The way I see it - Arsenal v Sheffield United

Last updated : 18 February 2005 By Jason Hogan

But although I have always been a cynic as far as the whole St Valentines Day thing goes and I had claimed to all my mates that I will treat the day just like any other and not do anything special I managed, come the crunch, not to let my cynicism get the better of me and after work I made a dash to the shops after work to grab a bottle of bubbly (the missus loves the stuff) thereby guaranteeing that any grief, if only for one night, will be kept to a minimum.

The trade off came when I was left in piece to focus in on the most important aspect of the night which was of course the Arsenal's game with Palace and though I didn't anticipate it prior to kick off, the game itself proved to be highly eventful.

Watching the first 20 minutes of that game gave me the impression that the Arsenal appeared to be more interested in scoring off the pitch after the game with their wives and girlfriends rather than on it as we continually gave the ball away cheaply and allowed Palace to take the initiative.

The first five minutes of the game were particularly bizarre in that we saw the best and the worst of Jens Lehmann. First, he makes an excellent double save to deny first Dougie Freedman and Andy Johnson and then moments later he was a matter of inches away from doing an Enckleman when he made an absolute hash of a backpass from Gael Clichy (deputising for the apparently flu ridden Ashley Cole) by letting the ball roll under his foot. Thankfully there wasn't a lot of weight behind Clichy's back pass and Lehmann managed to retrieve the ball before the ball crossed the line. Talk about sighs of relief all round!

However despite our sloppy opening 20 minutes, the one thing that stood out a mile for me was that Jose Antonio was looking very lively. Given the way that he ran at the Palace defence every chance he got, he certainly didn't look like a chap that had one eye on the Bernabeu that's for sure.

Indeed, when we did actually break the deadlock against Palace just over the half hour mark, it really wasn't that much of a surprise that Jose Antonio played a big part in setting up the Dutch Master for the first goal. That's how well he was playing and it was good to see.

Jose Antonio was definitely in the mood and there were two examples of what I mean that spring to my mind. Forget what the Neville brothers did to him at Old Trafford he got absolutely wiped out by a two footed challenge by Fitz Hall (how he wasn't at least booked for it I don't know by the way) but Jose literally bounced straight back up and carried on.

Then, in the second half, I remember Jose picking the ball up halfway inside his own half and making a 40 yard dash forward, leaving Wayne Routledge, who is no slouch, floundering in his wake. No mean feat that. And his goal (and Arsenal's second on the night)? Well, it was sheer quality, wasn't it?

Mind you, I meant what I said last week. If this boy really thinks deep down, that the grass will be greener for him in Madrid then the Arsenal board will need to make sure that we get back the money that we are committed (over the next few years) to pay for him - at the very least. The boy has potential, BIG potential and whilst I hope that it will not come down to us selling him, the fact is we cannot afford to sell of an asset like him on the cheap - to anyone.

How nice it would be to see Reyes show the same sort of unconditional passion that Dennis Bergkamp has shown in playing for the Arsenal over the next few years.

What more can I say about the man other than what I have said many times before? I still honestly have to pinch myself sometimes in order to come to terms with the fact that Dennis has been with the Arsenal for the thick end of 10 years - ten bloody wondrous years and he's still going strong.

I was talking to a mate of mine the other day. No, not Gazza this time, but Sanjay and he insisted that Bergkamp was given another year and then a thumping great testimonial in the new stadium. Sanjay never got any argument over that from me but as far as I know he hasn't been involved in a Champions League final and I would love to see him on duty for Arsenal in Istanbul if we mange to make it this year and have the chance of getting the complete set of European medals (he has already won a Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Cup medal). A man like him deserves a shot at achieving that.

Going back to Monday's game, it was funny how the press and the media typically chose not to place their emphasis on an excellent Arsenal performance but on the fact that Arsenal fielded a 16-man squad without one English or British player in sight - and boy, have they got themselves into a right two and eight about it.

Let's get one thing on record right now. I would like to see more English/British players in the Arsenal first team. I still believe that Wenger made a huge mistake in selling Upson at the start of 2003 and instead relying on Cygan as back up to Campbell and Keown because for one thing it cost us the title that year.

I believe that we should have signed Michael Carrick when we had the chance to earlier on this season as I have always rated him over ad above Joe Cole for example. And, contrary to the opinion of more than a few Gooners, I believe that Jermaine Pennant and Stuart Taylor should have been given a bigger chance to establish themselves at the Arsenal.

On the other hand I have seen the likes of ex-Arsenal youth team member Liam Chilvers (to say nothing of Paul Merson) coming out and having a pop at Arsene on the subject of giving the British boys a chance but the proof is actually in the pudding.

Chilvers is amongst many English players Arsene has let go over the years. James Harper, Steve Sidwell, Jason Crowe, Jay Bothroyd, Ben Chorley, Jerome Thomas and Rohan Ricketts are other examples. Out of that bunch only Thomas and Ricketts have gone on to play for other Premiership clubs but have either of them anywhere near the full England international set up as a result? No. Instead, both of them have not been able even to hold down regular first team places at either Charlton or Tottenham respectively.

The only English player that has actually left Arsenal and gone on not only to be play regularly in the Premiership but for the national side ironically enough is Upson. All I can say to that proves that whilst God (sorry, I meant Arsene) isn't altogether perfect in his judgement, can anybody show me a manager, who is?

