Archive for April, 2008


Down goes Murty!

Alex Hleb has admitted to the charge of violent conduct on Graeme Murty and will now serve a three match ban. Since there’s only three matches left in the season, this sad incident ends what had been a very good year from Hleb and may even be his last act in the Red and White.

OK, so you get a three match ban for slapping someone in the face and having them pretend that they have been struck down like Sonny Liston. OK, I accept that.

My only question though, isn’t what Murty did the essence of diving? Feel a little contact, go down, and feign the need for treatment in order to try to trick the referee into giving a card. If so, then, isn’t Murty equally guilty in some respect?  I remember when Cesc went down after a slight elbow to the face from Arteta and everyone cried foul (on Cesc).  Why isn’t anyone crying foul on Murty right now?

Now, before everyone gets in a tizzy over my last comment, let me clarify: Alex Hleb was guilty. 3 Matches is the exact kind of penalty one should receive for this kind of stupidity. Intentionally slap someone in the face, get a 3 match penalty. That seems fair to me.  End of question.

Moreover, intentionally punch someone in the face and break their jaw: 9 match ban? Heck that might even be too lenient. All of this is to say: I am not condoning the actions of Alex Hleb in any way, shape or form.

For me, the fact that Murty “made a meal of it” is the crux of the problem with modern football.  Can you imagine Tony Adams writhing around on the ground and then going off to get treatment after 9 stone Hleb slapped him like that? Roy Keane? Vieira? Flamini? No.  The problem is that the FA can’t really do anything about that kind of dive; someone got hit and went to ground. But think about it, it’s these “justified” dives that lead to the worst examples of diving.

It’s like those infamous “four squares” that supposedly can explain everything in life (I disagree). When two players come together in a clash you have contact/dive, contact/no dive, no contact/dive, and no contact/no dive.

Everyone can agree on the third square there (no contact/dive): when we see a player go down and there’s no contact it’s a dive. That one should be punished straight away with a yellow card and some of us even argue that those should be reviewed after the match just like the Hleb incident.

Everyone can also agree on the fourth square (no contact/no dive), because really that’s just a guy dribbling and falls over for some reason.  He doesn’t look at the ref, throw a tantrum, roll around on the ground needlessly, just picks himself up and continues playing football.

Also, I’m pretty sure everyone can agree on the second square (contact/no dive): it’s refreshing to see a player take a healthy knock in the box and stay on his feet.  It’s refreshing because it’s rare, but it is refreshing none the less.

What we can’t agree on is the first square (contact/dive). Is it acceptable for a player to go to ground when there’s ANY contact, no matter how slight? I would suggest that there’s a range of fan reactions here, depending on who’s team the diving player is on, how much that team’s supporters are used to their players diving, how desperate the team’s situation is, or even some specific team’s supporters and their inbred venom against another team (such as the bizarre reaction that Arsenal generates from Bolton supporters, etc.)

That first square there is what I’d like to call the Murty square. Was he justified in his reaction? I say no and here’s why: those types of dives lead to the more serious and pernicious types of simulation that we have seen invading the game of late. That type of reaction leads, inevitably, to Ronaldo’s famous words “I feel contact? I go down.” It’s the logical outcome isn’t it? But isn’t that kind of dive just as bad if not a worse form of simulation? And when we talk about getting rid of diving, isn’t this the kind of diving that we all really want to see stamped out? The no-contact dive is easy and I’ve actually seen a yellow for that. But the some contact/all dive is almost never awarded a card and I think it’s time to stamp that out too.

The reason Hleb gets a three match ban is because he violated our shared rules of sportsmanship. In the four square of sportsmanship everyone agrees that slapping your opponent in the mouth is a three match ban. But I think it’s almost just as unsporting to play act after getting slapped.

And don’t get me started on how the hell Hleb gets the same ban Taylor got for breaking Eduardo’s leg…

In Arsenal news, the Hleb ban will probably mean that Diaby will get the nod on the left wing. If he’s not fit (he picked up a bit of a knock for the reserves last weekend) then expect to see ye olde 4-5-1 with van Persie slotted on the left. Of course Wenger could bring up a young winger that I haven’t heard of and get him some experience in the last three games. I haven’t seen any news reports so I’m just speculating my ass off here.

