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Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 2

The last home game of the season is usually a time for boundless optimism, speculation as to the possibilities that the summer and a new campaign could bring. Yesterday was more like a funeral. Only noisier, with discontented grumbling throughout. It was easy to understand, the fare the team has served up since February has been quite awful. Pockets of discontented grumbles and moans have been commonplace at home games for some years now, but as the supporters sang, "6 per cent, you`re having a laugh" it was the complete dénouement for the players, the manager and the board. This was choreographed, contrived. Everybody was on the same page. The price rise issue is one I think the board will rue. I began to seriously wonder whether an orchestrated call for the manager`s head might follow. It didn`t materialise, but it`s not far away. Let me tell you.

We started the day by watching Chelsea suffer a last gasp equaliser against Newcastle, leaving the door slightly ajar for a creditable second place finish. But this clearly hasn`t been much of a carrot for the players and we are now more likely to finish 4th than not. The welcome reappearance of Thomas Vermaelen gave the crowd a lift as the teams emerged for kick off. That was about as fun as it got. After only 15 minutes, the game was already lost. Firstly Kyle Walker had time and space in abundance to pick out a flighted ball to Darren Bent in the penalty area, with Squillaci sleeping. Bent in turn had an ocean of time to control the pass and loft it over Szczesny. The air in the stadium turned royal blue just three minutes later. James Collins found Ashley Young on the left, Vermaelen slipped, allowing Young to play a slide rule pass to Darren Bent who again tucked the ball gleefully past Szczesny. As Spurs struggle with a limp pack of strikers, you can`t help but feel they sold the best one they`ve had for years. Bent scores regularly and against the big teams to boot. Many frowned upon the £24m price tag, but his goals have kept Villa in the Premiership and Premiership survival is worth a good deal more than £24m.

Arsenal looked stung, lifeless and not sure how to respond. Like they`d been levelled by a stranger in the street. Aaron Ramsey was clearly felled in the penalty area by Richard Dunne, which referee Michael Oliver somehow missed, but the appeals were half hearted from players and supporters. Frankly, it didn`t feel like it mattered much. One player whose mojo has not dropped in the last 3 months has been Robin van Persie and, with Fabregas injured, the Dutchman seemed to realise that if Arsenal were to garner anything from the game, he would most likely have to do it all by himself. He came close when he cranked out some space on the corner of the area and lashed a shot against the base of the post. Two shots, two goals for our opponents, whilst Arsenal reaffirm their love affair with the woodwork. Groundhog Day. The half time whistle was greeted with a period of sustained and vociferous booing. I didn`t join in myself, but I understood it. The supporters felt the game was worth turning up for, so we really did have the moral high ground over the players in that respect.

Arsenal`s subs warmed up by hitting crosses into the area for Marouane Chamakh and sure enough he entered the fray in place of Squillaci, who had had a wretched half. But it was Villa who carried more threat coming forward on the counter attack. Bent went clean through at the half`s beginning, but Szczesny made a good save with his legs. The Gunners looked better than they had in the first half- which wasn`t much of an achievement it must be said. Ultimately, it was more repetitive sideways passing at a snail`s pace which Villa were rather comfortable with. Van Persie did eke out some space in the area, feeding the incoming Gibbs, but Friedel was out to make a smart block. The natives became restless when the stadium announcer reminded supporters of the "lap of appreciation" post match. "6% you`re having a laugh" rang out from the stands. Ouch.

Villa broke at speed once more when Young found Downing on the right, he fired a shot goalwards, but Szczesny stood up to block. Arsenal thought they had grabbed a lifeline when Chamakh rose to head home Walcott`s cross, but the referee chalked the goal off. I have yet to see a replay, but I didn`t see any shove the Moroccan forward, but I might be wrong. The Gunners did eventually find a goal through the most obvious of scorers. Sagna tossed in a cross from the right, Nicklas Bendtner grappled and tried to dribble his way through in the box, the ball fell kindly for Robin van Persie who poked home his 21st goal of the season. I make that 20 goals in 21 games. Astonishing player, we`re conversely rather fortunate that he is considered injury prone, or else the vultures really would be circling for a player that could walk into any side in world football. I`m of the opinion that the best centre forward in the world currently wears an Arsenal shirt and for that, we should be grateful and find a crumb of comfort amidst a miserable three months.

