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Monday, October 30, 2006

Ray Stubbs', Alan Hansen's and Mark Lawrenson's lamentable consensus

I find the football analysis on Match of the Day to be a mixed bag at the best of times and truly woeful at others. And for me their analysis of the Arsenal match last Saturday falls into the latter category.

It was clear from the highlights, the match statistics and subsequent newspaper reports that the Toffeemen adopted a thoroughly negative strategy for their match. This is their right and in fact not much of a surprise given that more or less it is the stock response by many teams who have visited Arsenal in recent years.

Post-match Arsene Wenger expressed his frustration with what he saw as gamesmanship by Everton players in halting the Arsenal players taking free-kicks quickly and the goal-keeper taking an age over goal kicks in addition to their general limited approach. He said:

"I have nothing against negative football if it is played in the right spirit. Every goal kick they were moving it from one side to the other. Every foul they stood in front of the ball. It is like watching a film you've seen 10 times before. It is very frustrating to draw with a team that has had zero shots on target apart from the goal. It is difficult to take when you have 70 per cent of possession."

This match report from the Daily Telegraph by a presumably neutral journalist showed that Wenger was not alone in his frustration with Everton's approach:

"There were two brands of football on view at the Emirates Stadium: flowing, adventurous, shot-bristling yet goal-shy on the one hand, and functional, largely negative, unashamedly back-peddling on the other. Everton were disproportionately proud of the latter, and their one point here.

The calculated approach of David Moyes, Everton's manager — admittedly amid a bout of illness in the squad — earned as many admirers beyond Merseyside as they themselves had shots on target in open play. Zero. Their time-wasting was endemic, culminating in Moyes's dismissal from the touchline for histrionic provocation of the referee."

The other Telegraph match report said this:

"It also demonstrated everything that is wrong with the direction the English game is heading. This was a triumph for dull, limited football."

Yet this type of opinion was not reflected by the panel of ex-Liverpool defenders Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson and the presenter Ray Stubbs. In fact, Stubbs seemed amazed that Wenger should have expressed frustration with the Everton spoiling tactics. This was then followed - quite predictably given their general views on football - by Lawrenson and Hansen concurring with Stubbs and giving their blessing to Everton's tactics.

It was dire analysis - the worst I have seen in a long time; so bad that it was funny.

Sure Everton had the right to adopt their tactics and it paid off. But it does not follow that their negativity mentality should be immune from criticism as apparently was the consensus between Stubbs, Hansen and Lawrenson. On the contrary, they are the type of tactics that explain why the general state of English football is sub-standard and reflects why there is a lack of a widespread culture in England of cultivating progressive, technical, attacking football.

The BBC need analysts who can actually be analytical and see the bigger picture. This discussion between Stubbs, Hansen and Lawrenson summed up my opinion that it regularly does not deliver this basic aim.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Alan Pardew should not be dismissed

I'm not a Hammer so my viewpoint on Alan Pardew's job security may not be as valid as those who support West Ham and have had enough of their manager after eighth consecutive defeats. But despite this terrible run I definitely don’t think it would be fair or right for him to be fired from his job in the near future.

I'm a big admirer of what Alan Pardew did with West Ham last season. After gaining promotion through the play-off route and adding just a couple of new players to his squad he managed the Hammers to a high mid-table finish and was one minute away from winning the FA Cup final against Liverpool. But the best thing from my viewpoint about the Hammers last season was that they played an attractive brand of smooth-passing, attacking football.

It was so refreshing to see an English manager prepared to create a Premiership team in this vision of football and it made me think that in the long-term Pardew could be a candidate for the England manager position.

So why the sudden decline? I can't help but think it is no coincidence that West Ham's results have deteriorated ever since the seemingly well-connected Kia Joorbachian arrived on the scene with Tevez and Mascherano.

These are two highly talented players who theoretically should only be able to improve and motivate a squad of footballers. But in reality I reckon everyone in the squad would have been thinking what other plans Mr Joorbachian had up his sleeve and whether they and Pardew would be part of his bigger picture. I personally think a lot of people at West Ham (who have a predominantly young squad) have been significantly unsettled by the take-over talk and that this has taken their mind off the job in hand: which is to continue to progress and get good results.

In other words, I think the excellent work of Alan Pardew is being undone by events that are bigger than him and that he has no control over. Because of this and in light of his excellent achievements last season I think it would be premature and unfair if he was to be dismissed anytime soon.

Hopefully results will pick up so to add to his case. Blackburn will prove a test tomorrow afternoon, but with a fervent home support behind them I expect West Ham's players to put in a massive effort to take the pressure off themselves and their manager and grab an important win.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Premiership weekend review

Charlton 0 v Watford 0

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was dropped for Jerome Thomas in this relegation-placed meeting, something which added more pace but couldn't produce a goal on Saturday. Talking points included Charlton's chances on goal but for the ability of Man Utd loanee Ben Foster keeping the ball out of danger. It may have been Ashley Young involved next as a chipped ball touched a Watford player's arm, and the referee Lee Mason gave a freekick for it. Replays showed the player stood within the penalty area, therefore it should have been a spot-kick decision, another decision Iain Dowie scowled at.

Watford had a gilt-edge chance to take the lead in the second half as Young raced towards the touchline and pulled back for Darius Henderson to strike from near the penalty spot but it went upwards and over the goal. Charlton called for another penalty decision as the ball came into the Watford box and Amdy Faye went down under a Hameur Bouazza challenge from behind, which consisted of the Watford man's arms appearing to pull back on Faye. Nothing given.

Everton 2 v Sheff Utd 0

Everton bounced back from their defeat at Boro into winning ways again. Phil Neville ran down the right to cross, Mikel Arteta jumped up to nod past Paddy Kenny on 13mins. Replays showed that was a push by Andy Johnson on Utd defender Claude Davis as he went to jump but it was not spotted by Dermot Gallagher. Twenty minutes later Johnson became a further scourge for Davis as he went to run onto a loose ball, he went down under Davis' challenge. Replays showed minimal contact and Johnson possibly went down easier than expected. Nonetheless James Beattie stepped up to deposited the penalty, giving the Toffees a good advantage by half time.

Sheff Utd came out the interval a better side and put pressure on Everton's goal. Leigh Bromby ran on into the box and rode a James McFadden challenge from which he could have easily gone down but instead found advantage in staying up and squared to Danny Webber, who missed. The thing is Chris Morgan was penalised for a similar, if not identical, tackle on Steven Gerrard at Bramall Lane so McFadden should have received the same decision.

