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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard: criminal or victim?

Steven Gerrard has been charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray following an alleged nightclub brawl. He was charged along with two other men who had also been arrested after a "disturbance" outside a late-night bar in Southport, Merseyside in the early hours of Monday morning. The venue's DJ, a 34-year-old local man, required hospital treatment after suffering facial injuries. Gerrard will be appearing at North Sefton Magistrates' Court on 23 January 2009. He is currently on police bail pending further enquiries.

Gerrard has always had a squeaky clean image. He has never been in this sort of trouble before and considering he put in a man-of-the-match performance just a few hours before this incident, it makes this whole story a lot more surprising.

Gerrard could be the victim of a stitch-up. He is an easy target. I just cannot believe that he could do such a terrible thing.

Last season Liverpool's season was blighted by the American owners' continuing arguments with each other. I hope this season isn't affected by Steven Gerrard's charge.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Probably make or break time for the problematic Diaby

The suffering of the long term injury to Fabregas has fully exposed the risky nature of Arsene Wenger's decision not to bring in reinforcements to the central midfield area after the departures of Gilberto and Flamini.

For me the thought of Cesc sustaining a big injury was the 'thinkable unthinkable' - something to be aware of but only contemplate properly if it occured. Now that it has there is at least the consolation that it comes on the dawn of the opening of the transfer window and that it reinforces what is almost the uniform opinion - aside seemingly from Wenger who continues to speak with amazing optimism in press conferences - that we must buy at the earliest opportunity to strengthen out thin and young midfield area.

On Sunday it was Abou Diaby who came onto replace Cesc. Diaby came to Arsenal at the same time as Adebayor but due to injury and inconsistency of performance has not come close to replicating the impact of the Togolese striker. And although I really hesitate to do down an Arsenal player I struggle with deciding what Diaby sustainably brings to the Arsenal team.

He was bought as a CM but Wenger predominantly plays him on the wide left of midfield or rarely as a deep lying striker. These positions don't look to come naturally to Diaby - and I can't recall ever seeing a gangly player the size of Diaby be a success as a wide left midfielder, let alone one who can't produce left footed crosses.

My concerns about Diaby were reinforced significantly by an interview given by Arsene to the Arsenal website earlier this month - the transcript of which I read on the Gunnerblog site. I don't think he intended to effectively call Diaby a player lacking in footballing intelligence but unless you can persuade me otherwise it is hard not to escape that conclusion from this analysis:

Yes. He has all the ingredients; physical, technical - but at the moment, not tactical. I believe in his mind he is more an offensive player, not a defensive player. And that technical defensive awareness is more in Denilson, say, or Song at the moment. Diaby is more interested in going forward and making a difference going forward… but we try to develop that in him and he has the ingredients to become a central midfielder.

How do you develop that in him?

By working on it, he’s conscious of that… but I believe also you have to choose a position for a player where he feels completely comfortable and is suited to his psychological profile… and if you place somebody against his deep desire, he can never be completely himself.

Actually, reading these words again it appears that Wenger is losing patience with a player who is unable to adapt to his planned role despite being at the club now for three years.

Diaby has shown great strength in coming back from a broken, dislocated ankle and has the talent to be a good player. But I have long considered that he has a problem with consistency of performance and it looks from these recent words from Wenger that it stems from a lack of effort to apply himself to the significant defensive aspect of being a good all-round central midfielder.

I find this issue concerning and Wenger's words belies his statement earlier this week that he is content with the 'internal solutions' he has to replacing Cesc over the next four months. For if Diaby is unuited to a CM role at present because of tactical deficiencies that are proving difficult to iron out than surely Wenger is not envisaging Song and Denilson play every league and cup game for the rest of the season. This simply is not a good or even reasonable soultion.

For me this is make or break time for Diaby - and I think Wenger is probably viewing this particular situation in the same way. If he can't raise his game and apply himself tactically and performance-wise at a time when we are bereft of other options than I believe he never will at Arsenal.

I hope the young Frenchman makes it - but I need to see some consistent and quality performances in the next couple of months to overcome my concerns about his ability to achieve the needed Arsenal level.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fulham v Middlesbrough: The FA's 'exceptional circumstances'

I'm not a fan of Andrew Johnson of Fulham. I think he dives or feigns contact for decisions, not regularly but often enough. He has, in his brief spell with Everton, wound up the LFC fans like the mischievous child who sticks his/her tongue out at you whilst shopping with parents or travelling in the car, for no good reason other than boredom.

