Spyin' Kop: Arsenal (Home)

Posted by -HH- on February 11, 2006, 09:36:19 PM

‘What is it about Bolton?’ That’s the question likely to be on the mind of your average Arsenal fan in the build up to Tuesday’s clash with the Champions of Europe. In spite of battering the Bolton defence for the last 20 minutes of their meeting at Highbury they were yet again unable to beat the men from the Reebok. This result further confirms Arsenal’s dubious honour as this season’s Jekyll and Hyde team – fantastic one minute, losing to Everton the next. The frustration down Highbury way will be all the more severe with their close neighbours Tottenham flying high in the table (sounds so much like our season last year I’m already considering tipping them to win the Champions League and Spurs to finish 4th).

For our part we come into the game with our own problems. 3 defeats on the bounce left one crazy fool from this site claiming he had lost all faith in Rafa. While such suggestions are extreme, there is no doubt that the lack of goals from Rafa’s forward line remains a concern – with Sami Hyypia stepping up from defence to score the winner in our latest game against Wigan.


Liverpool v Arsenal
Tuesday 14th February
Anfield, Liverpool
K.O. 8pm

Referee, Graham Poll




Arsenal FC
Nickname: The Gunners
Founded: 1886
Ground: Highbury, London
Record Attendance: 73,295
Chairman: Peter Hill-Wood
Managing director: Keith Edelman
Manager: Arsene Wenger

Honours
 
League Champions: 1930/31, 1932/33, 1933/34, 1934/35, 1937/38, 1947/48, 1952/53, 1970/71, 1988/89, 1990/91, 1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04

FA Cup Winners: 1930, 1936, 1950, 1971, 1979, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004

League Cup Winners: 1986/87, 1992/93

Charity/Community Shield Winners: 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004

European Fairs Cup Winners: 1970

Cup Winners Cup Winners: 1994

History

Arsenal were first formed as a means of recreation for a group of factory workers in late 1886. Employees of the Woolwich Arsenal Armament Factory decided to form a football team, which first played under the name Dial Square. Their first game was a 6-0 drubbing of Eastern Wanderers on December 11th that year. It wasn’t long before the team’s name was changed to Royal Arsenal. They continued to play in local cup competitions and friendlies before finally turning professional in 1891, changing their name to Woolwich Arsenal. They moved to their current home of Highbury stadium in 1913, though they will be moving to the new Emirates Stadium from next season. Following World War One the first division was extended to 22 teams, and Arsenal were voted into the top flight, a position they have held ever since.

As their honours list shows they are one of England’s most successful clubs, however their record in Europe doesn’t match up with their domestic record, something that has been highlighted under Arsene Wenger but appears to be a historical trend.

Current Aston Villa manager David O’Leary holds their record for most first team appearances with 722, making his debut on 16th August 1975. In more recent times they made history in the 2003/4 season by going the whole season unbeaten, those 38 games being part of a top division record of 49 games unbeaten.

Recent Form

Arsenal 0 – 0 Manchester United
Arsenal 7 – 0 Middelsborough
Everton 1 – 0 Arsenal
Arsenal 2 – 3 West Ham United
Birmingham 0 – 2 Arsenal
Arsenal 1 – 1 Bolton

Spyin’ Kop

For this Spyin’ Kop I’ve had a great deal of help from the mods at www.arsenal-land.co.uk/forum - a small forum with a number of excellent posters. Thanks to Steve Morgan and Nick Marsden for their excellent contributions. Thanks also go to the guys at www.arsenal-mania.com/forum – a forum where I found a few familiar names (such as robfiller_LFC) and where Steven Cook also used to post. They have been very supportive over there about his disappearance with a thread stickied on the subject. Paul Williams answers our questions from that site.


How has the season been shaping up for you so far?

NM: Bit of a rollercoaster really. We've had some good days and even a good month, but overall it's been a case two steps forward quickly followed by one step back. Real Madrid in the Champions League certainly has everyones attention, and it's important to get some decent League form going to get back in fourth place and shut the Spurs fans up. Winning home and away to Liverpool would be a good start on that one.