Chelsea 2 v Portsmouth 1

David James made a first half performance that should have made a regular appearance some years ago while he was an international. His display in goal kept out Chelsea who found space through a Portsmouth defence which had been quite stingy. How long Portsmouth could withstand the pressure seemed impressive in the first half but eventually the home side made the breakthrough. Arjen Robben had constantly ran at Noe Paramot and again found himself onto another through ball from Frank Lampard or Michael Ballack, cutting back for Andriy Shevchenko to touch the ball towards goal, the ball deflecting off Sol Campbell's boot past James. James may well have otherwise stopped the ball but it counted as a Chelsea goal and he was one with the fans nearby, earning a booking for it. MOTD panel may disagree, Andy Gray always disagrees, but it is there in the rules to help prevent crowd disturbance that could result in injury or death.

Chelsea repeated the feat two minutes later. A cross into the Portsmouth box was headed back by Didier Drogba and Ballack timed his run to meet the ball with a firm header for 2-0. This was the Germany skipper's first in the EPL and he too was one with the fans, also earning a booking. Portsmouth came back in feisty style as they gained a consolation after Andy Cole's presence made for Benjani Mwaruwari to slot home.

Man Utd 2 v Liverpool 0

Livrpool have a poor away record that has gained one goal and a point out of five games, including this fixture. Much is made of Rafael Benitez' rotation policy and playing Gerrard out of position on the wings. Only time will now tell as to where Liverpool move from here on. From the heights of 3rd last season and several clean sheets down to their current form. The players were lethargic and uninspiring yesterday and Man Utd took good advantage. Paul Scholes played his 500th game and added a goal when he found Wayne Rooney on the left and then stole into the box unmarked to first touch the ball which deflected off Pepe Reina, and then tidied up in front of an open goal.

Twenty minutes into the second half Utd doubled the lead as Ryan Giggs took on Xabi Alonso down the left and crossed, the ball coming off Louis Saha, Jamie Carragher attempted to clear but looped the ball towards Rio Ferdinand, who dummied John Arne Riise and then shot with his left foot past Reina.

Reading 0 v Arsenal 4

This was a display of excellence from Arsenal against a side who had previously drawn against Man Utd and lost by one goal to Chelsea. For their first season Reading are doing very well currently in 9th place and have now faced the three top teams in the league. Cesc Fabregas did the running into the box, and as he did you could see Thierry Henry casually jog in and make himself free to receive, his effort placed past Marcus Hehnemann. Aleksander Hleb and Tomas Rosicky combined for the Belarussian to slam a fierce shot past the keeper for no.2. Henry was at hand again as he found Hleb running into the box and the midfielder cut the ball across for Robin Van Persie to score no.3, and finally Fabregas and Henry were involved in the last goal. The Spaniard ran on and reached the ball before Hehnemann and was brought down. Henry scored from the spot.

Spurs 1 v West Ham 0

The poor form for West Ham continues. Robert Green made a first appearance in goal, Javier Mascherano and Marlon Harewood started. Three talking points from this game. The goal, courtesy of Mido, who controlled Edgar Davids' centre ball with a flick then turned to shoot low past Green. The second is that Aaron Lennon put on a MOTM performance and gave a thorough testing of Paul Konchesky, someone who much was thought of as a potential international. The third was the incident between Jermaine Defoe and Mascherano. Defoe picked up the ball in the centre and was on a run until he was unceremoniously clipped by the Argentinian from behind. Defoe took offence and appeared to have aimed a bite at Mascherano, from which the midfielder was shot.

The action taken was a booking apiece, therefore the FA will not intervene with any disciplinary measures as the matter was seen by the referee. Nonetheless Defoe shouldn't be doing such conduct, it is not part of the game and he should have known much better than that.

Wigan 4 v Man City 0

A number of managers are finding it difficult to understand why their players are not performing as well as they should be, or have done. Man City had a superb beginning to their season last season but on Saturday they began the fixture and walked into a minefield. First explosion came via Emile Heskey as he turned to hook a shot off Emerson Boyce's centre ball, the effort going over Nicky Weaver. Minutes later Wigan had a freekick on the left and as it swung over, Richard Dunne headed it into his own net where I felt Weaver was placed to come and collect it. In the second half Leighton Baines ran into the box to square a Kevin Kilbane ball, Stephen Jordan went to clear but took so long Henri Camara came in to challenge and the ball went in off his contact. Heskey turned provider on the right as he found Colombian Luis Valencia running up and Valencia went further unchallenged to slam a fierce drive past Weaver for his first EPL goal.

Middlesbrough 1 v Newcastle 0

The North East derby between two sides who ached for three points. The match showed two sides who fought well to deny each other, though Newcastle had the majority of the chances. It threatened to run out as a no-score draw until Stewart Downing and Aiyegbeni Yakubu combined to gain the winner. Downing delivered a curling corner from which Yakubu juped the highest to head home.

Blackburn 0 v Bolton 1

Quite an entertaining match from this Lancashire derby, perhaps the most over the weekend with Bolton continuing their superb form home and away. Once again Ivan Campo has stepped up to head Bolton into the lead in the second half after Blackburn had attacked their visitors with a number of chances. El-Hadji Diouf delivered a corner from which the Spaniard jumped up and headed past Brad Friedel. Blackburn had two penalties granted, both won by Jason Roberts who had come on with 15mins to go. First Quinton Fortune, who was on himself for Abdoulaye Faye, went into a tackle that caught Roberts on his boot in the area. Benni McCarthy stepped up and Jaaskelainen guessed right to deny a tame effort. Next Nicky Hunt and Gary Speed sandwiched out Roberts as he turned in the box. Roberts was rapid in demanding the ball to take the penalty, and did so, but was denied by Jasskelainen's decision to go the same way.

Captain Kevin Nolan protested at the penalties and earned himself a booking. After the second penalty was saved and the ball went out for a corner, Nolan mentioned something again to Mike Dean, who immediately brought out the red card. I have read Nolan received two bookings but I saw him receive a straight red. That didn't mar Bolton, as a clean sheet, good saves, and two penalty saves aided the win and made Jaaskelainen the worthy saviour at Ewood Park.