Either way, the last three games only matter as far as positioning on the league table. Yes, I’d like to see Arsenal finish 2nd, so fielding a strong side against the final three teams is imperative. That said, the worst that could happen would be to lose all three games and slip to 4th place. In order to get into second we have to root for Chelsea to lose or draw against Man U and then get a draw against Newcastle or Bolton. Hmmm. It all depends. Chelsea could implode here at the end of the season. There’s a lot of tension in their dressing room. A bad loss to Man U and Liverpool at Stamford bridge could be the catalyst that actually destroys the team but they have such talented and experienced players that I just can’t see them going down without a fight. I don’t know, it will be interesting to watch the title race and possibly report on someone else choking for once!

You are also, no doubt, seeing a ton of negative reports about the Flamini deal. As per my new policy I am not giving rumors and innuendo any press here. I will just say this: agents, players, and clubs often try to use the press to their advantage spreading rumor and even lies to change a player’s price, so you all would be wise to ignore any of that stuff. The only press reports about personnel that should be trusted are the ones from that say “such and such a player has signed for so and so.” Anything else is just a rumor so ignore it.

Speaking of “reported on The Dot Com:” 17 year old Norwegian Captain of the Arsenal Reserve team, Havard Nordtveit, feels like Wenger should choose him instead of dipping into the transfer market. I love the balls on this kid and the balls of the club. First, the kid is 17 and already feels ready to be selected for Arsenal’s first team. And second, this is a club generated story, folks. In my mind that means only one thing: they are preparing us for the fact that the boss is not going to buy a whole pack of established players,  Hell, he might not buy anyone!  Here:

Earlier this season Wenger admitted he had “rarely seen a boy of his age so mature”. If Nordtveit continues on his upward curve, the Frenchman may not have to look far when he hunts for reinforcements this summer.

Uhhh, yeah, I fully expect to see “Nordveit is like a whole new signing” stories this summer. Which is fine with me, I think the team could stand pat and win a trophy, but I just want you all to be prepared for a dearth of signings this summer.

And that’s it for today, see you tomorrow.


Darling, you look Fabregas

“He’s only 20.” Just keep telling yourself that. “He’s only 20 years old.” Yeah, 20 years old and already a veteran of over 200 matches. He’s been to the Champions League final, Carling Cup final, and this year he pushed Arsenal to within a few games of the Premiership title and another Champions League final. He’s only 20, but he has the vision, ability, and (most importantly) a patience that belies his 20 years.

I often hear the criticism that Cesc is not a goal scorer. Well, he wasn’t a goal scorer before this year. But who will ever forget his winner at the San Siro? Or how about his run of 6 at the start of the season which included a goal against Spuds, at White Heart Lane? No, he’s not a goal scorer, but so far, he’s scored 13 goals in this campaign: more than triple his output of the previous season. He’s not a natural goal scorer but what gives me hope is that “he’s only 20” and he’s still working on it. And he’s getting better, faster than any player I have ever seen.  For example, when Christiano Ronaldo was 20, he scored a mere 7 goals and only racked up 6 assists.

See?  Now say it again — “Holy crap, he’s only 20!”

As you would expect, in the assist department Cesc has only gotten better, already netting 22.  That’s only 5 more than last year but Arsenal still have Derby left to play, so that number could grow quite substantially.

To show you how far Cesc’s season has come, Theo’s even pointed to Cesc as the person who might next captain Arsenal. You might think that’s impossible, but then again, on May 4th the kid will be 21and we’ll all be saying “Holy crap, he’s only 21!”

News: The Anfield turmoil has finally struck Arsenal: Chairman Peter Hill-Wood was snubbed by Liverpool’s management/owners/lunatics. Take solace Peter that you’re chairman of a club that’s not rife with hatred of foreigners — especially Americans.

Meanwhile, Wenger speaks out about the “Webster Clause” which is a ruling that anyone under the age of 28 isn’t really in a contract even if they signed the contract as long as they stay with the club for 3 years of their contract. Confused? Me too but it looks like basically if you’re under 28 and you sign a 5 year deal, you really only have to honor the first 3 years of that deal.  After the third year you can “opt out” of your contract by paying the club the amount that your salary would have been over the next two years.  Like a sort of “reduced calorie transfer fee.”

