against Swansea of Gervinho, Podolski and Walcott, you can probably see why there’s such a lack of creativity, seeing as in the past we relied on our wingers so much to create chances.

None of these guys are the creative types who will look to slide in a through pass like a knife through butter, and all of their preferred positions are strikers, if you like, they are all ‘number 9s’ in a way.  With the exception of Theo, the three aforementioned have all looked pretty ordinary in recent games. I don’t want to criticise him too early in his Arsenal career but for me, Lukas Podolski isn’t showing enough of his ability. Apart from his finishing which has for the most part been clinical, he looks lacking technically and his passing isn’t what I’d expect from a player of his quality. We saw yesterday that he went completely missing for most of the game, and it was no surprise to me when he was taken off.

Gervinho on the other hand is a complete enigma, he works extremely hard in almost every game but I’m afraid he just doesn’t have enough talent to play for Arsenal. Yes, he can beat a man with ease, but his hesitation, lack of decision making and what seems to be incompetence when passing or shooting is something which means he is unlikely to make it as a successful Arsenal player.

Arsene Wenger needs to look seriously in the January transfer window at a number of quality players to bring in, a task I wouldn’t begrudge him of due to the difficulty in signing players half-way through the season. Contrary to what many people think on the possible return of Henry, I wouldn’t mind bringing him in. He would help to galvanise the team but without the recruitment of others on top of his loan, his signing would not be enough to help us climb back up the table into a respectable position.

It is imperative that we sign a creative wide man, a defensive midfielder willing to do little more than win the ball back and move it on to our more creative players such as Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, and a striker who will not only score goals but also help create chances for his team-mates. Of course, this kind of striker is not easy to find so it’s lucky I’m not the Arsenal manager, but it would help the team fluidity and challenge those players who think that they don’t have to put a shift in to get a place in the starting line-up. For what it’s worth, I don’t actually think Wenger is doing enough to motivate the team, and for the first time most of the players look like they’re not playing for him, something which is clearly a recipe for disaster.

If we’re going to play possession based football then there needs to be far more movement off the ball, more interchange between midfielders and wingers, and overall, more shots on goal, something which for the meantime will  could make up for our inability to create goals out of nothing. With three direct players in the starting front three, possession football is something which does not really suit our attack and therefore we might as well look to play more long passes into space behind the opposition defence.

The reality is that we need to find players good enough to play for an Arsenal side fighting for the top four. Players who are better than the ones we already have. We do have funds in the January window estimated to be at around £40m, however, signing direct players who lack technique simply doesn’t work for a side who like to keep possession and rely on it to help create chances. Hopefully we’ll see a return to the Arsenal we know and love very soon, otherwise we’ll be saying goodbye to the infamous coveted ‘trophy’ of Champions League qualification.

Click this link to follow me on Twitter @CookieElGooner.

I’m Back, And Let’s Just Hope Arsenal Are Too

Well, this is my blog post for around three months. You could say its been a while. Nevertheless I’ve been pretty busy in the world of reality and whilst Arsenal are still a major part of my life, I perhaps haven’t been as vocal about them so far as I was last season.

Anyway, today brought good news. The good news is that Arsenal have signed a new 5 year deal with Emirates Airlines worth £150m, meaning an extra £30m per season. Now this may not sound particularly exciting to the ordinary fan, but trust me, its pretty important. Now, I’m no accountant, but even I know there’s no real excuse for us to sell our top players anymore. The reason we did prior to now was that otherwise we would have made a loss, something many clubs operate on anyway. Let’s not forget that the kit manufacturer deal with Nike worth £13m also expires in 2014 and will no doubt be improved upon when it comes to renewal at the time of expiry. Lets just hope that these deals will lead to more investment in world class players, something which hasn’t been possible without the inevitable player sales for a while now.

Moving onto on the pitch matters, where we’re finally starting to look like we are becoming more cohesive and finding a way to get results, whether that involves playing attractive Wengerball style football, or sending crosses into the aerially dominant Giroud. Cazorla’s back to his best after a slight dip in form, Giroud looks almost unstoppable on current form and whilst Podolski may not be having the same overall impact as the other two, he’s still chipping in with a few goals, including a brilliant volley against Montpellier. There’s no doubt about it, this team is good enough to challenge for the top four or above. My only worries about the team would be if one or two of our key players got injured or if we experience another dip in form just when we start to get going. But lets try and not think about that.