Aston Villa 1 v Fulham 1

Villa remain the only unbeaten side in the Premiership. They should have had a penalty when Leroy Rosenior misjudged a cross and the ball came off his arm. It looked a penalty but referee Chris Foy judged it otherwise. However Villa gained a spot kick in a fashion which was less a penalty than the handball. Stilian Petrov took on Rosenior and as the right back and the Bulgarian made contact, Rosenior had his arms out to show he is making no intent with Petrov making more of the contact than the ball. Penalty given. Gareth Barry scored from the spot. But Villa had switched off a little and took on some Fulham pressure. This allowed a chance through Tomasz Radzinski on the left, who clipped over a ball that eluded all but Morice Volz, and having slipped his marker the German full back side-footed in.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Liverpool falling fast

I wrote an article just over one month ago after Liverpool had lost to Chelsea. It was called "Benitez gets it wrong . . . again". It drew some passionate responses. Many argued that there was nothing wrong with Liverpool and that I was talking rubbish and merely overreacting. I now invite those people to comment again after yet another defeat today, making it 4 defeats in our first 9 games, because there is no doubt in my mind that Liverpool have serious problems.

From having the best defence in the league last season we now have one of the worst. 1 point in 15 away from home and 1 away goal is what we have achieved. Our home form, although better, cannot be relied upon to get us out of trouble. Players playing out of position, players looking uninterested on the pitch - you name it, just about everything is going wrong. We cannot defend, we cannot score. Judging from our pre-season form, the signs were there.

I wrote in my article after the Chelsea game that this season bore a remarkable resemblance to when Houllier got things all wrong when things were going so well. It would appear we have indeed gone down that route again. I hope Rafa can turn things around; Houllier could not.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The increasing emergence of Everton's Tim Cahill

In the 2003-2004 season, Millwall caused a mini-sensation by becoming the first lower division club to reach the FA cup final since Sunderland in 1992. In their FA cup semi-final held at Old Trafford, the Lions took on another lower division club, ironically enough Sunderland, for the honour of reaching the final of England's showpiece occasion.

Watchers of lower division football talked of two players in particular to watch out for in the Millwall team. One was winger Paul Ifill- now a Sheff Utd squad player. The other was an attacking central midfielder player who I had not yet seen play but had increasingly been hearing was a player ready for the top level of football: Tim Cahill.

The semi-final was decided by one goal: Cahill calmly and confidently sidefooted home a loose ball from about 16 yards out after Paul Ifill's 26th-minute shot was parried. He went on to be earn the man of the match of the award for his all-round commitment in addition to his well- executed match-winning strike. I thought then that the lower-division pundits looked to be spot-on with their judgment of Cahill's full potential.

A few months later, the shrewd Everton manager David Moyes paid £1.5 million to acquire the services of Cahill. And the Australian's impact was fantastic: scoring 11 Premiership goals in his first season at the highest level from an attacking midfield position that helped drive Everton to an unexpected final position of fourth place and passport into the Champs League qualification stage.

For the first half of last season, Tim Cahill struggled to maintain that high-level impact. After Christmas, however, he caught fire again and ended the season with another respectable tally for a midfielder of six Premiership goals.

Cahill then went to the World Cup and after starting on the bench due to lack of full fitness he made one of the best ever substitute appearances at a major tournament: scoring a poachers goals from close range in the 84th minute to level the game with Japan, followed by thumping in an eighteen yard drive in the 89th minute to put Australia on their way to a famous win in their first match of the tournament.

The 26 year old has started what is his third season for Everton in more excellent form: scoring four goals in their first eight league games and linking up very well with the EFT player of the month for September, Andrew Johnson. It is not only is his excellent goals ratio for a midfielder which is impressive, but the automatic complete commitment that he brings to every game. He is a player that you know will not give less than 100 per cent while he is on the field - and for me he has now emerged as Everton's most important player.

Earlier this week, Tim Cahill gained international recognition for his play by being named as one of 50 nominees for the Ballon D'Or European Footballer of the Year award. I reckon this is well deserved, and credit should also go to Moyes for three years ago taking the sort of well-calculated risk that not many Premiership managers are prepared to do: recruit a talented and high-potential player from the lower division.

Everton are at home to Sheff Utd and will be looking to immediately put behind them their first league defeat of the season suffered last week at Middlesbrough. You can be sure that Tim Cahill will lead the Toffeemen charge.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Premiership weekend review

Reading 0 Chelsea 1

Reading had put up a good performance against the champions but for me the focus came on Petr Cech and Carlos Cudicini. Steve Hunt went to challenge Cech for the ball, Cech got there first and Hunt's momentum carried him through with his knee making contact with the keeper's head. Nasty contact that rendered the Czech with a fractured skull upon which surgeons have already operated on. I don't blame Hunt and wish Cech the very best in recovering.

Cudicini came to punch out the ball, did so and was met with an incoming Ibrahima Sonko, Sonko's side arm colliding with Cudicini's face. The impact resulted in a nasty landing for Cudicini, who appeared completely dazed at first then slipped into unconsciousness. Taken off with his neck in a brace for precaution, I understand the Italian is stable and hope he too recovers well.

The single goal came courtesy of an unfortunate deflection. Sonko was clumsy in challenging Frank Lampard, which led to a Lampard freekick that cannoned off Sonko and Ivar Ingimarsson for an own goal. John Obi Mikel was booked for bringing down Leroy Lita and pulling back on Sonko, and Andre Bikey went after fouling for his first and then pulling on Didier Drogba.

Liverpool 1 Blackburn 1

The Reds are still yet to gel and construct fine form and at Anfield they almost threw their unbeaten record away. Despite early pressure on the Blackburn goal, Liverpool's defence was stretched again when David Bentley crossed from the right, avoiding Jamie Carragher and Shabani Nonda to bounce past Steve Finnan and reach Benni McCarthy, who slotted in. Where Mark Hughes felt Blackburn could have won the game in reflection of the pressure Liverpool had applied on his team could only come from Bentley at the end, when Sami Hyypia became mixed up with the ball and Jason Roberts, Bentley taking the ball over and denied by Pepe Reina's block, deflecting the ball past the post. Because Liverpool should have clearly won this game in the second half, but couldn't convert their chances other than the equaliser. Fabio Aurelio's corner eluded most and reached former Blackburn man Craig Bellamy, who headed in at the back.

Arsenal 3 Watford 0

Arsenal have been on a superb run of goals and wins and style since they faced Man Utd away without Thierry Henry and fought out an unexpected win. Since then Sheff Utd, Charlton and now Watford have fallen foul of their route up the table. Cesc Fabregas chipped in the freekick that came off Jordan Stewart for the first goal, Henry turned Jay Demerit and slotted in for the second, then he latched onto a Fabregas pass and unselfishly passed left for either Emanuel Adebayor or Aleksander Hleb to finish. The Togo man took the opportunity.