This is important because Hleb is 26 and he signed a 5 year contract 3 years ago. Jesus, Wenger must be sweating bullets. Half the team could leave under the Webster Clause. If that happens we can all sing our new relegation theme song:

He’ll raid you of your youth
their contracts don’t mean shiat
Hleb went to AC Milan
and the Itais didn’t remit
HEY! Webster Clause is coming to town!

Rumor has it Fabianski might play in the last two away games v. Derby and Sunderland. Ok, he’ll probably do just fine against lower division teams.

Anyway, I have stuff to do. Can’t lounge around here talking football all day (unfortunately). Heh, I think I’ll take the Ducati to work today; there’s only a 60% chance of rain, which is pretty good for this time of year.



Slap in the face

The fourth player of Arsenal’s top 5 players of 2007/2008 is Gael Clichy.  Arsenal’s tireless and seemingly  unbreakable (knock on wood) left back has had a second solid year in a row.  Gael has started more games than any other player and played more minutes than any other player.  He even played for France in January and February and came back uninjured: is Clichy French for miracle?

How he’s able to maintain that energy level is just amazing because it’s not like the man isn’t doing anything when he’s out there.  Whether it’s the odious job of defending speedy right wingers or bringing the ball forward and launching in the perfect cross Clichy does it all.  But he’s also so solid defensively that when the opposition brings the ball into his corner I actually feel relief.

No, he’s not perfect but he’s a tremendous defender, a tireless worker, probably almost as fast as Theo, and I’ve never seen a tantrum or a dive from him, ever.  So, here’s to you Gael Clichy; may you have 10 seasons at Arsenal, each one just as good as this.

News: The Daily Mail is ratcheting up the hyperbole surrounding Hleb’s “malicious mauling” of Graham Murty.  I’ve seen the replay a dozen times and it looks more like Hleb was pushing the guy away (probably because he was being held or kicked, but you know we’ll never see THAT) and caught him in the face a little.  Of course, Murty, realizing the only hope they had to win was to have Arsenal reduced to 10 or maybe even 9 men, fell to the ground as if he’s been shot in the face.  I think Hleb, at this point in the season, probably weighs all of 130 lbs: 120 of which is leg muscles.  I doubt he could drop a man of Murty’s stature with an intentional punch, much less a “hey get off of me!” shove that grazes his lips.  Of course Murty made a huge deal of it all, going over to the sideline and getting “treatment.”  Please.

My favorite part of the article?  When they compare this incident to something that happened 20 years ago and say “The circumstances are certainly not without precedent as far as Arsenal are concerned.”  Wow.  Just.  Wow.  But wait!  There’s more!  They even go ahead and mention “former Arsenal” player Aliadiere!

That Arsenal, what a bunch of monsters.

Except Theo.  He’s a man, but not a monster, says Wenger and I’d have to agree.  At the beginning of the season, Theo looked shy whenever he got the start but Saturday was different.  After a very brief bout of nerves at the start of the match he looked very assured, very mature.  He also showed more physicality than we’ve come to expect from him and I thought he defended well from the front.  I bet if he adds 10 pounds of muscle this off season, we’ll see a very different young man next year.

Unleash the beast Theo.

On the transfer front there’s no news.  None.  Well, Wenger is warning the players that a transfer to another team doesn’t guarantee trophies — unless it’s “Manchester We Want Our Trophy Back United” who are guaranteed to win a treble every year, right???  But if I were to guess which three players were going to leave Arsenal in the summer I’d go with Hleb, Flamini, and Gallas.  Hleb because the ice cream in London is not nearly as dreamy as a nice gelato and he’s got guys like Murty trying to kick him off the pitch all the time.

Flamini, because, well because I think he’s probably more hard headed than even Wenger and this whole new deal thing is probably ticking him off.  The sticking point on Flamini’s contract is that he wants to break Arsneal’s wage structure.  And he’s got a good point about it too; from what I’ve read in various sources, basically he’s asking that the cost of transfer fees (what it would cost to bring in a replacement) and his regular salary to be put into one salary for him.  This would be a deal like £4.5m a year for 5 years (£10m transfer fee + £50k a week salary / 5 years).  I have to say that I see his point, EXCEPT…  There are players on the team right now who can fill his shoes.  Well, maybe not fill them 100%.  Gilberto, for sure, he did it last year.  But I’m thinking of Denilson.  I know that a lot of people tipped Diaby for that role early on because of his physical similarities to Vieira but Diaby doesn’t have the mettle that Vieira had and frankly, Diaby’s a defensive liability.  But Denilson is a hard little bastard and I think if given the opportunity would work tirelessly in the spot.  Would he be the leader that Flamini is?  No.  Does he have the experience of two Champions League seasons under his belt.  Hardly.  But he could do the job if asked.