The game tomorrow will be another difficult examination. Despite winning just two games this season, Villa certainly threatened to burst Manchester United’s bubble when they played them and without super-sub Javier Hernandez, the team in 2nd may well have been beaten by one whose manager is on the receiving end of a touchline ban when they face us tomorrow.

Despite their lack of star players, Aston Villa do have their own threats in Christian Benteke, the 21 year old Belgian striker who has impressed in his Premier League début season and declared his love for Arsenal, whilst Andreas Weimann has also become an important part of the team.

One player who will miss the game is Theo Walcott, a player who has seemingly  gone under the radar this season in terms of his contribution to the team. He’s out with a shoulder injury but will most likely be replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain or Aaron Ramsey, a player who has been much maligned this season for his performances on the right wing but showed his natural ability in a short cameo against Montpellier. Personally I would rather start Chamberlain to stretch the opposition defence with his pace and dribbling, something which was noticeably lacking from his game when he started on Wednesday, as he was constantly drifting inside, leaving Sagna primarily to work the flank.

However, when on form and sticking to what he does best, Chamberlain is one of our most devastating players and gives us a viable alternative to our latest contract rebel in Theo Walcott. Who knows, maybe the new sponsorship deal will lead to the renewal of his contract. With the improvement made by Walcott this season, its imperative that he signs on for the long term. He may not be a lone striker, but he’s a bloody devastating winger.

Lets hope for a nice comfortable win tomorrow. Of course it doesn’t always work like that, but it would be nice, very nice.

Cazorla Can Help To Compose Arsenal’s New Symphony

@CookieElGooner

So the signing of the summer has arrived. At just £15m, Santiago Cazorla Gonzalez, a diminutive playmaker from Northern Spain has been dubbed as the best transfer deal of the window, and with good reason. A demonstration of the midfielder’s ability is the fact that he has stood out in a league dominated by the titans of world football, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Not only did he stand out, but in 2007, whilst on loan at newly promoted side, Recreativo de Huelva, he managed to win the Spanish Footballer of the Year award, an astronomical achievement considering the circumstances.

Santi also turned down Real Madrid in 2008, citing that “There are many other things in football besides Real Madrid. It’s clear that it is possible to say “no” to them, There is no doubt that they are a great team, but I also feel very satisfied and valued at my club”. Real Madrid at the point had won La Liga for the past two seasons, proving that he will only move to a club if he is valued as a player and that club status is not as significant. This suggests that Cazorla has been guaranteed the creative freedom he likes and also implies that Arsenal will not move to a 4-4-2  formation for the upcoming season, something which has been called for by many Arsenal bloggers, partly due to its success with Arsenal sides in the past.

http://i2.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article1230475.ece/ALTERNATES/s615b/New+Arsenal+signing+Santi+Cazorla+poses+at+Arsenal+Training+Ground

Cazorla will certainly add a lot to Arsenal’s ever improving squad. He has excellent vision, is equally capable with either foot and is one of the best long-range shooters in world football, scoring 8 of his 9 goals from outside the box last season, the highest tally in Europe.

With Giroud and Podolski already at the club, its safe to say my ambitions for the coming season are about as high as they’ve probably ever been. I honestly believe that we have the talent in the squad to reach 2nd place, a semi final spot in the Champions League and an F.A cup win. A DM is a necessity however, with Song possibly on his way to Barcelona, Coquelin not quite ready and Frimpong, whilst talented, is too irrational with his tackling and cannot be entrusted with such an important role in the side after 2 long term injuries in successive seasons. Someone like Etienne Capoue from Toulouse would be my preferred choice if budget constraints are to be taken into account.

If rumours on Twitter are to be believed then Robin van Persie could be on his way to Manchester United. I may be in the minority but I don’t find a potential departure for our renegade traitor particularly disconcerting. Yes, he’s our best player but any emotional ties I had to the player have left me feeling indifferent about the whole debacle. If he joins our arch- rivals( lets just ignore Tottenham for the moment) then he’s a symbol of hate to me, if he joins Man City then at least we all know his priorities (a bench fetish and his bank account.)