Aston Villa 1 Spurs 1

The hosts have not lost at home, the visitors had not won on their travels, this season so far. But this game appeared to go into a stalemate right to the end until Calum Davenport was judged to have impeded Gabriel Agbonlahor as the last man. Replays showed the contact to have been very minimal. Yet poetic justice served as Juan Pablo Angel missed the penalty by striking the ball wide. Then to compound the miss, the Colombian came to head the ball at a Spurs corner and instead scored an own goal. Stuart Taylor should have called and claimed. But Gareth Barry took on the ball on the left and cut inside twice before smacking a shot over Paul Robinson from outside the box.

Man City 0 Sheff Utd 0

I felt this game was dull, gladly conveyed via highlights rather than a live broadcast.

Wigan 1 Man Utd 3

No Christiano Ronaldo, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs on the bench, Man Utd looked somewhat short for this encounter. Someone called their formation 3-5-2 with Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in defence. Wigan began very well as they came at Utd and hardly gave them time to settle. In fact they were the better in the first half. Evra conceded a freekick via handball and Leighton Baines stepped up, having already gifted the England U21s' a serious 25-yard strike for their first leg qualifier last weekend. This time he repeated his strike force as he slammed the ball hard and direct to whizz past Edwin van der Sar. But United made a few snaps at the hosts to show they were still there, Wayne Rooney going close when he struck the crossbar after turning around three players.

The second half turned fortunes like a finished hourglass. Louis Saha was goal hungry and missed a couple of chances before an Utd corner was delivered by Giggs and headed in by Vidic with an excellent jump and heading motion that simply had goal over it. Utd's second came via Saha as Rooney broke down the left and cut back to chip in the ball for the Frenchman to control on his chest and then strike as he slid to the ground. Wigan's defending at this point was poor. Utd's third was made by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he twisted Paul Scharner and then struck the ball on the edge of the box.

Middlesbrough 2 Everton 1

Middlesbrough have been riding a hard wave in the Premiership seas and I understand the fans have been patient with their new young boss. To add the injury to Jonathan Woodgate and facing an in-form Everton who appear to not quit home and away, this seemed a match that would test the home side to the limits. Yet they began well as Tim Howard came out to thwart Aiyegbeni Yakubu and was judged to have impeded him, the Nigerian slotted the penalty confidently. Boro had a second penalty in the second half as Joleon Lescott was judged to have handballed in the area under pressure from Yakubu. But the striker failed to implement the kick, perhaps being too confident as Howard stopped his effort well. Mark Viduka came to Boro's rescue, and Yakubu's, as Jason Euell rolled him a pass to slot in. Tim Cahill slammed in a consolation with 13mins to go but Boro held on.

Portsmouth 2 West Ham 0

What is the cause for this poor slump from the Hammers, in contrast to how they took to the EPL in their first season since promotion? This defeat has placed West Ham in the relegation zone and the fire, the passion they played with last season is missing. Not so much Bobby Zamora, who for me made a good reputation with Brighton but stuttered with Spurs, but Marlon Harewood, who came on for the last 20mins. Previously, I would bet on this striker to continue his good form. He had been on hand to practically score almost every time he played, or every second time he played, and I felt Zamora could learn from him and be a superb addition. But if West Ham were off course up to this match, then their focus during it was disrupted. Teddy Sheringham seemed more inclined to read riot acts instead of physically using them to get his side ahead. Matthew Etherington made runs and crosses down the left but no one could get behind the balls successfully.

Portsmouth's goals came via their player of the moment Nwankwo Kanu with another header, and new boy Andy Cole. Glen Johnson seems a better player at Pompey and his cross from the right found Kanu, who ignored Anton Ferdinand's shirt pulling to head past Roy Carroll. In the second half Cole picked up the ball from Lomano LuaLua on the attack, and used his experience to ride a Jonathan Spector challenge and swivel to slot in past Carroll.

Alan Pardew may well contemplate being dismissed at the back of his mind but the show goes on and he will be determined to change things round. I wonder if a dismissal is inevitable, and therefore making an opportunity for former Hammer Alan Curbishley to reappear in the Premiership, and perhaps at the club, where he wants to be.

Newcastle 1 Bolton 2

Puzzling how a club like Newcastle, raised on the good management of Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan, with players like Scott Parker, Emre, Albert Luque, Shay Given, Damien Duff, not to mention Kieron Dyer to come, can be struggling at the wrong end of the table. Five defeats and two wins out of eight, two defeats at home after being ahead in the first half after today, and a first half which found them playing very well and practically keeping Bolton limited to few chances. Obafemi Martins tried to touch the ball past Abdoulaye Faye and the Senegalese defender was judged to have edged his right arm towards the ball by the linesman. Being in the box, the home side had a spot kick, from which Ameobi slotted coolly past Jussi Jasskelainen. From then Newcastle were energetic on the attack and came close to scoring another. Their only drawback was they would sometimes come back too often which reduced the impetus and their chances of scoring, which made them look good going forward but they seemed to lack the knowledge of finishing and positioning in Bolton's third.

Peter Ramage had a gilt-edge chance of doubling the score when the ball squirmed across the Bolton box but he simply failed to keep some focus, skying the ball from near the penalty spot. But then the second half changed as it did in the Wigan v Man Utd game. Newcastle's energy seemed low and their defence switched off. Ten minutes into the half, Abdoulaye Faye crossed, Stephen Carr stumbled to head and Nicolas Anelka chest-controlled and ran in to square for El Hadji-Diouf to touch in with ease. Two minutes later Ivan Campo curled in a freekick that Kevin Davies nodded on and Diouf headed in unmarked. It was too easy. From then Newcastle made a number of poor passes, tackles and headers that allowed Bolton to pick up and threaten their goal.

Notably Ameobi was stagnant, hardly moving except for when the high balls came his way and his control of the ball at times led to a breakdown of any chance of pressuring the Bolton goal. Mention has been made of michael Owen's absence but I suspect that even he would have struggled on the second half performance that produced little for any Newcastle striker.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mindset, in addition to obvious talent, is what sets Theo Walcott apart

Theo Walcott showed on Tuesday night that he has obvious sensational talent. His two goals for the England Under 21's away in Germany to seal qualification for the European Championship play-offs were stunning and rightly bought immediate comparisons with his Arsenal mentor, Thierry Henry.

His running style, his touch, his control at sheer pace, his clinical side-foot finishes, and even his controlled but intense goal celebrations were Henry-esque. Training with Henry under the supervision of the 'potential exploiter', Arsene Wenger, appears to be having a major effect on the 17 year old who arrived at Arsenal last January as the world's most expensive 16 year old footballer.