That’s such a hard spot to be in.  On the one hand I totally respect Wenger’s wage system and what that means to the team and to the business.  But on the other hand, I would hate to lose an important seasoned leader and workhorse like Flamini — and on a free transfer.  UGH.

Lastly, I think Gallas is going to go.  I don’t think he’s been a very good captain (as I said, Flamini seems better) and given his history as a disruptive force on and off the pitch, the only way I can see Wenger stripping him of that title is if Arsenal buys a player of extraordinary quality and experience. Since we all know that ain’t going to happen, the only other real option is to move Gallas.  Maybe Wenger can use whatever transfer fee he gets from that deal to pay for Flamini?

One last thought…  I don’t want it to seem like I’m getting down on Gallas.  I think if I played professional football I’d be the same way he is: emotional, fiery, mouthy, and a bit of a prick on and off the field.  I empathize with him, I really do.  I’m not saying Wenger SHOULD trade him, just that the logical thing is that he will.

Any way, I have to take my annual bath and get ready for work.  I bet you’ll never guess who tomorrow’s “top 5” player will be.  Until then.


A 2-0 win isn’t good enough?

what more do I have to do for god\'s sake?

What a great performance!  After two weeks of painful losses, Arsenal picked themselves up off the floor came out and played their game,  scored two great goals, and (most importantly) kept a clean sheet.

There were some surprising squad changes with Theo and Kolo starting at the right, Song in central defense, and Lehmann in goal.  But right from the start, the squad looked assured and prepared for the game.  The whole world knew that Steve Koppel was going to play route one football and that, so far this season, that has been Arsenal’s Achilles.  When the first pass came to Kitson though, Song dealt well with it and from there the team always looked unlikely to concede.  Jens didn’t even have to make a save until well in to the second half.   Good stuff from the defense there.

Arsenal’s first goal came from the man people have loved to criticize all season: Adebayor.  Of course, he didn’t do it alone!  Theo went on a bit of a run, passed to Kolo, who lobbed in to Ade and the big man showed his superb touch by controlling the ball with his thigh.  Then it was “cool as you like” as Ade slotted home his 27th goal of the season.

There could have been more goals too, Song had a gilt-edged chance and just nodded wide of the net, Cesc had what seemed like a dozen chances (in reality it was just 3), van Persie hit the woodwork on a superb free kick, and even Theo got into the act by having a shot saved by the crossbar.  Oh well, shit happens and getting down about the “profligate” shooting when the team wins 2-0 just makes you seem like a moron.

The second goal came when Gio (who looked very assured in the middle and seems to have come out of his “funk”) was teed up by Cesc and decided “what the hell!” and had a shot.  To be fair to Hanneman, I think he’d have stopped that goal had it not taken a deflection.  Oh well, shit happens when you shoot at goal.

It’s pretty clear that what some of these players need is a consistent run; Song’s miss, Theo’s miss, Robin’s miss, all were by inches.  Next week, I really believe that van Persie free kick finds the net, Theo will get a goal, and with a run of a couple games we might even see Song get a goal.

In defense, Lehmann had a couple of very nice saves and apart from a moment of confusion where Bendtner lost his mind and failed to make an easy play on a corner kick (the WHOLE team yelled at him for it too!) the defense looked solid.  I’m not foolish enough to make a prediction based on two games but I have to say that Song looks much improved over last year.

After the match, the Boss was rightly pleased with his team but the fans were in their usual form.

We responded well after massive, massive, massive disappointment, it is very important for us, because the next season starts now.

So next season Walcott will be a starter?  Cool!  He had another good performance and has clearly put in the work to deserve the chance.  Who knew that hard work would pay off?  I thought you were supposed to complain to the press and then demand a transfer to a lesser team.

Some of the fans though, just seem to be missing the point, or all three of the points really.  Arsenal should have won 34-0?  Really?  You still riding Adebayor’s back after that great goal and goals in 3 of four Champions League legs?  REALLY?  Saying that the manager who has won 3 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups has lost the plot.  REALLY REALLY?  I think I speak for a lot of supporters when I say: fuck off and support Man U.  And that’s the last I’m going to talk about that.  Have a go at whomever you like, it’s only going to make you look like a tiresome little cunt.