The lap of appreciation was a hasty and demure affair, most headed for the exits in the most damning form of visual protest possible. I stayed myself, but most around me didn`t. I don`t judge those people, I just felt- with the exception of the last two games- the effort has been faultless this season, even in our most inept moments the players have visibly tried. The manager looked a very weary individual as he passed us in the East Stand. I hate seeing him the way I`ve seen him in the last few months. I don`t doubt his desire, his effort, his commitment are stronger than ever. I think his players have let him down- which of course raises uncomfortable questions about him. Shortly after the second goal, I looked over to the bench and he sat forlorn, his arms folded, his legs crossed. He hasn`t been able to motivate his players for some weeks and I think that hurts him. I think we might be in for a busy summer in terms of outages. We picked our mood up slightly post match with a delightful steak and far, far too much red wine at Garufa`s on Blackstock Road. Consequently, my eyes are droopy and my head is swimming this morning. A colleague in the office joked that I should start saving up for a trip to Eastern Europe in mid August for a qualifier. We`re going to finish a two horse race in 4th place- which is an indictment on our current squad. Something needs to change, I`m just not sure I know what it is.LD.

53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI (29.Chamakh H/T), 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE, 16.RAMSEY, 14.WALCOTT, 23.ARSHAVIN (52.Bendtner `62), 10.v.PERSIE©. Unused: 13.Lehmann, 15.Denilson, 27.Eboue, 44.Henderson, 48.Miquel.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday May 16 2011

Time: 11:45AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Hard to disagree with how sad it is to see Wenger like that, the players have been spoilt and let down their father figure, they should be ashamed.
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16/05/2011 12:19:00

Gutted at the result; it's as if the team just isn't able to cease the moment. Better we resign our fate to 4th place. Maybe, our luck could change as we have been let down every time we have been expectant. Can't blame the fans much, really.
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16/05/2011 12:36:00

Although Squil had a bad half, I feel too much has been made of his performance individually. I've read now 4 match reports that directly fault him for the 1st goal but none that state that: a. closing down the ball for the cross was too slow and half hearted (RvP for the 1st one) and b. noone mentions Sagna's (lazy) reaction for the second. It feels as we're trying to find another scapegoat to point our finger at, when actually the whole team defended like *****. I'm no football tactician but I think that if you're playing a high line then you must pressure the ball very high up the pitch, too. We've shipped in goals for that reason one too many times this season and people have always blamed Koscielny, Squillaci, Djourou, the goalies, etc. and never the strikers or midfielders who failed to do their job.
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16/05/2011 12:42:00

Good write-up. I know there's been a debate this season whether it's our attack or our defence that's more culpable, but in my opinion it's the defence. You often hear manager (Wenger himself I believe) say the hardest thing in the game is to score, so if you can keep it tight and be solid at the back you give yourself a better chance to win games. That's the thing that frustrates the most - you always get the feeling we're going to concede sooner or later. On the small plus side, whilst he's not ready yet, I thought Ramsey showed glimpses of his potential. I know everyone's hoping for change this summer, but I just can't see Wenger making that many. Goalkeeper - now sorted. Defence - can't see him making a marquee signing if we already have Verm, Djourou and Koscielny. Midfield - Song, Ramsey, Wishere, Cesc already there; can't think he'll buy new players to thwart progress of Frimpong and Randall. Attack - already says doesn't want to lose AA23, has Nasri, Walcott, RvP, Chamakh and Bendtner, with poss Wellington Silva and Vela to come back. So it's only the squad players like Denilson, Rosicky, Almunia.
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16/05/2011 12:51:00

Correction: I meant Lansbury above, not Randall!
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16/05/2011 12:52:00

Stonewall penalty and a goal that would never in a million years be disallowed against us. But the fact that nobody cares about that shows its not really the result that mattered. It's the attitude or mentality of the players. Something has to change and its starts with Wenger's philosophy. Project youth would've gotten us trophies had we stuck with the players we started with, instead we seem to rebuilding every season. And if we sell Fabregas, then we'll prove what Evra said. We're a 'training centre'.
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16/05/2011 13:00:00

i read the other day that had all shots that have hit the woodwork been goals for all teams in the prem, arsenal would be winning the league by 12 points!!!!! thats a heartbreaking stat!!!!
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16/05/2011 13:11:00