SM: Disappointing one moment, encouraging the next. The last two months have been the worst though. Results and performances have both been patchy. One week a 7-0 home win, the next a 1-0 away defeat. However, this season can only be judged next year and the year after.

PW: Well, apart from the emergence of some genuinely exciting youngsters, it's been a bit of a dogs dinner. To be fair, injuries haven't helped but I think we're all disappointed with how things have gone and particularly the senior players in the squad.

What are your expectations for this season? Have they changed from day one?

NM: Yes, expectations have definitely changed. Day One for Arsenal was the Community Shield against Chelsea. That game, and the first home game against Newcastle certainly delivered an early reality check that this might be a tough season. Expectations now are that there will be setbacks, but overall the trend will be one of improvement, as the younger players and new signings bed in.

SM: My expectations ? I always believe that Arsenal will fight for the title. By the end of October that had gone. So obviously my expectations had changed. Just the one expectation now, a Champions League qualifying place. Whatever happens in the Champions League itself is a bonus.

PW: We're always looking at the title. Some optimists still are but I think the rest of us have lowered our sights. That said, the main aim is Champions League qualification, if we can do that automatically I'd be thrilled.

Who do you think is your most important player(s)?

NM: It has to be Thierry Henry. You can't have one of the very best players in the world at your club and not be the most important. From a different angle, Toure has been far and away Arsenal's player of the season so far, we badly need him back from the African Cup of Nations. Reyes has also established himself at the club - after a roaring start, he lost a good deal of confidence, but is now getting back to the early form he showed. Who is most important to Arsenal's long term future? Probably Theo Walcott right now.

SM: The obvious answer is Thierry Henry. Very little that needs to be said there. However the last month has shown, possibly, our most important player is Kolo Abib Toure. I would rate him as probably in the top 3 defenders in the Premiership. He is the natural partner to both Sol Campbell and Phillip Senderos. Our recent signing Abou Diaby also has a big role to play filling in Vieira’s boots.

PW: Thierry Henry. No question. If he stays we can have a go at the title again next season. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

Your worst player(s)?

NM: I'm not really one for knocking specific Arsenal players - especially to fans of other clubs. A number of players can do better than they have shown this season, no doubt about it. Squad players by their nature are going to be poorer than first-teamers, so why complain about them? They come in when you're short, do a job until everyone's fit, then you drop them and they don't complain. No club can have a squad of Henry-class players.

SM: Other Arsenal fans will obviously pick Pascal Cygan. I won’t. Everybody in the squad has a job to do. And Pascal does his without moaning. Even playing at left-back. Arsene Wenger buy’s the players and picks the team, after all.

PW: I've been particularly dismayed with Freddie Ljungberg this season, but Campbell and Gilberto have been massively disappointing this season.

Do you have a particular memory of any previous meeting between our clubs? Say something that happened to you that day or a decision you disagreed with? (anyone mentioning Michael Thomas will be marked down for predictability…)

NM: I'll share a personal moment that I've never told anyone until now. For the match at Anfield in '89, I was in the Arsenal section of terracing. We stayed put until the players finally went back down the tunnel. At the exits, the police were holding everyone in. Doesn't matter why now, but me and a friend had passes to get out straight away. Once outside, we began to doubt the wisdom of this move - people were running about all over the place, it was poorly lit, and we weren't 100% sure where we were going. I remember as though it were yesterday, this big guy walked up alongside me and said "Congratulations mate, you're Champions." I was apprehensive that he was just checking us out to see which side we were with. Then as we passed under a street lamp, I could see his face clearly, and couldn't detect any bad intent. Quite without any forethought, I just spoke from the heart. I said "Thanks, but I'd hand it back in a heartbeat if it could change what happened at Hillsborough." He stopped still and said "What?" I said it again, it came out easily because I meant it. He reached out and shook my hand for what seemed like a couple of minutes. Then, with his voice cracking, he said "Thanks, you're alright, you deserved it." And with that we went in different directions. I still think about that moment now and then.

