The way I see it - Arsenal v Everton

Last updated : 04 May 2008 By Jason Hogan
A fair bit of water has gone under the bridge since the piece I did ahead of our ill fated encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Since then, our title hopes went at the Theatre of Cunts and believe me when I say that our defeat there was perhaps even more painful for me than the one we suffered at Anfield a few days earlier.

It was one thing to go to Anfield and largely hold our own only to ultimately get screwed by a referee that was servile to Liverpool's cause but it was another to see us go to Old Trafford and play ManUre off their own park for long periods and still lose.

But, when it came right down to it, the ManUre game summed up why we fell short once again in our pursuit of silverware in the last month or so. We developed a penchant for naïve defending and, whilst we still made enough chances up front to win games, we failed to take those chances at the right times. The really sad part was that all of this was compounded and made worse by a whole succession of rank bad refereeing decisions went against us at the wrong times.

I'm sure that I'm not the only Arsenal fan that has spent the last few weeks trying to put the season we have had into some sort of perspective and if I'm honest my feelings remain very mixed to this very day.

Let's get one thing straight though. I honestly cannot give a rat's arse that our poorer relations up the road happened to win the Carling Cup and as a result they have a trophy and we don't.

Why? Well, let's suppose that Arsenal DID win the Carling Cup this year but stood on the verge right now of finishing outside the top four in the league? Does anybody seriously think we wouldn't have come in for any less stick than we are getting now? I'll tell you all this for nothing - we would have probably got even more if anything.

True, the press and media wouldn't have been able to keep digging us out for not having won anything but they would have still slated us for being also-rans who didn't do this in the Premier League or that in the Champions League. They would have insinuated that we were a club that had been reduced to being competitive in the competitions the really big clubs treat with a casual contempt and drawn the conclusion that winning the Carling Cup papered over the cracks of a club that was really in decline.

Now I know there will be people who would accuse me of paranoia but the fact is Arsenal are damned whatever they do for years. For example, when The Untouchables went unbeaten in the league in 2004 there were many people in the press and the media who put that achievement down to the poor standard of the rest of the league that year.

What I'm driving at is that we may not have not have won a trophy but at least we have are guaranteed to finish a place higher in the league than we did last year and swapped places with a club like Liverpool who have spent fives times as much money as we have in the last two transfer windows alone dating back to last summer.

And of course we at least have a shot at qualifying as of right for next year's Champions League. We wouldn't be able to say that if we had won the Carling Cup and finished sixth. As I said earlier, we would have got stick for doing that. Can you then imagine what people would have said if we won the Carling Cup and finished top of the bottom half of the Premier League as Tottenham look likely to? Doesn't really bear thinking about for a club like ours, does it?

I'm not saying that I'm entirely happy though - far from it in fact. The defeat in the FA Cup by ManUre back in February was particularly humiliating and the way Arsene allowed his players to cheat and con the 9,000 Arsenal fans that went up there to cheer the team on that day was in my opinion unforgivable.

I said on this very website that the events that night left a particularly nasty taste in the mouth and the only way it was going to disappear was if we went on to win the league. As I know now, that taste is going to linger for a considerable while yet.

Whist the defeat in the cup at the Theatre of Cunts was perhaps the most humiliating result we have had this season, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was the events which unfolded at Birmingham in our league game there at the end of February that really turned our season upside down. I've seen some dark days as an Arsenal fan but what occurred at St Andrews that day will live with me until the day I die. I really mean that.

I will shamelessly admit that my blood still boils over what happened to Eduardo that day. I will always remember how Martin Taylor was held up as some kind of unfortunate hero in spite of the fact that he was responsible for the fact that a fellow professional may never ever get back to playing top flight football ever again.

And I will always remember the game itself as one that set a precedent for the kind of refereeing decisions that conspired against us on a regular basis from that point onward and played a part in us falling short of the glory that we all craved.

In spite of the fact that we are going to finish higher in the league than we have done since 2005 and we are going to be several points better off than we have been over the same period, the question now is what can be done to ensure that we do not fall short in the quest for silverware next season.

Our cause would be helped if we could keep the core of our current squad together. But there are definite signs that will not happen. I suspected long ago that Flamini would be moving on. When you have a player that is six months away from being a free agent and is constantly stalling on a deal that has been on the table for the best part of six months, then there is a sense of inevitability about him leaving and that is the case we have now with Flamini,

It wouldn't be much of a surprise if Alex Hleb moves on either in my opinion. The saga surrounding his cosy chat with representatives from Inter Milan over "an ice cream" had highly suspicious overtones to it in my view and though I have always liked the lad as a player, I have no time for players who engage in a bout of bluff and double bluff with my football club. So, if Inter or anyone else decides to actually put their money where their mouth is and put a decent bid on the table for him, I wouldn't be too sad to see him go.