On the evidence of these two goals and prior brief appearances for the Arsenal first team it is clear that Walcott falls under the 'exceptional talent' category. And, as I wrote last January upon his signing for the Gunners, his other crucial asset is an intelligent, grounded level-head. This again was displayed in his post-match interview last Tuesday when he spoke very well about the importance of his teammates keeping a clean sheet and then with no hint of arrogance confidently stated that he backed himself to score when in good situations.

If you look at the world's most successful and talented sportsman: Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Thierry Henry… what sets them apart is a fantastic level-headed, intelligent and motivated mindset that is seriously focused on continually improving, developing, winning and becoming the very best. I see evidence of the capacity for the same sort of mindset in Walcott whenever he speaks. And even in his celebrations - which I always take as a big indicator of someone's attitude -you can see he has a serious passion for executing his job.

It is these significant indicators of his mindset coupled with the fact that he has Henry as a mentor and Wenger as a trainer that really excites me about TW's ability to actually realise his amazing talent. Tuesday night should be just the start of many great moments for Theo Walcott.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Croatia v England: Lead-up

No Owen Hargreaves, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon, no 4-4-2, no chance of a win. That's the opinion of those whp believe they are in the know on radio, at least. Croatia have not lost a competitive match at home but this will make it their first. Potentially we will form in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 with Jamie Carragher in defence with Rio Ferdinand, back from a back spasm, and captain John Terry. I wonder if Carragher will go on the left. That leaves a five in midfield of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Scott Parker and Gary Neville, with Peter Crouch upfront with Wayne Rooney. Or the midfield is a straight four with Lampard playing behind Crouch and Rooney, and knowing how Rooney likes to drop back to collect, he could link well with Lampard and Lampard could make good late runs from a nearer point than midfield.

If we consider how we are under attack, the danger has been more likely one that could be dealt with by two defenders, and this could either stretch our 3 or they could find it very adaptable. But in plugging the midfield we must be looking at Croatia's attacks along the wings or how their central midfield like to carry the ball forward. But I'm hoping for Parker to harry within central mid and break down their possession and in the process feed Crouch and Rooney. Key could be giving Rooney the right ball into space for him to do the rest. So if 3-5-2:


Ferdinand Terry Carragher

Neville Carrick Lampard Parker A Cole

Crouch Rooney



Ferdinand Terry Carragher

Neville Parker Carrick A Cole


Crouch Rooney

I think we can win, and it will be either 0-2 or 1-2.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Weekend British Internationals

Disappointing is one word to describe the Macedonia match. Frustrated is another, surprising is a third. Disappointing that we didn't press the Macedonians as we should have done. Frustrated that we missed the good chances we made. Surprising that after some 20-25minutes, we allowed Macedonai to play and play well they did. We gave the ball away too often and when we emerged intot heir third of the pitch our application just went down. Peter Crouch went close with a header then Gary Neville followed, Crouch hit the ball down for another that the keeper touched over the bar. Shaun Wright-Phillips made an impact as a sub and made it for Steven Gerrard's shot off the crossbar.

Crouch put Wayne Rooney through but his effort was blocked. And at the back Ledley King had a testing time in the second half more than the first, while Ashley Cole was on hand to clear from our most serious of dangers. Those who feigned their injuries on the pitch should have been booked for timewasting. And the punk who shoved Crouch because he didn't kick the ball off when one of theirs was lying on the ground should have been booked. But this is just the trail of frustration from not applying our ability enough on their goal. Now we have a testing time in Zagreb and if we pertain to play with the same energy, we will get nothing. It is time to inject some life,s ome flair into the team. Gerrard is suspended, Stewart Downing is not producing, but I suspect he will start on the left again, Wright-Phillips on the right, Michael Carrick holding. It is a young midfield to rely on, I hope they can be as defensive as they are attack-minded.

Waiting for the England game to begin meant I was able to view the Wales v Slovakia matchand what a let-down. I felt Wales would give the visitors a hard time, but they capitulated. Slovakia made five superb goals, two from FC Nuremburg's Marek Mintal and one of which he collected then coolly slotted with precision over Paul Jones while the keeper made a dash to return to goal. Southampton's Gareth Bale curled in another sweet left foot freekick as consolation but the defence had such a lack of cohesion that their mistakes opened for Slovakia to score. They next face a Cyprus side who polished off the Republic of Ireland 5-2, even though Ireland came back twice to level. As Mintal was impressive for Slovakia, so was Michalis Constantinou of Olympiakos, who also netted a brace. Richard Dunne was brave to head Ireland back to 2-2 but in the second half it fell drastically apart with Dunne's dismissal ensuing a bad night for Eire.

While Northern Ireland earned a creditable no-score draw in Copenhagen, Scotland clearly had the result of the night for British teams. France's William Gallas was quoted:

"These days our group opponents are quaking in their boots when they look at our line-up, especially when you look at the spine of Henry, Vieira, Makelele and Thuram and then see Gallas, Ribery, Abidal and Sagnol. People are scared of France again. We got our status back at the World Cup when new players came through and showed their worth.

"Teams inspire fear in their opponents when there are big names in the team. We saw that when Zidane, Thuram and Makelele came back before the World Cup. As soon as they returned, the way opponents treated us changed. That psychological dimension is important.

"Notoriety is something you gain at a club but it's particularly reinforced through the results you get in all the major international competitions, World Cups and European Championships."

What ensued was another example of underestimation and talking too soon too much, which resulted in a shock 1-0 win for Scotland, a superb result considering. How the French media are taking it is one question, but for Scotland that's now three wins out of three.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

EFT player of the month for September: Andrew Johnson!

Although Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba featured prominently in the voting among the five-man panel, the EFT Player of the Month award for September goes to Everton's £8.6m summer signing from Crystal Palace: Andrew Johnson.

With four goals in four Premierhip matches in the month of September - including two in Everton's 3-0 defeat of Merseyside neighbours Liverpool - Johnson has spearheaded Everton's impressive unbeaten start to the season. In total he has scored six goals in the opening seven Premiership matches and look set to emulate his goals total in the 2004-2005 season for Palace when he scored 21 Premiership goals in their relegation campaign.

All in all, Andrew Johnson has the significant qualities of electric pace, a cool finish in front of goal, and a natural striker's instinct to be in the right place at the right time to suggest that there are plenty more prolific months of goal-scoring to come for him this season.