I come in peace as a villa fan. Your defence let u down yesterday, I have always thought Arsenal have a midfield and strike force to rival anyone, but never a decent defence or keeper since the years of Keown/Campbell/Winterburn/Dixon etc.....
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16/05/2011 13:24:00

RVP goalcroring extrordinaire. Does anyone else think there may not be a coincidence that the goals in the last 2 games (consolations though they were) have come from playing slightly deeper off a front man. That's where he looks most dangerous.
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16/05/2011 13:30:00

Striking stat cb25Yid, it does lend some perspective but its a results oriented world and we have underperformed. Gooner_Vin, though second guessing Arsene in the transfer market is like buying a lottery ticket, I do think there will be one new defender who will be purchased. Also, one new midfielder who will provide competition to Song and Ramsey and 1 new forward DEFINITELY. 3 players bought and even more sold.
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16/05/2011 13:36:00

Its what you deserve you dirty cheating scumbags!
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16/05/2011 15:50:00

For all the lack of commitment in the first half an hour, the final hour was actually quite good. That we lacked a certain amount of quality and luck (we couldnt buy a deflection or goal in off the post with all the money in the world) seems more a reflection of how our season has turned rather than endeavour. It was no real surprise to me that we conceded early. Vermaelen hasnt played in almost a year, and Squillaci...well...he tries hard, but is this year's silvestre. The problem was, as identified above, the lack of defensive pressure in the midfield positions. I would have thought that, having seen how successful teams can be closing down space in front of the back four, the team might have learnt from their own frustrations and put it into practice themselves. But, there continues to be an abundance of space in front of our back four, with Song trying to cover everybody. This, for me, is our most glaring flaw. It is going to be an interesting summer. I truly hope we can scrape into 3rd.
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16/05/2011 15:57:00

"6 ou're avin' a laugh. In other words we'd be happy to pay the extortionate prices if we were winning. But even if Wenger was given a blank chequebook and was able to buy anyone in the world you would still fail because they would be forced to play 'Wenger Ball 4' and would be stifled. Look at Arshavin. Couple of years ago he was the most sought after player in world football. Since coming to Arsenal he's a shadow of his former self. Same could be said of Chamack, same could be said of Rosicky. Same could be said of many, many others. It's happened far too many times now for it to be a coincidence. The problem is Wenger. I honestly believe that if Messi signed for 100 million he would be a listless wreck in half a season. Pass, pass, pass...
Tony Rocky Horror
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16/05/2011 16:18:00

Just saw cb25's stat and felt instantly ill. This is the first summer in living mempry that I'm looking forward to. Looking forward to not watching football, looking forward to seeing how Wenger comes to terms with the issues within the team. One thing is for sure, there can't be none of this waiting till the last minute to sign the players he needs, he just can't take that risk. So yeah .... I usually hate summer for the lack of football, but it's going to be a welcome interesting break.
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16/05/2011 16:39:00

Just Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V what I pasted at Goonerholic You know whats the saddest part. I thought we would make real progress this summer. Because, we didnt lose anyone vital – but gained 3 or 4 quality players in Chamakh, Squill and Kos. I know Squill is now everyone’s favorite scapegoat but he aint half bad for a 4th choice center half. Considering that the previous owner’s of his jersey have been Cygan and Silvestre! Cannot blame the quality in the squad. Its just that their attitude sort of sucks bigtime. And honestly I dont know whats the solution for that other than a change of management.
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16/05/2011 16:47:00

where did it all go wrong for wenger? well he tried to take the barcelona blueprint but didnt apply it correctly. hes stuck on one fixed system of play that never changes, even to the extent of pushing players like bendtner and arshavin (whos nominally a striker) to the bench. fabregas is no number 10 either, he should play deeper (hes even said so himself). the whole team attacks stupidly, your back line may have a problem but the whole team doesnt defend properly as a unit. one marvellous ability wenger does have is the ability to turn direct players into indirect ones. case in mind is rosicky. one of the top players in europe when he arrived. does he even ever shoot anymore? arshavin too. In wenger you should keep on trusting.
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16/05/2011 19:13:00

to the wing* not the bench. bendtner deserves to be on the bench.
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16/05/2011 19:30:00