I would also hazard a guess that both Gilberto and Lehmann will also be heading out of The Grove and to the continent in the summer for typically undisclosed fees but again I won't be too sad about that. Both men have been great servants to the club in their own ways and whilst their departures would leave us even shorter in terms of experience in the squad, the fact is that both men are at the stage in their careers where their best days as Arsenal players had come and gone some time ago.

On the face of it, assuming things pan out in the way I have mapped out, it means, certainly in the central midfield area at least, that a genuine window of opportunity will have opened up for the likes of Denilson, Song and Diaby to stake a claim for a regular staring spot alongside Fabregas.

Personally, I don't think any of them quite come up the mark. They are all decent players I grant you but if we as a club have serious intentions of trying to win the league tile again or indeed the Champions League in the foreseeable future, I don't think any of those guys are anywhere near good enough to help Arsenal do that.

With Hleb possibly on his way and with issues over the long term fitness and availability of Van Persie, Rosicky and of course, the stricken Eduardo festering away in the back of my mind, it's clear we are going to need extra bodies not only central midfield but in attacking areas too. And I haven't even talked about our defence yet!

The problem is, particularly if you read between the lines of what Arsene has been credited with saying recently, I get the strong impression that there will be more players going out of the club than actually coming in.

I hope I'm wrong of course but when you hear Wenger saying that we "cannot afford not to respect our wage structure" and that "we have to work with the resources we have" then it's hard to exactly envisage a whole host of exciting signings being made this summer.

Of course, the future is not mine to see as an Arsenal fan but all things considered and as things stand right now, we will be doing pretty well for ourselves if we are in the same position in the league we are in right now this time next year if you ask me.

Now it's time to look at our final league game at home this season where we will entertain Everton.

I have to say that I have been pretty impressed with the season Everton have had this year. For most of this season they have been in and around the top six and with Aston Villa rather surprisingly being beaten at home to Wigan on Saturday, the Toffees only need a point from their last two games to seal a 5th place finish and a place, as of right, in Europe.

I think the club has made their most significant stride forward in a while. True, David Moyes did lead the club to a 4th place finish a couple of years ago but I though they had overachieved then. In finishing fifth, as they should do this season, I don't think that now.

For a while now people have been talking about Tottenham being the side that will break up the so-called top four but along with Villa, I think that Everton are just as well equipped to have a crack at it as they are.

Indeed, it was hugely interesting to watch Everton slug it out with Villa last week at Goodison. For me, it was always going to be a far more intriguing game to watch than the Phoney Russian Franchise playing ManUre for example. And I wasn't at all disappointed.

I thought that a 2-2 draw was a fair result on the day and whilst Villa I thought generally played better than Everton over the piece, I thought Andy Gray was right (for once) in commentary when he said that Everton have developed a knack of invariably staying in games when they are not especially playing well.

It will be interesting to see what moves Moyes is allowed to make in the summer to bolster his squad. They seemed to be more settled as a group than we are that's for sure.

From the outside looking in, they may need an extra body in midfield. Lee Carsley is the only natural defensive midfielder they have though at a push I know Phil Neville could play that role. But with Carsley advancing in years maybe a young under study might be needed.

The Toffees may also need some a little more defensive cover too. I don't know entirely what has happened to Leighton Baines and Nuno Valente but it has been Lescott, a centre half really by trade, who has played most of their games at left back in recent times.

Getting back to Sunday's game, Everton's offensive threat will be considerably reduced with the likes of Arteta and in particular Tim Cahill being unavailable. But Yakubu has had more than his fair share of joy against us in the past and we will need to watch out for the likes of Yobo and in particular, Lescott at set pieces.

With the battle for fifth place firmly in their own hands, it will be interesting to see whether Moyes elects to play both Yakubu and Johnson up front together. I'm not sure he would have played them both from the start if Villa had won on Saturday but the Scot may feel that his side now have a shot to nothing at The Grove and on that basis he might say "What the heck, let's go for it".

I'm sure Moyes would love to gain some sort of revenge for the beating we gave them at Goodison just after Christmas. In all fairness, the 4-1 win we gained up there that day did not tell the true story of the game at all really.

So, if Arsenal want to round their home league campaign off on the right note, they are going to really have to put their best foot forward. Everton are no mugs and if we take this lot too lightly we could easily live to regret it.