Friday, October 06, 2006

England v Macedonia, and Joey Barton

With the exception of Owen Hargreaves, Aaron Lennon and Andy Johnson, the England squad reports for duty with a fit checklist. Between now and kick off tomorrow at Old Trafford at 5pm there should be no worries and we should be confident in having practically a set XI that will win. Last time the Macedonians came to England was to end in a 2-2 draw at Southampton's St Mary's stadium, where they took the lead twice, the first goal from the now famous Artim Sakiri corner over David Seaman. The team then was:

Seaman, G Neville, Campbell, Woodgate, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, Bridge, Owen, Smith with Danny Mills, David James, Southgate, Hargreaves, Butt, Lampard, Vassell on the bench.

Seaman and Southgate do not play anymore, Mills, Butt, James and Campbell are no more, Vassell is potentially no more, Lampard and Hargreaves have been promoted to the first team. Woodgate could still have a chance, albeit a slim one, in joining the squad at some point, the same for Smith.

But now the headlines feature on the revelation of a possible change of formation. Either Steve McClren will decide given the players available or he will corroberate with the players as to the best formation. After all, they will play it, he will direct it. My feelings on 4-4-2 is I like it the most but I am open to others. A straight back four and midfield, two strikers, or the same but with a holding central midfielder behind three midfielders. With a 3-5-2, I always wondered about this and pondered who would drop out of the back four. If Shaun Wright-Phillips plays parallel with Ashley Cole, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand flank captain John Terry at the back. Ferdinand at left-back is one option I never thought would be a possibility. That would also mean Stewart Downing is not considered, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick/Phil Neville stay central. I must add that Wayne Rooney will partner Peter Crouch.

My version of 3-5-2 would have G Neville and Cole either side of Terry, and let Ferdinand drop down as an ad hoc holding midfielder when we are on the attack, as he likes to come out with the ball and has played in midfield before. That leaves four in midfield to go on the attack, yet if England were to be on the defensive, then our midfield must race back, Ferdinand can then drop back into defence. His ad hoc role is there to allow all the midfielders to go forward and in the event the ball is cleared or brought out to midfield, Ferdinand is on hand at least to offer resistence until the midfield retract back into position.

There is also 3-1-3-3, which is also 3-4-3 effectively. Again it's like my 3-5-2 with Ferdinand behind three midfielders, three strikers upfront. I am not happy with this because of three strikers, it reminds me that two will have to play for one to score, reducing our striking opportunites by two-thirds. There are three traits an England side has been comfortable with: (i) two renowned strikers; (ii) four in defence; (iii) good wingers who supplied good crosses. Obviously this works with 4-4-2 more than 3-5-2. I also wondered if the intelligence on Macedonia considers they will play with one upfront and pack the midfield. they may well surprise us but I still feel regardless of how the opponents play, we should stay with 4-4-2 and tinker with the midfield positions, if need be.

Joey Barton

Joey Barton went over to a disabled Manchester City boy in the crowd and handed him his shirt, gestured a wave to fans and went to walk off. To his immediate left were a set of Everton fans who berated him and in response he looked, smiled a wry smile and pulled his shorts and underwear down just halfway to expose some of his buttocks. I don't know why keeper Nicky Weaver felt obliged to lend a hand, literally. But a complaint to the police was made and both the FA and Merseyside police looked into the incident.

Had someone done the same on public streets it could potentially be an offence of indecent exposure. Some may say gross decency. Or maybe not, unless you were on the receiving end of its comprehending message. Most would not follow it up but there will be someone offended and that is not right. I think a word to the City chairman and manager to speak to Barton would suffice, for me, from the FA as the police declare no action to be taken. The FA instead decided that as the referee had left the pitch by then and therefore was not present to deal with it, this gives the FA powers to intervene and adjudicate. Barton has been charged by the FA with improper conduct and/or bringing the game into disrepute.

I don't wish to see an epidemic of mooning but I'm not easily offended while others may well be, and feel a word would be enough, otherwise a punishment will ensue. Improper conduct maybe, but bringing the game into disrepute? Just a bit of cheek. It is funny that the FA considered it appropriate to intervene in the Ben Thatcher incident despite action being taken by the referee, calling it 'exceptional circumstances', yet didn't find Zokora's dive exceptional enough.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

EFT goal of the week: Robin van Persie!

Last Saturday afternoon, Robin van Persie showed the football world that he has one of the most awesome striking techniques in the game when he leapt high to 'kung-fu' home a lightning volley against Charlton Athletic. It is a special goal well deserving of the EFT goal of the week award and you can check it out below.

The camera angle from directly behind the shot which is first seen when Lee Dixon starts talking makes for really scintillating viewing!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Premiership weekend review

Charlton 1 Arsenal 2

Good weekend so far for Arsene and the Gunners, a decade in charge with honours and a weekend win to add. Charlton took the lead after Herman Hreidarsson sent a ball over the Arsenal defence upon which Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink picked up and then delivered a square ball across goal for Darren Bent to tap in. Arsenal came back in style with Aleksander Hleb dancing two ways in the box before chipping a ball to Robin Van Persie for the Dutchman to control and send an acute drive past Scott Carson.

Arsenal's winner was fitting, Emmanuel Eboue going on another of his regular sprints down the right and cutting the cross towards the edge of the box for Van Persie to run in and slam a flying volley curling over Carson. Arsenal should have conceded a penalty when Kevin Lisbiesent an overhead kick towards goal that was blocked by the arm of William Gallas. Hasselbaink had an excellent chance to level after a chipped ball into the box was meant by his had but it went agonisingly wide.

Sheff Utd 2 Middlesbrough 1

Gareth Southgate is having a difficult time with Boro, particularly after recruiting Jonathan Woodgate into the defence as a replacement. Liverpool just managed a draw at Bramall Lane, Reading a victory, Boro a mishap. Woodgate miss a side-foot effort from yards unmarked after Stewart downing crossed. Aiyegbeni Yakubu was one-on-one with Paddy Kenny, rounded the keeper instead of chipping him and then had his effort on goal blocked. Then Colin Kazim-Richards went on the run with the Boro left side exposed and threaded a pass for Rob Hulse to pick up and tuck under Mark Schwarzer.

Boro came back in the second half through Yakubu as the Nigerian was put through again and made sure he tucked his equaliser away. Yet in injury time Sheff Utd went on the offensive and as the ball was half cleared, acting skipper Phil Jagielka chest controlled the ball and struck an effort that bounced just before Schwarzer's outstretched hands on its way in.