We only have to lose a game,and the media are baying for Mancini's blood,wanting him sacked.In his first full season at City,one trophy and CL qualification.At Arsenal,cupboard bare for six years,yet Wenger still there and very little criticism.Passing the ball about is good(City are only second to Arsenal on that score)but you need other facets to your game,Wenger has seemed to forgotten that.Even Barcelona,chase harry and press.
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16/05/2011 20:48:00

I have a feeling we have seen the last of Cesc. Watching this team must have been painful for him. You can't expect him and Robin to carry all their teamates all the time. They need help. Will the boss do anything in the summer? I am not so sure. Right now, he might want to as he must be hurting. But 2 months down the line, the pain will subside, he will see good things in training and decide to give the boys another chance. The problem is not that our players dont have talent, they have bagloads of it; the problem is they lack hunger and mental. Much harder to fix when you have young careless millionaires. They dont love the game as much as Henry did.
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16/05/2011 20:51:00

This season really hurt
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16/05/2011 20:56:00

A lot of talk of how the players have let Wenger down. I just cannot agree with this. I really can't. We have no interfering owner, no DOF and noone else to butt in. This is the managers team noone elses, he wanted to win things but only on a shoestring budget, this is a cut price stew of never weres and may never will bes, a hell of a lot of padding, filler, basement bargain, one eye on the wallet bench fodder that fleshes out a handful of truly world class acts. Sure any player at any price can be a gamble but this is the equivalent of going all in with a Jack seven, it's a reckless wild gamble whose bluff has been well and truly found out and called. Now a situation has arisen whereby the club have jeopardised losing our handful of world class players to pastures new because due to scrimping and cutting corners they have been failed, let down by not building a team worthy of them. By bodging defences with dreck like sylvestre and squelchy, by the negligence in failing to adequately cover Vermaelen, by clumsily hot potatoing the goalkeeper situation until the only one left standing is last years fourth choice that is our No1 by default of being the only one remaining with an ounce of nerve and resolve. By ludicrously Sticking with a system thats very nature can only thrive on confident attacking flair and defensive nous, Arsene has been unbearably inflexible in formation and has tactically approached fixtures with breathtaking dissmissive arrogance toward the opposition, whereas the likes of Utd have adroitly switched to maximise their strength from one opponent to the next. The persistant playing of players horribly out of their natural position until their collective confidence is shot to pieces is something Wenger should be dragged over the coals for, But when you answer to none and have free rein there is noone to raise this charge, noone to question. No number 2 that can advise and challenge where it is needed. PR is an Arsenal great and his service has been fantastic but his time is gone, he is yesterdays man now, he should have been allowed to bow out gracefully in a weeks time, as there is nothing here to suggest new blood is not sorely needed and Wengers right hand would've been a welcome start, instead Rice will be dragged lamely into a season that will I have little doubt be a ****ing savage bearpit. The fact that Wenger has pleaded with him to remain says to me that we have a man in charge that abhors and indeed has become scared of change. We are in dire need of seeing some visible confidence rebuilding summer squad strengthening not two players out but 5 out five in at least. High profile additions that will offer quality and experience not potential is patently required. People can argue we aren't that far off but realistically we are as far away as ever if not further mentally as time after time this squad doesn't just stumble at the final hurdle it falls flat on it's face knocking it's front teeth out, rendering it out for the count and lying in a puddle of it's own wazz. But for all our shortcomings vital life affirming change and an admission that weakness is rife within our camp from front to back is just not something I can see ever happening, It is apparant now to me that this old dog sadly has no new tricks left in him, it is as was mentioned in the article car crash painful to watch these weeks and months passed and in my heart I fear that after another summer of half hearted token tinkering that the worst is yet to come.
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17/05/2011 02:47:00

Its striking that the majority of the trolls on here are from clubs markedly inferior to us. Our disaster is 4th place while it is their pinnacle. Sad fans of small clubs these trolls.
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17/05/2011 07:53:00

