Tuesday, 28 May 2013

5 Players You Should Buy From Ligue 1. (Realistically)

Seasons all over Europe are closing or have already closed and Sunday marked the end of the season in France. This got me thinking to the star performers from Ligue 1 and who should be cherry picked this summer following last seasons departures (Giroud, Hazard)....Here's 5 You should buy.

Goalkeeper - Stephane Ruffier (St-Etienne)

Stephane Ruffier was Christophe Galtier's first signing with all his newly acquired money after selling Blaise Matuidi, Dmitri Payet and Emmanuel Riviere which all seemed a bit odd, until he started playing. The ex-Monaco goalkeeper has been in sensational form for the past two seasons and he's a baby in goalkeeping terms (26). Ruffier is a commanding figure from crosses and I would rate him along with Hugo Lloris in terms of shot-stopping (NB: I don't rate Lloris in any other departments.)

Defender - Nicolas N'Koulou (Marseille)

The best centre-half in Ligue 1 this season edging out Thiago Silva. An utterly dominant defender who can read the game as well as he acts on instinct, he might have one more season in him at the Velodrome but if he is to leave, he will have his choice of suitors. Honourable mentions to Lucas Digne and Serge Aurier here as well, continuing France's well-trodden tradition of having good full-backs.

Midfielders - Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)

What he lacks in height, he makes up with impact. Ligue 1's top assist maker (12) has been in brilliant form now for best part of 18 months and is the creative hub of a very industrial Marseille team, has been known to carry Marseille for lengthy periods. Brilliant set-piece taker and overall one of the most intelligent players in France, will set buying clubs back best part of €15m. Other honourable mentions are Blaise Matuidi, Joshua Guilavogui, Dmitri Payet, Etienne Capoue and Franck Tabanou.

Forwards - Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (St-Etienne) & Wissam Ben Yedder (Toulouse)

Both relative unknowns but two strikers with an appetite for goals and the bigger stage. Aubameyang has been pivotal to St-Etienne's Coupe De La Ligue victory and 5th place finish, he ended up as 2nd top scorer behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PEA's movement has proven to be a nightmare for defenders this season but does have a tendency to finish erratically. Ben Yedder is a 22-year old French striker of Tunisian descent, a striker with very good reactions and an eye for goal (see attached clip)


Friday, 24 May 2013

St Michael's Day.

Before Football was invented by Sky in August 1992, we all played exhibition football in something called the "First Division" - it was a competitive league of football that was normally dominated by Liverpool in it's final years and although no-one has ever seen or will ever see drama to match the Sergio Aguero goal last season (or is it 2 seasons ago?), let me take you back to 1989.

First off, if any of you couldn't pick the sarcasm up from that first paragraph, I suggest you go no further. Now that's cleared up....1988/1989 season was the season of my first ever Arsenal game which I've bored you to the hilt about eleventy billion times, I had "followed" Arsenal for the 2 seasons before this and when I say followed, I was 4-6 years old so I don't think I would be in the running for fan of the year. Somewhere upstairs I have the season review on VHS which was voiced by Martin Tyler, I can visualise the opening day 5-1 win at FA Cup winners Wimbledon, winning 3-2 at White Hart Lane where all Tottenham fans could care about was Paul Gascoigne's goal, losing his boot and snapping the hoardings in half. We actually had won a trophy by the start of October with the prestigious Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy, a competition devised by the Football League to celebrate the 100th anniversary with a 8-team knockout of the top 8 sides the previous year, we beat Manchester United 2-1 in the final at Villa Park. The season carried on at a steady pace, moved to the top of the league with a 2-0 win at Highbury in the NLD and followed that up with a 3-1 win at Goodison. The League Cup (2-legged back to start) had seen us lose at Liverpool after needing 2 replays and West Ham knock us out of the 3rd Round after a replay which had seen Arsenal come from 2 goals down to draw. It was nip and tuck with Liverpool throughout the rest of the season which is an utter credit to them considering the horrific scenes at Hillsborough, in fact Liverpool drew the next game after Hillsborough with Everton and then went on to win the next 5 games which included the FA Cup Final, this run they went into the final game of the season only needing a draw with Arsenal to clinch the trophy and on closer inspection Liverpool could lose the game 1-0 and still win the title on goal difference.

It was a Friday Night, I was 6 1/2 and my father worked shifts at a Microchip company in Milton Keynes so  whatever happened, he'd have to go to work after the game so I was allowed to stay up to watch it (7:45 kick off) - I can remember all the Arsenal squad presenting the Liverpool crowd with flowers to mark the tragedy at Hillsborough which I thought was a lovely touch and subsquently learnt that Arsenal usually do things the right way and with class, presenting the Hillsborough Fund with a £25,000 cheque. 