SM: Ok, I’ll avoid the obvious. For me a defining moment in the 2001-2002 season was our trip to Anfield on Sunday 23 December. Arsenal had lost the previous game at home to Newcastle 3-1. Ray Parlour had been sent off. A penalty was awarded against Sol Campbell incorrectly. Thierry Henry had to be restrained at the end of the match from his tirade against Graham Poll. We had lost 3 home games and the New Year had even started. Then we go to our bogey team, Liverpool. The game was evenly matched until Durkin the Gherkin decided to give van Bronckhurst a second yellow card for a dive, when he simply fell over. Again, another sending off and things looked pretty drastic. Kanu dropped into a central midfield role and I personally feared the worst. However, just before half-time Ljungberg was brought down by Dudek. Dudek should have walked being the last man. But Durkin didn’t even give a yellow. Henry scored from the spot and we led 1-0 at half-time. In the second half a lovely run from Ljungberg made it 2-0 from a perfect Pires cross. One of his best trademark goals (where are they this season Freddie ?) . Within a few minutes Arsenal’s hard work was undone when Litmanen pulled one back within a couple of minutes. The rest of the game was end-to-end. When that final whistle came, it was a huge sigh of relief. Who would have guessed then that we would go the rest of the season unbeaten and win the Premiership.

PW: My third game at Highbury, April 92, Ian Wright scored twice, and Anders Limpar scored one of the best goals I've ever seen at Highbury, a 45 yard lob, Beckham was probably still in nappies then.

Arsene Wenger has a terrific record with young talent. Are there any young up and coming players in the squad that we might not know about?

NM: Abou Diaby's just arrived and has got off to a promising start - 19 years old, powerful central midfielder. Arturo Lupoli, an 18-year-old Italian forward has been scoring for fun in the youth team and reserves - Wenger's just waiting for him to grow a bit before he starts using him. Fabrice Muamba, another central midfielder, is well-regarded by the coaches - just needs to control his temper a bit more.

SM: I’m not sure if there are you haven’t heard of. We’ve used them all in the last couple of weeks ! Kerrea Gilbert and Johan Djourou are two which have made the most of their chances lately, and surprised a lot of Arsenal fans with their performances.

PW: Wenger surprises us all with young talent- the first I normally hear of them is when I'm watching them rip some Premiership team up in the Carling Cup!

Just how much have you missed Patrick Vieira this season?

NM: To be honest, we haven't missed the Patrick Vieira of last season very much. We have missed the Vieira of previous seasons a great deal. Last season wasn't a vintage one for Patrick, but he is a world class player, and no club is going to have a player of his stature leave and not notice. It's come at a time when a number of other players are also just on the other side of their peak, and the problems this season have really been a combination of all of that.

SM: Patrick who ? We have missed him but not as much s the press would lead you to believe. We have missed a physical presence in midfield which Vieira brought us. But we haven’t missed Vieira’s form from last season. Which wasn’t great. Diaby has arrived now and he has everything that Vieira has bar age and experience.

PW: On the face of it, a lot. I think there is a feeling though, that it wasn't the sale which screwed us, it was the fact that Arsene chose to promote Fabregas rather than replace him with an established player. I miss him.

Theo Walcott – should we believe the hype?

NM: I'm sure you would be lapping up the hype right now, if he hadn't rejected Liverpool's advances. As you've acknowledged, Arsene Wenger has a terrific record with young talent. For him to sign Walcott and open the press conference with the words "We've just won the lottery" means something - he didn't say that when he signed Vieira or Henry. At Walcott's age, you're only signing potential, not a finished player, but in this case, yes, I think Arsenal have signed a special talent.

SM: Of course you should you were in the running to sign him ! Seriously though, I’ve only seen him in highlights on ITV, but from what I’ve seen he has tremendous talent.

PW: No- because that way when he scores a hat trick at Anfield, you'll all be bloody shocked!

What sort of line-up will Arsene Wenger put out against us?