What the critics also conveniently forget is that Wenger did make an attempt to bring a more English flavour to the team not so long ago by buying Richard Wright and Franny Jeffers. He didn't get them on the cheap either. Wright cost £6 million and Jeffers cost us £8 million. What happened? Neither really cut the mustard at Arsenal, did they?

Wright was offloaded to Everton only for Nigel Martyn to arrive five minutes later and take his place as their regular number one. Jeffers was also offloaded to Everton provisionally on loan but he hardly figured for them on a regular basis either.

But here's the really interesting bit. Alan Curbishley has been on Sky all day giving his tuppence worth on the whole subject claiming that home grown players are vital to a club like Charlton. Well, he bought Jeffers from us in the summer for just over £2.5 million.

Yet for someone who claims that English players are so vital to him, how comes Jeffers has yet to make half a dozen Premiership starts for Charlton? And why does he nominally prefer Shaun Bartlett, a South African, to Jeffers? And why for that matter has the likes of Jason Euell (an Englishman in spite of his international allegiance to Jamaica) spent most of the season kicking his heels at the Valley? Could it be perchance that Curbishley doesn't deem either of them good enough?

Yet, when it comes to hypocrites step forward Gordon Taylor. Now I know this guy has a reasonably fancy job title (PFA Chairman no less) and I understand that he earns the princely sum of £400, 000 a year for the privilege of having that title. Forgive me for being a little thick, my fellow Gooners, but can any of you enlighten me on what this guy actually does for the game in order to actually justify his hefty salary?

Taylor was one of the first people out of the traps and getting on to his high horse condemning Arsenal after Monday's game but wasn't this the same guy who not only defended but tried to justify the actions of Rio Ferdinand when he was clearly guilty of missing a drugs test? I'm sorry but, how this guy has suddenly earned the right to suddenly get all sanctimonious about what is and what isn't good for the English game after the Rio Ferdinand affair I don't know.

Taylor's answer to that would probably be to say that he was only trying to do his job protecting a high profile English player or words to that effect. But guess what, Taylor? Arsene is only trying to do his and when you live in a glass house the one thing that you don't do is go around throwing stones.

Taylor knows damn well where the real problem lies. It cost ManUre £30 million to take both Rooney and Ferdinand to United. Wenger never made any secret of the fact that he would have loved to buy both of those two but not at those prices. So, if you're in a position where you can't afford to pay top dollar for what is perceived to be top English talent reared at other English clubs, if you're in position where you have spent nearly £15 million on English talent (Wright and Jeffers) that never actually worked in our favour, what are Wenger and Arsenal supposed to do then?

Everybody knows that whilst the Premiership may be full of foreigners but the fact is that they invariably represent better value for money. We live in an environment where (as was the case with Pennant) it can cost millions just to get a decent English 15 or 16- year old kid on to the club's books. We live in an environment where a lot of English kids already have agents that are trying to wangle unrealistic salaries and fringe benefits out of clubs like us in order to get them on side. Whilst the British market remains saturated with overpaid and overvalued British players where is the incentive for shrewd operators like Wenger to invest in British talent?

At the end of the day all that matters to me is that the Arsenal are winning and achieving things. We may not have a huge flux of English players in our team right now. But then, can you show me another club in the Premiership that can say that they have fielded a 17-year old kid in their first playing for them in their midfield on anything approaching a regular basis?

Whether it's through necessity or otherwise, the fact is Arsene has proved that if a youngster is good enough he will get a chance in the first team - regardless of his nationality. At least we are not going around slapping down obscene amounts of money across the board for ready made players and therefore effectively barring the way completely for our youth to come through like a certain "club" I could mention. So on that basis, can any of you out there tell me who is really guilty of the bigger crime?

Any having vented my spleen for far too long on what is a no-brainer subject, it's time to look forward to Saturday's cup-tie with Sheffield United.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with what I saw of the Blades last weekend when they took on the Hammers for the right to play us. Despite being reduced to ten men effectively for an hour, they proved to more than a match for their opponents and I think that they thoroughly deserved to see off the Hammers long before it actually came down to penalties.

I was particularly impressed with their defenders. Leigh Bromby and Danny Cullip were outstanding and so was Chris Morgan before he got sent off. In midfield I like the look of Nick Montgomery and Phil Jagielka as a combination. They are both combative and they are both good athletes. Michael Tonge has also continued to look the part down the left hand side as well.

But the man we will probably have to watch is And Liddle. He is a cult hero up at Bramall Lane and it's no wonder given his exploits in the Cup this season. He scored the decisive strike to win the penalty shoot out against the Hammers and he also scored twice in the previous round to ensure that Villa were seen off as well.

Of the three ties we have played against Championship opposition this will be the toughest. Believe me, this lot are a good all round side who are genuinely capable of playing good football as well as putting their foot in.

Neil Warnock may not be everyone's cup of tea in the world of football but I rate him just like his team. He's the kind of guy I like in that he is a straight talker and unlike many managers, he talks a bit of sense.

I wish his team all the best in their quest for a place in the Premiership because I think that they have the potential to get up and stay up in the Premiership. However I think that there's little doubt that our need to win this tie is greater than theirs. And it's vital that our performance on Saturday reflects that.