In my opinion we probably need another striker, Giroud is good but we don’t know how he’d do in the premier league. Experience in the English league is practically essential and my preference would be to sign a player who is ready to adapt to English football as an understudy to Olivier Giroud. This player could be Theo Walcott. In pre-season he looked good when drifting out onto the left flank and attempting to curl the ball into the far corner. Unfortunately his accuracy from distance isn’t quite at Henry’s level but I’m sure some hard work in training and run out’s through the middle in cup games would ensure he becomes adept in this role.

So the new season promises much with our new additions, and some more potential recruits on their way. I’ll leave you with my lineup for the first game of the season:

Szczesny, Coquelin, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Arteta, Cazorla, Gervinho, Podolski, Giroud.

Thanks for reading and make sure to follow me on Twitter @CookieElGooner

The Curious Case of Theo Walcott

Fabian Odhiambo

Theo James Walcott. Nobody in football gives me sleepless nights and agonizingly long days than this Arsenal and England attacker.

Now you notice I’ve referred to him as ‘attacker’ and not specifically as a striker or forward or winger or wide-man. Technically he could fit all those terms in their definitions. You may wonder about the sleepless nights and long days and ask why. Well, for starters, the fact that I go back and forth in the different roles he plays (or could play) is testament of the above. So I’ve decided to try and set the record straight on the matter.

Walcott was signed by Arsenal in 2006, as a raw talented speedy 16 year old. He however rose to fame about six months later when he was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erickson’s final England squad for the World Cup in Germany. Personally I remember I was surprised, thrilled, but confused more than anything. Even among friends we’ve discussed and analyzed this development unending. Many are the school hours which were otherwise spent online or reading newspaper articles about this Theo Walcott boy. The fact that he had made the England squad without even having played a first team match for Arsenal meant he was special, exceptional even. Or at least I thought so.

He never made an appearance at the World Cup, but the next season would herald his entrance into the Arsenal fold. At this point I’ve got to mention that I have a liking for strikers, people whose job is actually to put the ball in the net. When Theo was signed from Southampton, the headline was ‘Arsenal sign 16-year old Striker’, so naturally I was eager to see him in action. Strangely enough, Wenger would play him as a right winger, or wide right as they like to say. “Well, that’s midfield, right? But he’s a striker! How now?” were my exact thoughts at the time and they’ve stayed on till now.

In the first league match of the 2006-2007 season, Theo came to Arsenal’s rescue to provide the assist for Gilberto’s equalizer to avert what would have been an embarrassing defeat against Aston Villa in the Emirates’ maiden premier league match. The boy was good. He would then go on to score his first Arsenal goal in the Carling Cup final defeat against Chelsea. Not a bad debut season by all standards.

Fast forward to now. The new league season is roughly just 3 weeks away and Arsenal are stepping up their preparations in their Tour of Asia. All is not well though. The captain, Robin Van Persie, scorer of 30 league goals last season has publicly stated that he will not be signing a new contract with the club. Barring a miraculous turn-around, he will not be wearing the cannon shirt again.

Then there’s Theo Walcott, who was second to Robin in the goal scoring stakes for the club. He, like the departing captain is in the last year of his contract and speculation all over the media is rife that he too may well be on his way out. He’s only 23 year old, but with the way things have been happening at Arsenal in recent time, it won’t be surprising if he left.

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02250/theo-walcott_2250331b.jpg

Question is, should Walcott leave the club? Are we better off without him? Many times when I go to bed late (very late) at night I’ve often tried to answer this, to no avail. Last season was easily Theo’s best ever in his time at the club, yet I felt he was utterly rubbish at times. In fact more than half the season I felt that he was just an unproductive speed merchant who was wasting space for someone like Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Then at times I would raise my arms in the air and thank the gods, wherever they may be for gifting us such a player.