NM: I believe Arsene Wenger has gone on record to say that the Premier League is his priority, to secure a Champions League qualifying place for next season, so I expect his strongest line-up. We all desperately want Toure to be back, but the Ivory Coast are going strong and have reached the Final of the ACN. Having Ashley Cole back from injury and match-fit would also help a great deal.

SM: In theory he should play his most experienced players. In practice these are the players that have let us down. He should play 4-4-2 but may err on the side of caution and play 4-5-1. As for the players, Toure, Campbell and Cole should be back from their vastly different absences. The central defensive partnership will depend on who plays right-back. If Gilbert is fit then Toure/Sol will form the centre-back partnership. If not Toure would switch to right back and Senderos/Sol in the middle of defence. In midfield Diaby, Gilberto and Reyes are the 3 most likely to play with Cesc, Hleb, Pires and Ljungberg making the choices for the 4th spot. Up front Wenger will have to choose from Adebayor strength and aerial threat or Van Persie’s skill to partner Henry.

PW: His best available, hopefully Kolo will be back in central defence by the time the game comes round. Maybe Adebayor up front, Cesc on the right instead of Ljungberg... We have options!

Do you have a favourite/best chant(s) and perhaps any that require an explanation?

NM: Sung by Arsenal fans at the JJB Stadium: "Come to buy trainers! We've only come to buy trainers! Come to buy traaaiiiners...." - you get the idea. I also quite liked that one by the Portsmouth fans against Liverpool the other Sunday "You nicked my stereo, you nicked my stereo..." Sorry.

SM: Vieira’s chant, a personal favourite of mine, has been changed to accommodate Diaby along the lines of “he‘s magic on the ball, he plays for Arsenal“. A small boost for the fans and the player.

PW: Ooh to be a Gooner. Says it all really.

What are your past experiences of Anfield? What are your views on the Anfield traditions and atmosphere, such as the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone?

NM: I've been to Anfield for many Arsenal games, dating back to the early 80s. I think my lasting impressions are the sense that Liverpool is at the heart of the community - more so than clubs in London for instance, where fans come from far and wide. They're passionate about their football, there's a sense of deep pride in their history. A big club in every respect.

SM: I’ve only been to Anfield once. However, it is an experience I’ll never forget. Especially the museum and atmosphere. It is something my daughter will also never forget as it finally convinced her to become an Arsenal fan and not a Liverpool one. Sorry guys but your football that day was classic Hoof-ier !

PW: Misery, misery, misery. Apart from Wenger's second double season. And I hate that bloody song!

We often refer to Highbury as the library, do you have any nicknames for Anfield or for Liverpool FC?

NM: Not really, although I've called Liverpool's team quite a few things when Arsenal have come away from games empty-handed over the years.

SM: None that I can think of it. I having nothing bad to say about Anfield.

PW: Nothing original.

Where do you expect Arsenal and Liverpool to finish in the Premier League?

NM: Liverpool - should finish second if they do themselves justice. They're better than Man United, nobody's going to catch Chelsea. A lot may hang on the distraction of the Champions League. It definitely seemed to affect Liverpool's form at the end of last season. Arsenal - I'd be happy with fourth, I'd be delighted with third. We may have to settle for fifth.

SM: Where both Arsenal and Liverpool finish will depend on the two games between ourselves. If we win both games we will finish above Liverpool. If Liverpool win both you will finish above us. Of course both clubs have the distraction of the Champions League while Man Utd have the distraction of the Carling Cup.

PW: Insanely I think we could make 2nd. But we won't. Us 3rd and you 4th probably.

Which Liverpool player will you fear the most?

NM: Their best one of course - Steve Gerrard. Liverpool's strongest department is Arsenal's weakest at the moment. If he pushes forward unchallenged and gets in amongst Arsenal's defence, which may still be a bit makeshift and fragile, Lehmann's in for a busy night.

SM: The answer is obvious. Peter Crouch. Sorry couldn’t resist that. Of course, the player who is feared the most is Steven Gerrard. That amount of games he single handily influences is superb.