Yet when I say he was very, very harshly denied proper justice yesterday following an horrific challenge by Middlesbrough's Julio Arca, it must have been something. Johnson and Arca went 50-50 for the ball at one point and the Argentinian placed his foot nowhere near the ball, and ended up nearer Johnson's knee than Johnson's own sock. Arca's foot then trailed down Johnson's leg towards his ankle.

Replayed on last night's Match Of The Day, you heard Johnson yell out in pain. I would submit that Arca's contact was not enough to severely injure Johnson but the placing of his foot made the contact look far, far worse than it probably was. Who knows how players genuinely react to sudden contact, Johnson thankfully was OK afterwards and did not suffer a leg break or anything like that. But astonishingly referee Keith Stroud gave Arca only a booking!!! When he sees the replay, he should be feeling quite ashamed to have registered he saw the incident and issued only a booking, because if he had, there is no question Arca should have been dismissed.

Middlesbrough's manager Gareth Southgate felt aggrieved at the penalty decision given against his defender Tony McMahon. McMahon and Fulham's Bobby Zamora went to challenge in the Middlesbrough penalty box and McMahon's attempted clearance spun up and came off his left forearm. Now replays showed, for me, that it was McMahon's momentum that led to his arm touching the ball. Referee Stroud didn't give the decision but alerted by his linesman, he did. From another angle, you could see the linesman in question not give the indication of a handball the moment it occurred but the crowd and a few players appealed immediately and he then indicated with his flag. He may have looked to give the benefit of the doubt but then found his mind made up by the appeals.

Southgate may well find himself on the end of yet another bad decision, but nothing was mentioned of the potentiality of Arca being dismissed. However, the FA spoke of intervening in 'exceptional circumstances' when they dealt with former Man City defender Ben Thatcher for his thuggish elbow contact on then Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes during the Man City v Portsmouth match, August 2006. They were quoted as saying: ".....the incident is being considered as an exceptional case. The FA contends that the challenge was sufficiently serious that had Thatcher been sent off, an additional sanction would have been merited."

I can compare Arca's challenge to that of Birmingham's Martin Taylor on Arsenal's Eduardo at St. Andrew's, February this year. Similarities are Arca made no contact with the ball; his foot was nowhere near the ball; it made contact directly with Johnson's leg and trailed down towards the ankle. The only exception is Arca didn't go as far as the ankle.

We have had the appeal over respect being paid to officials during the game, the FA should now reconsider about non-intervention in such circumstances. The publicity over Taylor's tackle is clear in the memory. Arca's was almost identical. We need to stamp this challenge out, it has nothing to do with football, it will cause another serious injury and it can end the footballing career of two players, much less one.

Eduardo enjoyed 45mins of a recent reserve game against Portsmouth, I believe, and I can't applaud that fact enough. I also believe Taylor is still with Birmingham. Both of them, as a result, could have walked away from football. If the FA will not re-consider intervention, then continue to expect the type of horror challenges and the resulting injuries we came to acknowledge at St Andrew's in February. Because the FA will not.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Select Alves this afternoon and he will score

Gareth Southgate conducts himself really well and I believe he will have a very solid managerial career. I have written before on EFT that I like his footballing philosophy which is best seen in his choice of signings.

Aliadiere, Tuncay, Hoyte, Digard are examples of technically strong and athletic players with a hungry character to succeed. Southgate has said before that we wants his team to play a vibrant style of football and his signings definitely reflect this.

Add that he is determined to follow the Steve McClaren policy of integrating the Boro academy players into the first team and you have some good reasons why I'm interested to follow the development of Boro under Southgate.

His biggest signing is that of the Brazilian striker, Afonso Alves. His scoring record in Sweden was superb and his league scoring record in Holland was awesome: 45 goals in 39 games!

If you check out Youtube videos of his goals when in Holland you will see that Alves is a natural finisher. He has a shooting technique that is repetetive - he drills the ball hard and low. He has a good build and a deceptively strong running style with the ball.