Niko - with you on the points you so eloquently make. I really just don't see Arsene making the changes needed for time will pass and that will make him think things weren't so bad and we were close, the pain he's undoubtedly feeling now will subside. It's a travesty that we have players of the quality of Cesc and RvP and we haven't done their talent justice by building a world-class team around them. I don't think Wenger is afraid to change, I just think he so badly wants to prove his way is right and can succeed. However, he has to realise that it's not about him anymore. Unless there is some major change, I can only see the experience of consisting failing at the final hurdle continuing to haunt the team ad infinitum. I think as fans we've been incredibly patient, we were asked to believe in the team and project and we've done it for 6 years. This summer needs a statement of intent from Arsenal FC that we are a big club, hungry and competitive for success, not satisifed at finishing in the top 4 places. I would love us to sign Samuel Eto, a top-class defensive midfielder and a top-class replacement for Arshavin.
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17/05/2011 09:02:00

Gooner_Vin, I share your thoughts about Wenger having more of a need to prove 'it can be done' than being afraid of change. It was a worthy project and does deserve success at the end of it, but if it isn't working, no reason to continue with it, as is. I fully expect him to buy in key positions as the defence and strikeforce. Wenger has been a long standing fan of Eto'o and since Mourinho is attempting to pawn Wesley Sneider to Fergie(not sure how that is his call) it is a good time to make that enquiry. All that may not happen because such an addition will take credit off the project, should we win a trophy next season. If we don't bring in some fresh faces, I am afraid, failing at key moments may well become a habit for this side.
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17/05/2011 11:20:00

That's one of the best rants I've ever read. lol. True heartfelt gooner, whether you agree with him or not!! Awesome. As for Wenger, I'm actually getting the vibe that he's done with this set up and we're going to see a summer like never before. He looks like he's pig sick of seeing lucklustre performances all the time and wants some new bite. I'm actually pretty excited because I'm that confident of change.
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17/05/2011 11:27:00

It is amazing how everyone has, suddenly, become an expert at everything Arsenal. Even the trolls from City are having their say. If I recall correctly, it was 0-3 and 0-0 against them this season, no; and that's after spending hundreds of millions. Well, that's what failing to win trophies can bring you, I guess.
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17/05/2011 11:28:00

You’re right Rocky, I’ve not seen Wenger look so desolate and ashen-faced as he looked after the Aston Villa game. In his current mood I can see him doing something not yet seen during his tenure but it all depends about how he will feel once the dust has settled.
Sir Henry
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17/05/2011 13:40:00

Great post Niko, some home truths with a little bit of humour and a sprinkle of "sort it Farkin aaaat"
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17/05/2011 16:24:00

Thanks Vin & Iceman, how I wish none of that rant needed saying. I think we have all reached an impasse this seasons' end by which at the back of our collective mind we now feel this team can be capable of implosion at any game, against any opposition and it can be triggered by the faintest spark. It just shows how things can go so badly wrong when you have a squad made from so many talented flair players but very few natural warriors. The start of the season was often joyous to behold and when flair players are riding sky high on confidence all is gravy but when confidence is down then the team fails utterly and there is far too many players with little fight playing within themselves. That is what needs looking into, the combination of beauty and the beast is off kilter, It's called the business end of the season, if this is the case then we turn off the machines and lock up the factory due to industrial inaction.
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17/05/2011 18:38:00

i agree with niko. it's a common postulation here that we have very good players like czesney (gk), sagna, clichy, vermealen, kos (def), fab, nasri, arshavin, walcott, wilshere (mid) & rvp thus not a lot of changes are required come next summer if we manage to retain all these players. just get rid of some players not mentioned in the list & we will do good. i believe it's a myth because obviously if those players did not played much in the first place, how could they be blamed? mu have ****ty players like carrick, anderson rooney (for most part of the season) but they still won the title. our problem is simple. it's in our tactic. it may sound easy but i think we will do better with 2 solutions; 1st solution) stop playing wingback. why are we sticking with attacking fullbacks when none of them could deliver a decent cross? there are two deficiency in this wingback system. first, it leaves the back four overexpose and second, we are less direct. notice that whenever 'lesser teams' counter attack us, they would always plant a long ball to the left or to the right? when our central defenders are pulled out of position, all hell breaks loose. stability starts from defence. neville, evan always leaves the attacking job to proper wingers and that’s what our fullback should do, stay back more. notice that most of those nonsense sideway passing always occurs around the corner flag among a fullback, a winger and one or two midfielders. when we meet the dead end on the left side for example, we would pass the ball back to the middle and change side to the right. it went on and on swinging left & right until we lose possession. that’s how we chalk up 65% of possession every game. making do without wingbacks will forced us to buy real wingers, not playing out of position central attacking midfielder like nasri & arshavin or playing strikers like chamakh & bendtner at the flanks where they would make diagonal runs into the crowded box already packed with 2 walls of defence and make it more difficult to attempt a shot. 2nd solution) simply play more direct. arshavin walcot and nasri are brilliant if they are given space to run. if we increase our passing length by 1.5 yards from our current average and pass it quick enough, it will make a world of difference. 2 walls of defence so effectively used against us will not work because this system needs time to reorganize when possession is lost. if we take 15 passes just to cross to another half, we are playing into the hands of this men behind ball tactic. i am sure bendtner & chamakh would have much better record if we play more direct with real wingers who can cross, and not frustrated by those sagna-trademark-crosses that never arrive
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18/05/2011 04:10:00