PM: I don't know a Gooner alive who wouldn't be unhappy if Steve Gerrard wasn't playing. Other than that, it's got to be Robbie.

You must be delighted Fowler is back where he belongs, what with his terrible scoring record against you lot?

NM: I'm pleased that he's got back to Liverpool. People seldom get a second chance in life, and you don't have to be a Liverpool fan to see what the move means to him. As for his scoring record, it's been a long time since he found the net against Arsenal - I think Mr Wenger will get a decent night's sleep before the game.

SM: It’s been years since Fowler last scored for Liverpool against us. Has he been injured ?

PW: Pleased for him, not pleased for us.

And your feelings on the new 'Spanish flavour' Liverpool. Senor 'Rafa' Benitez and our new latin recruits?

NM: Well, Spanish football is different. It's a bit slower, teams don't press as high up the field, you get a bit more time in your own half, so I don't think you could just uproot a decent Spanish side, rebadge them as Liverpool, and expect them to do as well in the Premiership. Benitez obviously brings in Spanish players because he knows La Liga well, and has a good scouting and contact network - but he picks players with the attributes to play Premiership football, not Spanish football. Wenger does the same with French players. Benitez is obviously an intelligent man, he's articulate and he handles players, media and fans very well.

PW: Can we have Xabi Alonso please? Benitez seems a successful manager, but a crushingly boring one.

A lot has been made of the new stadium and it’s costs, which from recent comments would appear to be funded by spiralling ticket prices. Overall, is the stadium a positive for the club?

NM: The Emirates Stadium is the only way for the club to progress. Wenger has taken the club as far as he can on present resources. He's pulled off one miracle after another, keeping up with Man United on a fraction of their budget. Ticket prices are a thorny issue, but it's not what you could call spiralling. The club has honoured it's pledge that season ticket holders will pay the same price next season in the new stadium as they have this season at Highbury. That said, Arsenal charge more than most, but you're paying to watch a side that has finished first or second for the past eight years, and has reached six Cup Finals in the same period. Part of that ticket price is supply and demand, and soon there's going to be more supply. Whether there's still going to be more demand than supply - that's the gamble. But as I've suggested, the other option is to do nothing, just sit tight and watch other clubs overtake us.

PW: Of course it is, it looks beautiful and sorry as I'll be to see Highbury turned into flats, I won't miss row 27 of the East Lower! It's time to move on and I think everyone accepts that. I'm reasonably sure that had we not moved ticket prices would have become stratospheric anyway.

How do you view Arsenal’s financial situation as a whole?

NM: It's strong. Arsenal have a strong Board. The core shareholding has been consistent for generations. The Board has a strong relationship with the manager, everybody understands where we are, where we're going, and how we're going to get there. None of the calculations on funding of the ground have been made on a Leeds-esque "Provided we qualify for the Champions League year on year, we'll probably be OK, fingers crossed" strategy. Sometimes it seems the biggest problem is persuading the Boss to spend his transfer budget!

PW: Quite healthy at present, the January transfer window was interesting as it seemed there wasn't much money to spend yet Arsene got three players in. The optimist in me says that as long as we can keep up with things on the pitch, things will only improve off the pitch.

The match is on Valentine’s Day – Dinner with the missus or watching the match?

NM: Oh, dinner with the missus, no question. One sacrifice now or a year of them to follow. Easy maths!

SM: Depends on who’s missus it is…

PW: Hopefully both! It's under discussion, let's put it that way..

And finally, care to embarrass yourself with a prediction? Go on, no-one ever gets it right anyway…

NM: 1-1 Fowler and Henry! Bet your house on it, absolute cert!


SM: I’ll take a 2-1 win for Arsenal, a dodgy sending off, Henry penalty, classic Ljungberg goal and going the rest of the season unbeaten.

PW: 2-1 Arsenal.
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Some decent answers from the Arsenal lads, hopefully we’ll do our talking on the pitch.

© -HH- 2006

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