The First Goal

I'll level with you, I had no idea what a direct or indirect free-kick was back in those days so had no idea why Liverpool were complaining, free kick whipped in and Smudge "flicked" it into the far corner. 1-0. But would it count? I can't tell if he touched it or not but when the ref pointed to the centre circle it was relief, I remember developing a tension headache of mythical proportions, and to put into context we were leading at Liverpool where we hadn't won since 1974-75.

Very vivid moments were to follow, Pat Rice sitting in the dugout fidgeting, Michael Thomas missing an easier chance than the one he stuck away, Kevin Richardson going down with cramp and at the angle he was laying, it looked like a leg was missing and it was in this interlude where we had John Barnes rallying the troops and who could forget Steve McMahon's "1 minute" hand gesture, time had run out. Or so we had thought....

The Second Goal

I had wanted to go to bed now, I think I was slowly dissolving into tears, I couldn't watch the ending but was forced to and something I am very thankful to my folks for that, we all know what happened next and it was the year that started my love of watching Football, that one Michael Thomas goal from a lucky rebound had changed the entire course of the league season in a manner of minutes, Arsenal had won a league title on goals scored as they both had 76 points and +37 goal difference but by virtue of scoring more goals, Arsenal were champions.

I had hoped if we had signed with Adidas they would have been able to replicate the shirt for the 25th anniversary in some way but alas not to be.

On a far more serious matter, I've just learned of the death of Scott @ozgooner at the shocking age of 36. I would like to pass on my condolences to the family and friends of Scott. Rest In Peace.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Season Review 2012/2013 - I'm Just Glad It's Over.

So it's all done for another year, and somehow we've managed to thread the eye of a needle and finish 4th, it's been a fabulous end to an ordinary year if that makes sense. The form we've shown since the second leg Bayern game has been nothing short of champion material, winning at Sunderland, West Brom and Fulham by the odd goal with a player sent-off, the desire and focus shown will absolutely help us next season to be able to push on but I'm here to talk about the season and a few awards etc. Standard end of season stuff.

We started with 2 0-0's and the comments about missing Robin Van Persie started, I still maintain Sunderland were the worst side we've played all season and normally a point at Stoke is considered good but the media had us lurching into crisis already. It wasn't until the 3rd game at Anfield until we hit the stride, one of the best performances of the season combined with Podolski and Cazorla breaking the ducks made for a very happy Sunday, only to be clouded in some parts by Robin Van Persie's hat-trick at Southampton. We meandered through the next few, winning in Montpellier after thrashing Southampton 6-1 before the two games against top 4 rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Thomas Vermaelen was ruled out on the morning of the City game and it was the first insight to the Koscielny/Mertesacker partnership that was to prove prevalent later in the season, it was a tough battling draw that we could of got more out of. Chelsea was a meek performance in comparison (Vermaelen recalled) which saw us lose for the first time this season to two badly defended set-pieces. Couple of decent victories at home to Olympiakos and away to West Ham saw us bounce back but we weren't really playing well, and surely that would catch up soon.....

And boy did it. I'd say from the 20th October to the 4th December was the longest period supporting Arsenal in my life (in my mind) - Our record was something like 4 wins in 12 games, defeat to Norwich after flying (FLYING!) to the game, humilation against Schalke at home but sandwiched in their like an old friend was a 5-2 derby drubbing against Spurs, complete with comedy Adebayor sending off. Saturday 1st December rolled around and I can remember it clear as day, the day I thought it may all end for Arsene, a 2-0 home defeat to Swansea left some of the most vitrolic memories from other supporters that I've ever witnessed, I wasn't sure Arsene would survive without walking away and I wasn't even sure it was a bad thing him walking away but hindsight has proven that it would of been very bad.

January actually really wasn't much fun either following a good rest of December (excluding Bradford), we lurched from draws at Southampton to a empathic defeat at home to Man City and a 2-2 draw with Liverpool at home coming back from 2-0 down.

The "threading of the needle" started on a cold Saturday afternoon with a Lukas Podolski deflected free-kick against Stoke and was followed by yet another 1-0 in the North-East where Bacary Sagna was drafted into centre half and Carl Jenkinson was sent off, the spirit and confidence were getting there only to be knocked down again with defeats at home to Bayern in the CL and Blackburn in the Cup.

