Happy New Years Eve eve, one and all. I hope you had an enjoyable, footfall-filled Christmas. Personally I hate Christmas – maybe because it’s also my birthday and I’m resentful over the years of neglect, maybe I’m a bitter old bastard, maybe because I have to spend it in Guernsey every year, maybe I’m an anti-establishment hipster with luscious facial hair; or maybe all of the above?
It’s been a fruitful period for the Gunners, with a fraught victory over QPR on Boxing Day, which in true-Arsenal fashion was far less comfortable than it should have been; followed by a crucial win at Upton Park. I thought we played really vibrant, attacking football in the second half and if it weren’t for our profligacy in-front of goal, it would have been a rout. As it were, we defended resolutely having conceded early in the second half, with Koscielny reminding us, if we needed it, what a better side we are with him in it. Props to Szczesny, who was outstanding under the highball and relieved a lot of pressure from our defenders. A quick word on the Liverpool game, which was pretty dire. I went up to Anfield, which is truly a godforsaken place and we stunk it out. Chamberlain clearly wasn’t fit and it just wasn’t happening for our dangermen. Despite the disappointment of the late, but inevitable equaliser, I was happy with the point given how poorly we played. As an aside, I was completely underwhelmed by Anfield and the famous ‘roar’, which was a whimper at best. Bloody turncoats.
Anyway, onto the review of the calendar year, which has seen significant highs, tempered by some sickening lows. Regardless, it has been an eventful year at N5, which we have attempted to précis into some bite-size, delicious categories.
Player of 2014
Shortlist: Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey
Santi Cazorla:- The first half of 2014 was, on the whole, pretty underwhelming from our Spanish midget-maestro however he has proved to be a man for the big occasion. A belter in the FA Cup against Sp*rs in January and scoring in the shoot-out in the semi-final against Wigan pays testament to this. However his goal in the FA Cup final was a thing of beauty – a belting free-kick from 30 yards out under serious pressure. The timing of the goal was crucial towards the end of the half, giving us a platform to build on in the 2nd half and turning the momentum in our favour. Given the drama of Ramsey’s late winner, I think this goal has received a scandalous lack of attention.
His form had been patchy in the inaugural stages of this season, however his form has sky rocketed in recent weeks as he seems to have replaced his concrete sandals with shooting boots. He adds calmness to us in possession with his metronomic passing and, at times, mesmerizing close control. He’s a joy to watch and pound-for-pound, he must go down as one of Wenger’s best signing in the post-Highbury years, having cost only £15m.
Alexis Sanchez:- What a beautiful little man. Those abs. Those thighs. That hair. That winning smile. Arsenal may not be the best football side in the Premier League, but in terms of man-candy they’re title challengers. Whilst Alexis only joined the club from the 2014/15 season, his impact has been such that I couldn’t discount him from this category. He really has been magnificent since he joined the club and is truly the archetypal player people would pay to watch. Whilst his skill, dribbling and close control has wowed us, it is his dogged determination and attitude that has made him an instant fan favourite. He’s far and away our top scorer this season and has bailed us out countless times in games that we were stuttering through. Some of his goals have been sublime, with the volley against Citeh the standout.
Aaron Ramsey:- Oft endearingly referred to as Welsh Jesus, Ramsey made a meteoric rise in the 2013/14 season. Having gone from the whipping boy of the Emirates crowd to one of the most complete midfielders in the league, Rambo is not only an integral cog in the engine room of the team, but is critical to how Arsenal play. His strengths make those around him better – Mikel Arteta’s physical constraints are abetted by Ramsey’s superhuman stamina and willingness to cover ground, for instance. Clearly it has been his happy knack for finding the net, often in spectacular fashion, that has seen him grab the headlines; but his all-round game has improved immeasurably. He missed a chunk of early 2014 through an injury to his arse, but returned with the goal-scoring knack in-tact with goals against Hull away and a stunner against Norwich on the final day of the season; but he saved his best for last. His winner in the FA Cup final was first and foremost, a stunning finish under any circumstances, but the meteoritic impact of the goal was even greater. He has had a disappointing start to this season, which has been disrupted by injury but there are signs of a return to form with a goal away at Stoke and an absolute thundercunt against Galatassaray, which is genuinely one of the best goals I’ve ever seen scored by an Arsenal player.
Winner:- Aaron Ramsey
Young player of 2014 – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The past 24 months or so have seen a divergence from the failed project youth to a team comprised of men with chest hair and everything. Therefore the role of youngsters has become less salient than in previous years. Nonetheless the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Woyciech Szczesny and more recently Calum Chambers have become important members of the squad.
The standout player for me however has been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been the success story of the 2014/15 season so far (aside from Alexis of course). A goal in the FA Cup quarter final in February outlined his appetite for the big occasion, followed up by the equaliser in this season’s North London Derby. He still has a habit of running down blind-alleys, but his end product is improving steadily and he’s a genuine threat on the flank with a mix of pace, physical power and skill. Whilst our dear leader continues to profess he sees the Ox in a more central role, I’d be happy to see him continue on the flanks where he can get one-on-one with fullbacks and do damage.