There was some bizarre post-match controversy as Cesc was mis-quoted and the press ran with a bunch of stories saying that Cesc wants to leave.  Tipped as captain one day, packing his bags for Barca the next; is that the British version of “fair and balanced?”

Continuing in the vein of “fair and balanced,” ESPN is reporting that disgraced former Tottenham, Leeds, and Milwall manager George Graham is calling for Arsenal to buy 4 huge stars to compete with Man U.  Saying that Arsenal need to strengthen everyone in the middle but that he doubts they have the resources to buy 4 big stars.  Of course, Arsenal cannot afford to do something like that unless they get some rich benefactor who is willing to put huge piles of debts on the backs of the club and its supporters.  Honestly?  That model is failing left and right — just look at the turmoil surrounding Liverpool.  So, go fuck yourself George: I wonder if Usmanov paid him to make those comments.

Spending loads of money isn’t the surefire road to success: just ask Billy Beane or, hell, have a look at the success of Arsene Wenger.

Anyway, that’s it for today.  Tomorrow I’ll resume regular service on my top 5 players of the season.  See you all then!


I lied!

Well, I was going to do a post match blog but so much happened yesterday that I feel obligated to “report” the “news.”

Basically, the Boss gave his usual pre-match Friday press conference and said some very unusual things.  Normally very reserved and tight lipped, Wenger rambled on about Theo, Gallas, Flamini, the pain of losing, Senderos, and David Villa.  YIKES.

The fan’s favorite whipping boy, Senderos, received a boost from Wenger yesterday. Arsene explained why he rested him for the Man U match saying,

Senderos is a genuine and dedicated guy, of course he was extremely disappointed by his performance at Liverpool but only time will get him over that. He is very strong mentally but the first mistake he made at Liverpool played a big part in the second one. Everybody is a confidence player and the young even more so because they have less experience to rely on.

He has enough experience but it has been so intense. He has had a lot of critics. He had two outstanding games against Milan home and away and then on Sunday he was not good anymore for anything. That’s not right but it’s our job. If a guy makes a mistake because he doesn’t care you treat him differently. But he made a mistake and he cares a lot

Wenger is dead on here.  Senderos is not the best defender I’ve ever seen at Arsenal, but there’s nothing wrong with the kid — and he is just a kid.  But a lot of Arsenal “supporters” love to jump all over Senderos whenever Arsenal lose a match.  He made a mistake, get over it, and get over yourself.  Arsene Wenger is a tremendous judge of talent.  I’ll take his opinion about our players over some guy on the internet any day.

In the exact opposite direction, a lot of stuff is being made of Wenger’s statement about Gallas’ captaincy.

I cannot answer that question at the moment. I want to analyse the season after it has finished. At the moment he will be my captain until the end of the season.  I believe he has learned a lot this year and I can only say that his commitment and desire to do well was exceptional. For the rest, I wouldn’t like to go into any individual assessment at the moment.

It was a leading question and this has to be the most honest and diplomatic answer possible.  I know that I have been pretty critical of Gallas in the past and I think I’m going to follow Wenger’s lead here and give it a rest.  I will say this: the only way I can see Gallas accepting the captaincy going to another player is if that player is a world class player and widely recognized leader.  Which is to say, Wenger would have to buy John Terry or the like OR Gallas will have to be traded.  My money would be on the latter.

Speaking of signings, Flamini has refused to put pen to paper so far and Wenger is getting restless.  In fact, he gave the midfielder until the end of April to sign the terms. That’s such a highly unusual thing to do, publicly set a deadline for a player to sign a contract, and really makes me feel like the curse of the shirt is in full effect and Flamini will be going elsewhere next season.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Oh yeah, read my lips: Arsenal are not buying David Villa.  Arsene figures that Walcott and Bendtner will do the job up front and besides… As many of us have been saying, it’s not a LACK of goals that’s the problem.  What Arsenal don’t want to turn into is another Tottenham where 4-4 draws are the norm; and that’s when the team is on.  The point here is two-fold: press speculation is almost always wrong and usually just used to boost the player’s transfer value and Wenger knows where the weakness is in the team.