Wenger won't change that though, he's always always had pacy full backs getting forward, it's a valid point that their crossing is poor and defensively Clichy's cost us his fair share of points this season - that said though Sagna's been immense for us this year, my player of the season. I know it's champtionship manager but i'd love to see Vermaelen at left back, to sure it up a little bit, he's not quick enough though so can't see it under Wenger. Niko that lack of fight thing echoes a lot of supporters' thoughts, just one of those things that can't really be quantified is it, remember saying a similar thing last year but being blasted with stats about tackling success.
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18/05/2011 08:59:00

One point I would like to touch on this season is the amount of panic we seem to be in while defending a lead. Players opt to just hack it without seeing instead of staying calm and weighing up their options. This just serves to create more panic in our defence and encourage the opposition to come back at us. And I have to say the whole of our back four shows this tendency along with majority of our midfield.
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18/05/2011 14:31:00

So what's the common denominator Eboue=God?
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18/05/2011 15:26:00

Nothing related to previous post. I noticed this deficiency this season and liked to point it our. Btw niko's rant is absolute class. Just read it. Alan Davies would be proud.
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18/05/2011 17:43:00

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18/05/2011 17:48:00

Just wish we had a commanding home-grown centre back, like all of our nearest rivals. It can't be coincidence that the last time we won anything of note we had an english defender sorting things out back there. I know, it sounds simplistic and perhaps a little xenophobic, but we need an on-field leader who can see what's happening in the game and bawl at his troops. It ain't coming from the touchline, that's for sure. Wenger is too busy moaning at the 4th official and Rice looks like he can't wait to retire. Get someone in the back line who can shout and remind others what it means to close down or take someone out. Too many soft half-hearted tacklers in this team ready to stop running as soon as an opponent gets past them.
Wyn Mills
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18/05/2011 23:33:00

And for the record I agree that Wenger is a gambler. He always has been. Problem for him now is that his bluff has been called.
Wyn Mills
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18/05/2011 23:41:00

Vincent Kompany does that job tremendously for City at the back. Nationality is 0% a factor, attitude is.
Little Dutch
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19/05/2011 09:25:00

Wouldn't have minded a bit of Kompany in our centre back department. He's another player we missed out on in summers past.
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19/05/2011 17:34:00

Interesting article by John Cross of The Mirror about Arsene not changing his policy. If that's the case, you can only imagine the atmosphere if we get off to a bad start next season. I would never think Wenger could leave whilst still under contract but under those circumstances I could see it happening.
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19/05/2011 22:15:00

Nationality not a factor? What about the language barrier? Half our lot can barely muster a cogent sentence in english never mind bark a convincing command.
Wyn Mills
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20/05/2011 02:24:00

Wyn I tend to disagree with you on this. Even if our players can't spout a word of English, while playing you just needs to make sounds so that your teammates understand that you're asking for the ball. I have a player over here who doesn't know Hindi and he just makes sounds while asking for the ball. Also he organises the defence just as well by just pointing and making similar sounds. Haha
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21/05/2011 13:59:00

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17/06/2011 15:49:00


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BFG 0%
Monreal 0%
Flamini 16%
Cazorla 0%
Ramsey 0%
Ozil 66%
Sanchez 0%
Giroud 0%
Gabriel 0%
The Ox 16%
Campbell 0%