Yes, I know I’m contradicting myself and I hate it. Take for instance the derby against Spurs at the Emirates last season. If there’s a game that clearly brought out all my feelings about the player, this one nailed it thoroughly. In the first half he had me screaming my voice hoarse thanks to his nonchalant and profligate display so much that at half time I was literally baying for his blood. God! He got on my nerves! Then funny enough at the end of the second half there I was giving him a standing ovation thanks to his two brilliant finishes. Even the guys seated around me at the pub looked at me curiously and wondered in bemusement. This guy must be mad, I’m sure they thought or mumbled so. I wouldn’t blame them.

Recently I got from a friend the DVD review of the 2007-2008 Arsenal season. Remember, the season when we played the best football we’ve ever played since the Invincibles season but spectacularly (and typically) faltered after Eduardo’s nasty leg break? Yes, that one. I’ve watched it a couple of times and by God, I swear Walcott was a better footballer then than he is now. Granted, he got limited opportunities, but some of his displays were just jaw-dropping. Debatable, you say? That’s fine.

Thing is, he delivered in the grandest of stages and overall his hunger was visible. I quite didn’t see that last season. And that, to be precise is why he frustrates me so much. It’s like he’s not progressing at all, like he thinks he has tried hard enough. In all honesty, Theo Walcott should be a much better player now than he currently is. He has so much weaponry in his armor of skills that it is annoying, frustrating and disgusting even that he does not try as hard to make them pay-off on the pitch.

Then again there’s one important factor. Walcott is being played out position and always has been. And it’s killing him. Theo Walcott is NOT a winger. He is a striker, preferably a center forward. Or rather, that’s what he ought to be. Rumor has it that in the contract negotiations (are they even on?) apart from demanding a hefty pay rise (does he warrant it?), he’s pushing for a more central role in Arsenal’s attack. I feel him. He knows that he’ll never be as good as he could be if Wenger keeps sticking him wide on the right against burly full backs who have studied him inside out. I know that too, and so does Arsene. I’ve always believed that we’re in the era of inverted wingers (or wide men).

Now, Theo is not as technically gifted as required for him to play wide left (or at least he has not shown it). Chamberlain is better suited for that. On the other hand Theo’s finishing has not yet warranted a center forward role, but really what do you expect when you’re constantly played wide right?

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Theo has one important ingredient of great strikers that most strikers do not have: pace. Devastating pace to be precise, pace capable of destroying to shreds any defence in the world. It is not surprising that Lionel Messi described Walcott as the most dangerous player he’s ever played against. That coming from possibly the greatest footballer of all time is not a joke. The guy has to be good. I’m going to be bold and say, if Robin leaves, Theo should be our main center forward. He may not be the best yet, but he will get there.

Arsenal should do all they can to persuade him to extend his stay. I may not agree with this at times, but it is the right thing to do (for now, at least). If Wenger can’t assure him of a central role, Walcott should respectfully say ‘Thank you sir, but I’ll try my luck elsewhere” and quietly walk away. I wouldn’t begrudge him, and neither should the fans. We don’t want another Arshavin situation, do we?

Walcott has Thierry Henry’s iconic no.14 jersey. He was meant to be like legendary Frenchman. It’s now high time the club fast-tracked that. Come on, Mr. Wenger; make our Theo our main man. It’s our time to help him and realize his dream.

By Fabian Odhiambo (@IlFabiano)

Why Aaron Ramsey Will Become a Key Player for Arsenal

When Arsenal signed Aaron Ramsey, he was dubbed one of the greatest talents in Britain. At the time the Cardiff youngster had it all, technique, vision and most importantly, self-confidence; because without self-confidence, a player is nothing. Fernando Torres is a good example of this , for a player who was described as one of the greatest strikers in the world 3 years ago, his performances declined dramatically after injury.

Aaron Ramsey is the same. Perhaps he should have waited longer before making his much anticipated return from injury, or perhaps he was fully fit when he decided to move on loan at Nottingham Forest, but personally I think he would have benefited more by spending more time in the reserves and slowly returning through substitute appearances for the first team. By moving on loan he seemed to lose his rhythm and the swagger which was ever-present before he succumbed to an awful challenge by Ryan Shawcross which left his career on the brink.