The second North London derby of the season was supposed to be the pivotal one with Spurs in the form of their lives, having only lost 2 of the previous 23 games and they prevailed 2-1 after 2 schoolboy defensive errors within 5 minutes, to all and sundry the race for 4th had been done and dusted, the "Power Shift" columns had been drafted, Arsene Wenger's managerial obits had been written & the only thing left was for the rest of the season to play out and these to be published.......

We're still waiting for them to be published.....

From that Tottenham game we never lost again, we conceded only 1 goal from open play and narrowly missed out on overturning a 3-1 deficit in the Allianz, winning 2-0 but failing on away goals, results were ground out, men were made and it left us feeling a little confused. All I could of hoped for after the Tottenham defeat is that we made a fist of it and the 4-1 win over Wigan at least ensured it went to the final day of the season with qualification in our own hands, if something were to go wrong we would have the knowledge it was us who threw it away, we weren't on the end of a mobile phone refreshing apps every 5 seconds or cheering phantom goals. If Arsenal won, it was done.

The rest is history, from the bleakest night now suddenly breaks into a bright dawn, the Gazidis-powered FFP dream and marketing dream is pulling into focus, Champions League football has been secured and with the instability around the Premier League, many Arsenal fans think this is the year we make strides forward. We truly are at the crossroads where the next decade could be defined for our football club and I would like to personally thank everyone who reads this, everyone who says nice things, nasty things or indifferent things. It's been my pleasure and I can't wait to do it again.

Awards Guff.

Player of the Season - Santi Cazorla - Only Per Mertesacker is worthy of mention in this category.

Goal of The Season - Laurent Koscielny vs Newcastle - Because without it, we'd all be emigrating.

Game of The Season - Arsenal 7-5 - I'd seen enough in this game to know I'd seen too much.

I'll be back over the summer with the usual stuff. Thanks for Reading.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


The final home game of the season. We know what needs doing. Two wins will see us qualify for the 474th consecutive edition of the Champions League, anything else coupled with a Tottenham win sees us 5th and below our rivals for the first time since Clement Atlee was in power.

Ok maybe those historical stats are wrong but you get my drift, so what happens if that dreaded second scenario happens? Sure there will be a period of "Mugabe Media Lockdown" to hide away from basically every journalist and agenda driven Arsenal fan or blog with a "Told you so" smug look on their face but when the cold light of day hits, what will change?

We've been fighting against oil money, sociopathic managers, legendary managers, losing players for so long and yet we keep finishing in the top 4 that maybe dropping out this time will be a liberating experience, I still maintain that if ever there was a year where damage could be minimalised then this is the one (TV Money). We get so uptight about the thought of no St Totteringhams Day that one year without it might help us all chill the eff out. I personally hope St Totteringhams is here forever but we'll overcome it if it doesn't happen.

News broke last night that Jack Wilshere is undergoing a minor op to remove a pin in his ankle. He's not looked right after being rushed back and should of taken the rest of the season off to recover for next season.

Lukas Fabianski is back in the squad tonight but you can't see Szczesny losing his place after the QPR game so I'd imagine the team to be.

Szcz, Sagna, Mert, Kos, Monreal, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski.

Let's see what fresh hell they put us through.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Making Peace with the week of "Shit or Bust"

I've made peace with whatever is going to happen for the rest of the season. On the looks of it you'd expect 6 points from teams that are either struggling or have just expended themselves in a cup final. Or both. But this is Arsenal so we can only go one game at a time and set us up for another vomit inducing 90 minutes on Sunday. The miserable part of m (99.9 percent now you ask) has come to the conclusion that there's really been no twists this time around, both Chelsea and Tottenham have done what they expected to do and both came from a goal down to win, albeit aided by the other side going down to 10. Does the twist lie with Wigan? Are they spent after Saturday's exploits and a hearty congratulations to them for doing that too btw. Do they now have immeasurable momentum?  Will Arsenal turn up? When will I run out of questions?

If we take a look at the bigger picture, there's a nagging doubt that THIS might finally be the year both of those things we never think about happen. I've squared this up in my own mind by saying it's akin to when Glastonbury takes a year off to let the ground recover and to build the festival up in people's mind. Try it. It kinda helps.

I'm writing this early Monday morning before Arsene does his media session so I have no clue what shape we're in fitness wise. Giroud is still banned so I'd imagine Podolski continues but you can see his ankle is holding him back. The other options are Theo or Gervinho. Theo has been pretty much hijacking the centre forward role in previous games and Gervinho is just Gervinho. I always think Gervinho would be a better player if he knew what he was going to do, let alone the rest of us.

Two left to go. It's in our hands. We don't need any favours. We've been here and done this before. Let's do it