Alves was bought in January by Boro and I think he complements the type of football that Southgate wants to achieve. His two goals against Man Utd last season and free-kick against Stoke this season displayed his potential to emulate his form in the Premier League. Yet after going on a run of games when he got close but ultimately was unable to score goals, he was dropped for the match against Arsenal last weekend.

Southgate's loss of patience would have been a wake-up call for Alves. Yet, if my instincts are right, it should be for the best for the Brazilian striker. It should re-focus him and make him hungry to come back with a bang and show everyone plus himself that he should be the main goal-getter at Boro.

If I was Southgate I'd play Alves against Fulham this afternoon. If Alves has the character I think he has I have the strong suspicion that he will come back with a bang and score. I would be happy for Alves if I was proved right on this. He's a player I rate and I would like to see him get it right.

It would be harsh on Aliadiere who applied himself very well in the centre forward position and scored against Arsenal. But in the long-term best interest of Boro and Alves I think its better for the Brazilian striker to get back in the action as soon as possible and show everyone that he has the character and quality to rebound from a bad period.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd or Arsenal - 75 points to win the title?

If so, that would equal the lowest ever points total in Premership history. That was back in 1997 and in the last few years we have been accustomed to seeing the winning side gain around 90 points. The "big four" have all struggled this season and I can see this continuing. So what do you think - will 75 points be enough?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Liverpool’s title credentials under my examination

I made a trip down to Anfield on Saturday to check out the title credentials of Liverpool. It has been a while since I have been up there, the hospitality of the staff at Anfield was tremendous and I always love visiting this football friendly City.

With the groans of dissatisfaction ringing around Anfield on Saturday you could be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool are a club in crisis, but in actual fact we remain top of the Premier League, despite a third straight home draw that has raised serious doubts about our title-winning credentials.

My wife, who is fast developing an interest for the game made some interesting observation on Dossena and Kuyt. So much has been made by Benitez about our squad being stronger this year. I would however question three key areas of the pitch, where in my view we don't have the adequate cover to expose teams when they sit back at Anfield.

Riise v Dossena

We sold Riise and bought Dossena to provide cover for the injury prone, but very talented Aurelio – for me there is no question that Dossena lacks the pace and intelligence in his game to cover for Aurelio – he was exposed for both goals on Saturday. I don't think Riise let us down too many times, save that moment in the Champion's league.

Arbeloa v?

Arveloa has been simply awesome this season. He is full of running and is great going forward and defending. But who can provide cover for him? Finnan was a solid player on the right and I wish Rafa did more to persuade him to stay.

Crouch v Keane

Keane has been struggling this season and he will find it increasingly difficult to fit into the Liverpool system. Crouch on the other had was a real threat, especially when he came off the bench. Keane simply does not influence games in the same way.

The league table does not lie, Liverpool are top and perhaps rightly so. I think if we had the right cover in the above key areas of the pitch we could have moved clear off Chelsea and United.

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Anfield it was a great game to watch. I hope Liverppool can pick up at home and continue their great away record. If we can get Nando back for the second half of the season and avoid any further injuries then we have a real chance of winning the title.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Eboue destructive humiliation badly crossed the line

When did it become okay to destructively humiliate a player from your own team?

Emmanuel Eboue has played with commitment since first playing for Arsenal about four years ago. He was excellent as an attacking right back during our run to the Champs League final. He has sometimes acted with indiscretion on the pitch but you can clearly tell from his demeanour that he is by no means a 'dirty' player or has a malicious character. He gives his best although sometimes he lacks composure in his final pass or shot.

Yesterday Eboue suffered badly at the end of the game against Wigan. He successively gave the ball away very badly in the last few minutes and it was painful to watch. He had obviously lost his confidence and composure and I agreed with Wenger that it was right to take Eboue out of his misery on the pitch and sub him.

The reaction to his substitution from some Arsenal supporters was shameful. I was relieved to see Eboue being taken off both for his own sake as well as the team's. But to see him have to take on board loud cheers from his own 'supporters' as he walked off the pitch was terrible to watch. It left a real unsatisfactory feeling.

You could tell from the reaction of Ade and Silvestre in their body language and solidarity with Eboue as he went off the pitch that they felt badly for him having to take that abuse and humiliation. They and I knew that it was destructive stuff and that at that moment the stadium had crossed the line in what is an acceptable way to treat your own players.

I hope not to witness such a reaction again. It made me feel ashamed to be an Arsenal supporter.


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