Don’t get me wrong, the Arsenal medical team did a fantastic job in getting him back to action in the first place, however perhaps his return to the Arsenal starting eleven could have been handled better. I believe he has the talent to be an Arsenal regular, it’s now down to whether he has the self belief to become an important part of Arsenal’s present and its future.

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Lets not forget that centre midfield is probably one of the hardest positions in world football. Where was Andrea Pirlo at Ramsey’s age? Well he only made 4 appearances for Inter in the first half of the season before being shipped on loan to Brescia, making 10 appearances for the club to compound a frustrating campaign for a player now recognised as one of the greatest playmakers in world football. Admittedly Italian football has a different culture with regards to blooding in youngsters, players generally start their careers later and also finish their careers later, there is less focus on youngsters as owners want their coaches to get immediate results and therefore youngsters feature less than their elder team-mates.

People forget how much time Ramsey has. He has incredible off the ball movement which consistently leads him into goal-scoring positions, something most players would love to have in their locker. Yes he snatches at chances but give him time and he’ll finish them, after all, he was halfway there before his leg break. He also had the third highest pass completion rate of 87% behind Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta, a player who had two less assists than the Welshman. Not bad.

The behaviour of some fans towards him last season was absolutely disgraceful, yes he made a few mistakes but his head was clearly not in the right place, and understandably so. He’d been out for a year with a broken leg, his national team coach and close friend, Gary Speed, the man who had made him Wales captain, had committed suicide and to make matters even worse, people were blaming him for the death of high profile personalities and celebrities. Do you think the people making this rubbish up had heard of coincidence? Clearly not.

Unfortunately Ramsey will miss the clubs pre-season due to him featuring in the Great Britain Olympic football team, however playing in such a tournament could have a positive effect on the youngster as he will be playing alongside his hero and role-model, Ryan Giggs, someone who will undoubtedly give him  guidance and advice to improve as a footballer.

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Something Arsene Wenger will have to work out is the role of Aaron Ramsey in the side. When he burst onto the scene as a teenager he was a raw talent with more than competent finishing ability and confidence in his own aptitude. He also looked extraordinarily calm for a teenager on the pitch and his decision-making was assured. If we can find that Aaron Ramsey again, along with his improved attributes such as resilience and mental toughness then we could have a player able to make a successful impact next season. He now covers the most ground per game of any Arsenal player, a phenomenal work rate but one which perhaps had an impact on his performances last season.

Arsene Wenger has a theory as to why Ramsey didn’t score many last season, stating that:

“He always looks like he will score but doesn’t score at the moment. Once that will be done I think he will be more relaxed in front of goal and score more. He has played many games this year and for a first [full] season [at Arsenal] that is tremendous.”

I think Ramsey has the potential to be a very good advanced playmaker, he has excellent vision but suffers when played deeper in midfield.This is due to his tendency for giving the ball away through momentary lapses in concentration, something he will have to improve on. Nevertheless the Wales captain will have a bright future if treated right, however a potential move to Fulham this summer would be a disaster for both player and club. Ramsey will develop into a fine footballer, just give him time.

Leave a comment below on what you think of the Aaron Ramsey situation.

But first, follow me on Twitter @CookieElGooner

Robin van Persie: Is he a Traitor, or are the Board to Blame?

Well, well, well. You could say it was inevitable that Robin van Persie would not sign a new contract, however that would imply that the board tried as hard as they can to get him to renew his current deal, and I don’t believe that’s true.

What is true is that every time we look to be in a good position to win trophies the following season, we lose key players. I honestly don’t believe this would’ve happened during the David Dein era because he loved Arsenal, I’ve been quite complimentary of Gazidis in the past, however when it comes to renewing contracts for the top players, it appears that he simply isn’t doing well enough.

There are several parties you can blame, van Persie, his agent, the board or more specifically Gazidis, or you could blame Arsene Wenger. Ultimately it is the Dutchman’s decision as to how he wants to be remembered in years to come. Yes he’ll be remembered by Arsenal fans as a great player, but not a legend as he has only won one trophy during his eight year stint at the greatest club in the world and even that was only the F.A cup, if he leaves for a bigger club is he more likely to win trophies? Probably, yes. But by winning trophies with club like Manchester City or Real Madrid he will not be the stand out player, nor will he play every single game.