Theo, like Wenger, figures he should play up front and he’s ready to do what it takes to get there.  The linked article is long and rambling but the more I hear come out of Theo’s mouth the more I like the kid.  Instead of whinging to the press about playing time or going down to Ladbrokes to have a wager with his pals and then wondering why he can’t break into the first team he goes to the boss and asks “what do I have to do to get some playing time?”  That’s real maturity there.  Kudos to the boy.

Lastly, Nike is doing some campaign with Cesc.  UGH.  It’s hideous.  The “no more mr nice guy” video in the link actually made me cringe.  Who comes up with this shit?

Well, that’s it!  I have wasted an hour, brought you some “news” and now I can go watch the tape of the Arsenal game!  WOO HOO!

Up the Arse!


The quiet man

Someone\'s gonna get an owie

In a sense he’s been a dream signing — small noise, big impact. It was not a big transfer by today’s standards but he’s shown that he can be a big player. He has impressed everyone with his quality and enthusiasm. He has huge potential and can play in several positions. What I like is that he’s arrived here and adapted to new challenges with the minimum of fuss. — Arsene Wenger on Bacary Sagna

Back in July, when everyone was hoping Wenger would sign a replacement for Thierry Henry, Le Boss shocked everyone by signing a 3rd right back. At the time, Arsenal were using Eboue and Hoyte in that capacity and so, rightly, most Arsenal supporters wondered aloud why Wenger signed this strange looking man and his Venus Williams beads?

No fan now would question that signing. He’s only scored that one goal against Chelsea but he’s managed six assists in all competitions — which is one more goal and four more assists than his wing partner. He’s also kept his nose clean, with three yellows on a stingy 25 fouls. These stats paint the picture of a defender who is solid, challenges well, keeps his head, and goes forward when it makes sense but isn’t reckless.

But Bacary Sanga wins a place in my top 5 not for just being a solid player but for doing it in his first season, and for doing it from day one. The quiet man may one day have us all saying Emmanuel who?

On to the news!

Injury news ahead of tomorrow’s game: no one has recovered. Which means that Sagna, Rosicky, Eduardo, and Almunia are all expected to be out. Only Almunia is “questionable” on that list and faces a fitness test today, which if he fails, might see Lehmann in goal.


You know, I loved Lehmann, no matter how bat-shit insane the man was, he was endearing to me. But some of the stuff he’s been reportedly saying has really tarnished his Arsenal image. I don’t know. I guess this is his last chance to play in front of an Arsenal crowd — sigh.

If he plays I hope he has a really great game and fans ought to give him a standing ovation. After all, he was a huge part of the invincibles.

UPDATE: Lehmann is starting tomorrow as Almunia has failed to recover.

In other news Sepp Blatter plans on circumventing EU rules and UEFA’s wishes and impose an affirmative action quota for Englishmen. Since he doesn’t have any authority to make laws like that, he’s seeking a “gentleman’s agreement” among clubs. I can’t see it happening.

UEFA, on the other hand, wants a much more tenable and sensible approach; set a quota of locally trained players at clubs without any discrimination based on nationality, but even this won’t work. Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man U’s entire business model would collapse if that policy became law.

No, I think that the market is going to have to sort this out. Either that, or Sepp and Michel can get locked in a room and fight it out to the death. Hmmm… I like that option best!

Speaking of UEFA, they have promised to crack down on dangerous play and dissent at Euro 2008. Also, diving, pushing in the penalty area during corners, unruly coaches, mass confrontations, and the people who don’t take a shower before the match and then sit right next to me, I HATE THAT. Seriously, I am playing wait and see with this one. They all sound like good reforms on paper but how they implement them could be disastrous.

And that’s it for today. Tomorrow’s blog will be LIVE FROM DOYLE’S!!! The kickoff is 7am even though the actual match is on Setanta at like 2am or something — what happened to the 3pm kickoffs??? — so, if you’re in town, come on down and meet the bloglebrity in person. That’s me. A bloglebrity. No?

Also, player #4 will be revealed on Sunday, since the game day blog takes up all my energy.

Ok, see you tomorrow.