Everton 1 Man City 1

Everton have drawn their last three league games, including this one, since the Merseyside derby victory and David Moyes' concern is only that the team play well, which is what they are continuing to do. Whether they harbour aspirations for the title is one thing, but Everton are heading for the Champions League positioning at the least with their current performances, something chairman Bill Kenwright is very keen on. With Andy Johnson playing, the Toffees are keen in their playability. Also crucial for the Blues was the signing of Phil Neville, the captain who has been recalled into the England XI. It was his cross that found Johnson's volley deflecting off Sylvain Distin into the net.

A tad unfortunate for the visitors but they had a torrid period of attacks to defend, notably one that produced a great save from Nicky Weaver to Mikel Arteta's shot and captain Richard Dunne blocking Johnson's follow-up with his body. Weaver also saved excellently from a Joleon Lescott header. City had their moments too, afterwards, with Georgios Samaras coming close. But dramatically City grabbed an equaliser practically at the death, as a chipped ball into the box was met with a header and found its way to Micah Richards, who volleyed in.

Bolton 2 Liverpool 0

I expected this to be a tough contest. I didn't focus on the physical possibilities that were expected from the home side, I hoped we would strategically play quickly around the midfield and the defence and score well. The game was in our favour until Pepe Reina kicked the goalkick from his hand that the nearest linesman judged to have been outside the box. The decision beggared belief, even more so when in replay you could see the same linesman mouth that he was in line with the offence when he categorically was not. Nonetheless the freekick has to be defended and Gary Speed slammed in the opener.

Into the second half Bolton struck early. Kevin Davies picked up on the right and crossed well for Ivan Campo to outjump Steve Finnan to head the ball over Reina and off the crossbar to bounce over the line and out. Liverpool playing well but need to improve defensively and sharpen up on our away form in front of goal to galvanise our fortunes on the travels. It has been a lottery of results for us at the Reebok stadium and this one went the other way unfortunately, and we have to get back to winning with Blackburn at home in a fortnight.

Chelsea 1 Aston Villa 1

Chelsea unbeaten at home, Villa unbeaten under Martin O'Neill and I felt something would give in this match and that something would be the visitors. An Arjen Robben freekick from the right found John Terry beating Thomas Sorensen to the ball, Didier Drogba on hand to bundle the ball in. Villa were not down, they gave a good account of themselves against the champions and grabbed the equaliser before half time. Stilian Petrov floated over a ball for Liam Ridgewell to head on and Gabriel Agbonlahor nooded in from close range.

Chelsea had a number of chances to take the lead again but couldn't hit the net past Sorensen, as Michael Essien, Andriy Shevchenko and Shaun Wright-Phillips went close. Villa had two exceptional chances through Juan Pablo Angel. Put through with no defenders between himself and goal, Angel ran on and on until Claude Makelele made contact with his body and outstretched arms on the Colombian, that looked a clear intention if not an actual act, but surprisingly it was not given. Then Angel had the ball drop in front of him on his left foot but missed with a wide volley.

West Ham 0 Reading 1

The Hammers had been disappointing in Europe and the news of twenty fans arrested before the tie with Palermo in Sicily didn't make for comfortable headlines either. Alan Pardew wanted a bounce back to rejuvenate the side as they enter the third month of football. And as bad luck would have it, the Hammers conceded early to place further pressure on themselves. Bobby Convey stepped over the freekick and Seol Ki-Hyeon hesitated before taking on Carlos Tevez towards goal and unleashing a shot from some 20-25 yards that whizzed past Roy Carroll. They talked about Van Persie as contender of Goal of the Season, this one was another. West Ham attacked back in desperate need of an equaliser but couldn't find a way past Marcus Hahnemann. This is West Ham's fifth game they have failed to score in consecutively, since the draw with Aston Villa. Questions now rise in regard to whether the Argentinian signings were actualy needed. The form of the team has hit a slump since by coincidence.

Man Utd 2 Newcastle 0

The home side were dominant. Christiano Ronaldo was on fire, he was too hot to handle. Louis Saha was on the bench due to a slight strain in his leg so Ole Gunner Solskjaer featured alongside Wayne Rooney, and it was the Norwegian who grabbed the first goal. From a short corner Ronaldo ran with the ball across the box and shot, the ball coming off the post and directly to Solskjaer to touch in. For Utd's second, a Ronaldo corner found its way to Nemanja Vidic who shot, his effort apparently on target but deflecting off Solskjaer past Steve Harper, who had made some good saves to keep the scoreline down to two.

Steven Taylor made yet another dramatic production of Hamlet as Darren Fletcher aimed to shoot at goal. Taylor was the last defender in front of Harper and as Fletcher shot, Taylor slightly moved his body towards the shot which touched off his arm. Taylor then went down clutching his midriff and referee Mike Dean didn't take any action, yet another bad decison, or lack of, from the officials this weekend.

Spurs 2 Portsmouth 1

A crucial home game that would have placed Spurs in the relegation zone if it were to end in a home defeat. Two teams hovering within opposite ends of the EPL spectrum, uncharacteristic for both in recent seasons. Portsmouth wanted to restart their excellent season after the home loss to Bolton and like West Ham they conceded easily early. Jermaine Defoe provided the cross that was head at goal by Dimitar Berbatov, who had a good game tormenting and running amongst the Portsmouth back line. David James blocked the header but did not hold it and as the ball spilled, Glen Johnson was on hand to shield it for James to come and dive on it but the keeper didn't. Instead Berbatov managed to nudge Johnson and the ball rolled for Danny Murphy to touch in, very sloppy goal to concede but it was Spurs' first since beating Sheff Utd in August.

Yet another poor decision by the referee. Chris Foy was on hand to watch Didier Zokora run on and pass to Defoe, who returned the gesture, Zokora entered the box with Pedro Mendes behind him. The Ivorian then touched the ball in reverse and Mendes moved a leg to tackle half-heartedly and therefore made no contact whatsoever, yet Zokora then went down. It was clearly a moment of performance fitting for Swan Lake, at least Newcastle's Steven Taylor's was comical. Yet Foy gave the penalty and Defoe duly obliged and it seemed the lucky break Spurs needed, the kind that would win a match. Gary O'Neil jinked with Benoit Assou-Ekotto before delivering an excellent cross for Nwankwo Kanu to head over Paul Robinson.

Blackburn 2 Wigan 1

Blackburn came from behind and a penalty call against them to win this game and in some style. First Emile Heskey latched onto a Emerson Boyce pass, after the full back twisted pass a challenged, to score in two minutes. But within injury time of the first half Lucas Neill crossed for David Bentley to dummy, Francis Jeffers played Bentley in to the box and the former Arsenal player duly finished with a sweet curl round Chris Kirkland.