At Arsenal he is the captain, a hero, an role model, someone Junior Gunners all over the world look up to and want to play as in the playground. Its just sad it has to end this way as I think he stays then he will win trophies in the next five years as captain.

“As announced earlier this year I had a meeting with the Boss and Mr. Gazidis after the season. This was a meeting about the club’s future strategy and their policy. Financial terms or a contract have not been discussed, since that is not my priority at all.”

Looking at the statement taken from Robin’s website, it reinforces my point that Gazidis does not care enough about the club. Even if financial terms or a contract were not discussed seeing as ‘that’s not Robin’s priority’, surely they should have been in order to try and keep the player? We supposedly offered Robin somewhere in the region of £130,000 to £140,000 a week, however if this statement is to be taken seriously, then it appears that these rumours were false as well.

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Why is it that Tottenham have been able to keep their best players? It really is something I find quite worrying. Do we settle for mediocrity by finishing 3rd or 4th every year? Or do we aim for the top by winning trophies. I’m not suggesting we sacrifice our league position as a Champions League team for the Carling Cup, that would be stupid. However if we are to keep our best players and ultimately be successful, then trophies are a necessity . Its what every player wants to be remembered by when they hang up their boots. As Herbert Chapman once said “I’m going to make this the greatest club in the world.” Arguably he did, whilst also breaking several transfer records. Spending large sums of money isn’t always the answer, it has been successful for Man City, but there have also been several sob stories.

The manner of RVP’s statement was full of arrogance and false pretence’s, something we don’t usually associate with the Dutchman as he’s always appeared loyal through quotes in papers or through his attitude on the pitch. A die-hard attitude complimented perfectly with an exuberance of grace and class. He is a great player. What isn’t great about him is that he thinks one season without injury means that he’s too big for the club. He’s not and I for one think he’s owes us at least another season like the one he’s just had. Of course that would mean he’d be allowed to leave on a free  and I wouldn’t feel comfortable keeping a player who’s contract expires at the end of the season.

We need to sell him as soon as possible whilst his value is still high or at least keep trying to renew his current deal as we still have to remember though that its still not a formality that Robin will leave this summer or even next summer, for all we know he could be ‘doing a Rooney’ by publicly stating his desire to leave the club, its something which would surprise me, but then again I’ve been surprised so many times by football. Despite this the statement on Arsenal.com does not reinforce this claim however this could be because they do not want to cause a confrontation and so they are staying neutral.

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In the meantime the club need to look at a ‘world class’ replacement for van Persie and once done secure the long term future’s of Theo Walcott and Alex Song. I realise that I’m making this seem like something which is extremely simple, and its not. But I’m sure Gonzalo Higuain would be more than happy with a move to The Emirates if it meant that he would be the main man.

Arsenal need to deal with the matter as soon as possible, if he definitely want to leave then sell van Persie, replace him, and ‘hey presto’, everybody’s happy again.

In some ways the whole thing seems surreal , when I saw the statement at first I didn’t want to believe that the man who had carried our hopes for the past season as captain, who had grown up supporting Arsenal, idolising players like Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry and ultimately playing alongside them would leave us in this fashion. Especially when he said last year “I know I can win trophies with other clubs, but I only want to do it with Arsenal.” The reaction after the statement was released was incredible, he had spent 8 years at the club building his relationship with the fans and in 5 minutes it was gone, possibly forever.

A excerpt of what Arsene said after Robin stated his desire to join the dark side:

“YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE! IT WAS SAID THAT YOU WOULD DESTROY THE SHEIKHS, NOT JOIN THEM. BRING BALANCE TO FOOTBALL, NOT LEAVE IT IN DARKNESS. YOU WERE MY LOVER ROBIN.”

Its a massive dilemma for Arsene and the board. If they sell Robin this summer then we will once again be labelled a ‘selling club’. Hypothetically speaking if we keep him for another season and let him go on a free after a season in which he scores ten goals then it will possibly be the worst piece of business from the club of all time.

I say sell the traitor. What say you?

Follow me on twitter @cookieelgooner

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