Most disappointing player of 2014 – Mathieu Flamini
Disappointing may be the wrong phrase from the off, as balls out of the bath on this one, I thought it was a mistake signing him and nothing that has happened since has changed that view. In Londoner terms, he’s pony. In the real world, he’s shit on a stick. Whilst the wider world has twigged onto his flaws after Gary Neville tore into him, I have been banging the anti-Flamini drum since he rejoined us. His passing is solid, if a little rudimental, but it’s his lack of defensive nous and intelligence that hacks me off the most. He leaves more holes behind him than a fat bloke walking out of one of the Khao San Road’s finest establishments, whilst pointing and shouting like me outside Smithfield Market after a few lager beers in Fabric. Clearly an upgrade is needed.
Game of 2014 – FA Cup Final vs. Hull
This one is clear-cut. It’s the game of the decade for Arsenal, in what was the most-Arsenalistic game you could imagine, pulling it back from the precipice having initially been undone by defensive shithousery. The joy and elation at the full-time whistle was unparalleled for me as a fan of the club. Whilst I loved the wins of the early 00’s and late 90’s, winning was more regular then. After a decade of nothing and years of stasis, this felt like a turning-point and a platform for us to build from (it wasn’t and it hasn’t been, but more on that anon).
Worst game of 2014 – Chelsea away
Unlike the above category, there were plenty of contenders for this one. The mauling at Anfield, the 3-2 at Stoke, losing 3-0 at Everton. These are all excellent contenders for the crown of the worst game of the calendar year, but the 6-0 defeat away to Chelsea is the cream of this very pooey-crop. My outrage over this game is borne from the shocking tactical approach to it as much as anything else. The whopping at Anfield, whilst painful, could be painted as a one-off or outlier, but to not learn from that and set-up in the same way away to Chelsea beggared belief. To see Eto’o score their first goal with Gibbs and Sagna meandering in the opposition half was sickening and highlighted the manager’s inability to learn from previous mistakes. We offered nothing going forwards, were meek in midfield and pitiful in defence. To compound matters, I was forced to tolerate the Ox/Gibbs/Theo/Lewis Hamilton jokes on Twitter for a solid month or so. Cretins.
Moment of the year – Arsenal AGM
This was a tough one to pick. Honourable mentions must go to WELBZ’s attempted decapitation of Cesc Fabregas this season, which was a thing of sheer beauty. Keep up the good work Danny boy. Wenger signing a new contract was another significant, but less pleasing moment, but important nonetheless. Arsenal paying for Gazza’s treatment was a nice moment and highlighted the positive role football clubs can have – plus it made Sp*rs look like a bunch of tight-fisted nonces for trying to charge a club legend for a ticket. The retirement of Thierry Henry was massively significant in that it put into sharp focus the club’s current standing in the game compared to in Titi’s heyday. Whilst the landscape has undoubtedly changed, it certainly made be long for yesteryear and the glorious days in the sun at Highbury (in my mind it was always sunny there).
The winner of this category however goes to the Arsenal AGM held this autumn. Generally, these are pretty turgid affairs with stock answers given by a bunch of crusty old Tories who really don’t want to be there. This year was no different, but it highlighted for all to see what is wrong at the club and what a cancer Stan Kroenke is on Arsenal Football Club. Whilst there was the usual skirting around questions that I have come to expect from these events, two comments were particularly concerning. The first came from the flamboyantly named Sir Chips Keswick, who when asked about the manger’s failure to bolster the defence adequately over the summer responded: “If Arsene has a plan we back it, if he doesn’t have a plan we keep quiet.” What a shocking indictment on the upper echelons of the club and an utter PR-disaster. To admit to having such a laissez-faire attitude is abhorrent and this issue is more pressing even than the failings of Wenger. Whilst we can (rightly) complain about Wenger’s many shortcomings, his poor approach to player fitness and conditioning, lack of in-game management, negligence in the transfer window and his stupid coat; it really is erroneous until the elephant in the room is addressed; and that is this owner does not give a rat’s arse. He is more than happy with seeing his share price increase and the status-quo retained. He does not share our hopes, ideals and dreams for Arsenal. Whilst Wenger is holding us back, in my view, there is no doubt in my mind that Kroenke is the true enemy of the club.
The second event at the AGM was the botched answer given regarding the £3m taken for ‘strategic advisory services’ by KSE LLC. Whilst fans of the toupee-wearing tight-arse could point to his ownership as following a long-established model and not extracting cash from the club, this revelation puts that theory to bed. Here we have an owner unwilling to invest his own dollar into the club, but is now taking it out. This is a dangerous precedent that has been set and I would suggest it won’t be the last time it happens. The likes of Phil Wall at the AST are far better informed on this than I am and he’s written at length on the subject.
I had initially titled this as ‘Hopes for 2015’, but really I have none. A top 4 finish? Fine. Getting battered by a European big-boy in the quarter-finals of the Champions League? Pffft. A cup-run would of course be great – it would be remiss to turn my nose up at it, given the jubilation it gave me just 6 months ago. However until there is a systemic change at the club, be that how the manager works or a change in manager, Arsenal will remain where we have been for several years, feeding off scraps from the top table. Maybe I’m spoilt, maybe I can’t remember the bad-times of the 80’s; but I won’t apologise for wanting more for Arsenal. I’m not convinced Wenger can give us more, but I am certain Kroenke and his ilk cannot. Until there is the appetite for change from the very top, 2015 will likely form the hazy malaise that is the post-Highbury years under Wenger.
On that delightfully cheery note, all the best for 2015 and thanks for reading xx
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