Blackburn had to replace Brad Friedel with new Gillingham signing Jason Brown, Wales keeper, and he was called into sharp action. Heskey was free on the left and went on a run that found him upended by Andre Ooijer in the box which was a clear penalty. From the spot loanee Svetoslav Todorov aimed to Brown's right and it was blocked, as was Todorov's follow-up which spun into the air, Lee McCulloch missed the ball then aimed a backward header which Brown calmly caught. With that, Blackburn grabbed the winner. A long ball, either Benni McCarthy or Jason Roberts looked strongly offside, but as it bounced it seemed Arjen De Zeeuw would deal with it but didn't, confident it would bounce to Kirkland. But McCarthy and Roberts chased on and Kirkland ran out and missed the ball, providing either striker the open goal, which fell to McCarthy.

Watford 3 Fulham 3

I had this game down to a 1-1 draw, at least I got the result right! Watford went ahead when Ashley Young chipped over to find Marlon King in space behind the defence with Antii Niemi to beat, the offside trap not being used properly. King finished off. With the Fulham players being told to get out on pitch early for the second half, I expected the visitors to hammer back at Watford and score and the game ends. No, oh no. Watford stung them. Leroy Rosenior touched to Morice Volz who miscontrolled. The ball was past down the left to Hameur Bouazza and the French midfielder crossed low behind the sleepy defence for Young to add to the scoresheet. The expected Fulham fight back then began and Watford were persistent in heading out the crosses and chips delivered into the Watford box. However the breakthrough came with twenty minutes to go when another cross was not dealt with, the ball falling to Brian McBride who volleyed well from outside the box for 2-1.

One may have felt the game would end there but Fulham came at against Newcastle at St James' Park and they did it again at Vicarage Road. With Fulham on the attack, Tomasz Radzinki chased a ball down the left to pull it back high for Heidur Helguson to head in against his former club. Seven minutes of normal time remaining, Fulham continued to pressure Watford and cracks then appeared. From a corner there ensued a goalmouth scramble from a Danny Shittu poor header, and the ball came to Damien Francis who mis-kicked the ball into the net under pressure from Helguson. Francis' night was compounded by being immediately substituted, a gutted expression on his face. The score went from 2-0 to Watford to 2-3 to Fulham with three minutes normal time remaining.

As injury time approached, the board declared three minutes. But Watford equalised in the 89th minute through Young. Fulham failed to deal with the high ball and once it came to Young, he chested it and struck it with speed that was too fast for any tackle to impede, too fast for Niemi too. I would think Fulham would be the happier of the two, having come from 2-0 down. Adrian Boothroyd was angry on the touchline for good reason. The club's first three Premiership points were snatched from them.


Thanks Arsene for ten years of Wenger-football, and for the promise of more to come

Ten years of Wenger-football at Arsenal FC has meant watching the ultimate formula of consistent winning football while playing the beautiful game beautifully. This is Arsene Wenger's legacy to football, and there is no depth to the gratitude I have for him in fulfilling his vision at my club.

Ten years down the line and it is right to say that Wenger is now on his third-generation team. And I am excited by the prospect of this current line-up emulating the style and success of football of the previous two.

Just to recap, the first-generation team won the double in Wenger's first full season at the club and included the likes of Seaman, Adams, Bould, Keown, Winterburn, Dixon, Petit, a young Vieira, Overmars, Parlour, Wright, Bergkamp, and Anelka.

The second-generation team performed the unprecedented achievement of going a whole season unbeaten on their way to winning the Premiership, plus set a new English record of 49 unbeaten league matches, and included the likes of Lehmann, Lauren, Ashley Cole, Toure, Campbell, Keown, Captain Vieira, Edu, Gilberto, Parlour, Pires, Ljungberg, Reyes, Legend Bergkamp, and the irrepressible Thierry Henry.

In between the transition of the first and second generation teams there was the Premiership and FA Cup double of 2001-2002 season. In all the first and second-generation line-ups won three Premiership titles and did not have a final position below second place.

Wenger's third-generation line-up has been over a year in the making and game by game I see increased belief within the team of their sheer potential. This young line-up reached the Champions League final before their time, and I am confident they have what it takes to repeat that feat in the years ahead.

I love the addition of the experienced and competitive William Gallas into our young defence that features three fantastic young centre-backs in Kolo Toure, Phillipe Senderos and Johan Djourou. For me, Emmanuel Eboue is our Cafu in the making, while Gael Clichy is virtually a clone for Ashley Cole. And the super-confident Jens Lehmann is truly a world class goal-keeper to have as the last line of defence.

Yet what really excites me is our midfield. Fabregas goes from strength to strength and is the vital rhythm-setter for this team. His composure on the ball is amazing and sets the right tone of confidence in possession for the team. He has what it takes to be the best playmaking midfielder in the world. Czech international captain, Tomas Rosicky, is a fantastic acquisistion. Not only is his creativity and attacking drive outstanding, but in his general demeanour on the pitch I see a fighter and a winner. And Alex Hleb on the right is a player I have a lot of time for: blending excellent attacking dribbling ability with a determination to tackle back.

For me the three together are outstanding technical and creative midfielders in the Wenger vision of total footballers and I am really excited by the prospect of seeing this combination grow together in the same midfield. A glimpse of what they can achieve together was seen at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago where this trio - along with fighting Freddie Ljungberg - took the game to Man Utd in one of the most impressive Arsenal performances of the entire Wenger era. Finally, in the midfield context, Gilberto is the defensive wall that achieves vital balance for our midfield and this - plus his sportsmanlike demeanour - is why I so admire his contribution to the club.

The forward position is led by record goalscorer and arguably the world's best, Captain Henry. Behind him is a 23 year old who is now ready to burst into goals with a grooved striking technique that is as close to technical perfection as you would wish to see: Robin van Persie (illustrated perfectly by THAT goal at Charlton yesterday!). Emmanuel Adebayor showed at Man Utd that with increased self-confidence he has a lot to offer as a Kanu-like player who, unlike Kanu, has big pace. On-loan Julio Baptista has the power and pedigree to make an impression. And waiting in the wings is the young Danish international striker making waves on-loan at Birmingham City, Niclas Bendtner, plus of course the gem of a talent in 17 year old Theo Walcott.

The Wenger legacy of the last ten years has been extraordinary for AFC and a privilege for me as a Gunner to watch and admire. And I believe the potential of this third-generation squad to emulate the previous two in achieving the ultimate combination of consistent winning football with total football is there. With Arsene Wenger in charge, who would bet against it?


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