Fever Flamini

Happy birthday to Nick Hornby who must be Arsenal’s most famous fan. I mean, other than the Queen, her majesty, god save her, and all that. Most of my American readers will know Nick by his movies and books like “High Fidelity” and so on, but not many Americans know that he also wrote a book called Fever Pitch. This book was so good it got made into two different movies. One about Nick’s own life as an Arsenal fan (which is what the books is about) and one about a Red Socks fanatic that starred Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore and sucked huge donkey balls. You would do well to not confuse the two films, unfortunately they are both called “Fever Pitch.”

The 1997 version of Fever Pitch is available via Netflix if you have that service and I highly recommend seeing the movie. For one, you will get a chance to experience what it was like climbing the steps of Highbury, cresting the top and having the old pitch fill your eyes. And for another, you’ll get to sort of see what it was like to be an Arsenal supporter in 1989, when Arsenal won the league, at Anfield, for the first time in 18 years. Us “recent” converts could use a dose of humility in seeing the sheer ecstasy that overcomes the fans when you have to wait 18 years before the team wins something major.

Nick also has a blog in which he occasionally still writes about Arsenal. In fact, the latest entry is a timely little musing on the mentality of some fans, you should check it out.

Anyway, happy birthday old man.

And now on to installment #2 (poop) of the top five Arsenal players of the season: Matthieu Flamini.

it\'s a bird, it\'s a plane!

I kinda went down a rabbit hole this morning looking for some stats that would back me up on this claim of Flamini being one of Arsenal’s top five. When I emerged, I still didn’t have anything and so, I’m going to “make shit up.”

Flattuso” that’s reportedly his nickname and if you watch him for a match, I mean pay attention to what he’s doing on the pitch to the exclusion of everyone else you can see why they call him that. The man is a menace — he’s just everywhere. Wherever the ball is I expect Flamini to either already be there or to pop up at any second. Whenever Arsenal need their opponent’s best player covered, Flamini’s on the job. Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Ronaldo, all have suffered under his ubiquitousness. He’s like a pit bull, once he gets his teeth into you he doesn’t let go.

Many of us saw this in him several years ago when he came on the pitch as a substitute left back — you remember, when Ashley Cole was supposedly injured but was instead meeting Chelsea’s people in hotel rooms? Flamini made me forget all about Cole that year and when Arsenal traded Cole for Gallas I said, “we don’t need him, we’ve got Flamini!”

But then his career took a poor turn. See, he didn’t want to play left back. He fancied himself a holding midfielder and the Rock of Gilberto was in that spot already — how do you unseat the captain of a team, a World Cup winner, and all around one of the most beloved members of the team?

Hard work.

He didn’t go to the press and complain like Lassana Diarra did. He didn’t create unrest in the locker room like Jens Lehmann does. He put his head down and gutted it out. Putting in some impressive performances for the second team in the Carling Cup and generally doing anything the boss asked him to do. Hell, I imagine if Wenger asked, Flamini would carry the team’s water.

And this year, that hard work has paid off. I don’t have any sparkling quantitative data (he only has 3 goals and 3 assists) to show you except one thing: 74 fouls committed. In his case, that’s not a bad number! That’s his job: foul people when needed.

Like here, when Nani did the seal dribble:

That’s a good tackle.

I don’t have the average number of km he runs in a game or the work rate he puts in or whatever you want. But I do have comments from his teammates and I think those will have to do.


Mathieu is mentally strong and is a winner. Players who never give up mentally always improve. He’s responsible for the tempo in our game.

Cesc has a lot to say about his midfield partner:

He was amazing, not just tonight but he has been amazing all season. I’m a big fan of his. He’s hyperactive, on and off the pitch. I don’t know how he does it but he has so much power. With his encouragement we play better. He has so much passion for the game. He enjoys it and he hates losing

And yes, even the press says nice things about him, like when he ran circles around Milan at the San Siro:

In Mathieu Flamini, the Arsenal manager has found a midfielder who is willing to share the workload.

They smothered Milan, snuffed out that genius Kaka, and then pulled off one of the most jaw-dropping results in the history of the European Cup. Milan’s supporters even clapped them off the pitch.

Yes, they were that impressive.

Flamini has proven to be the perfect foil for Fabregas this season; protecting the defense, allowing Cesc to attack, and covering for him when he makes mistakes. Yes, he has been impressive. So much so that the rumors are flying that he will make a move to Juve or somewhere. But only at Arsenal does he have the chance to really build a long term partnership with a player who could be one of the best ever. So, please sign the deal Matthieu, obviously Arsenal need you.

Until tomorrow.

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