Weekend Preview: Stan the Man, the AGM, and Hammering the Hammers

Feels like ages since I last wrote. There's been some action in the interim to address, both on and off the pitch, so let's get down to it, shall we? Ladies, I promise I love foreplay, just not in my blogs.

Arsenal were in midweek European action this week, visiting AZ Alkmaar, the defending champions of the Dutch Eredivisie. I think we all, I don't know if expected is the right word, but expected a win away. It's not so long a trip as to tire out the players (like going to Kiev or something), and you're less likely to have a player get shanked by an opposing supporter (like you might in Greece, or Rome, or at West Ham). And due to the financial state of the world, the best players in Holland don't stay in Holland but go elsewhere to ply their trade for more money. Not something they can be blamed for. But it's likely that we'll never see something like the great teams that Ajax used to put together with great regularity. And for this reason, I think many of us devalue the Eredivisie as a lower-tier league.

Alkmaar didn't play like that. That's not to say they set the pitch aflame with scintillating football. Buthe pace of the match was very plodding and slow, and I think Arsenal allowed AZ to dictate that pace, which negatively affected our usually effective game of passing and movement. We struck first, a goal set up by some nice attacking play. I really just remembered shouting "SHOOOOOOT!" when van Persie got the ball in the area, before he deftly passed across the box to Cesc coming in from the right to finish crisply. 1-0, and it looked as though we'd walk away with the points without breaking too much of a sweat.

Indeed, most of the players never left second gear, not that they were pushed to. Still it was upsetting to see Arsenal allow a match to fall to sunday-league pace and to go right with it. Which is why it was somewhat unsurprising in the end that Arsenal allowed an equalizer in injury time. There were loads of chances that went begging, and Alkmaar weren't helpless out there, putting together some tasty bits of play several times throughout the match. In the second half, Vito was left exposed at the back far too often, which should never happen to a keeper, but especially not to an inexperienced goaltender like Mannone, talented though he may be. Vito did make some special saves over the match, and really seems to be growing into the role, although I may be biased because I love singing his songs.

If anything, the equalizer was inevitable, given Arsenal's overall play not living up to its high standard, and with the run of play decidedly going Alkmaar's way, although things might have been different had a fairly obvious penalty been given when substitute Carlos Vela was brought down in the box. I don't know if referees in Europe will be giving Arsenal a hard time in these situations due to the flap over Eduardo, but the ref certainly missed this decision, and he was well-placed to see it. It wasn't long after that when Alkmaar went level, another goal let in by Arsenal off of a penalty, and that late on, two points surely dropped. I think the famous philosopher Thomas Vermaelen said it best: "It feels like a defeat." Smart man, and the best footballer since Socrates.

After a few days thinking on it, I can't complain too much. The point was as much as the performance deserved, Arsenal still lead the group, and need just three points in their next three group stage matches to qualify for the knock-out rounds, which looks assured right now.

Arsenal's Annual General Meeting, or AGM, was held this week as well, on Arsene Wenger's 60th birthday. First off, congratulations to the manager for lasting so long on earth, and many happy returns. As for the AGM itself, it was a much, much calmer affair than the last, which was marred by upset supporters publicly calling out the manager on the squad he had assembled, one of them calling Sylvestre "geriatric." Whether the man was right (he was) or not wasn't at issue, but the seeming lack of respect that AW felt, coming on the back of defeats in the FA Cup and Champions League semi-finals, may have spurred on the jackals from Real Madrid to come sniffing around. Wenger, being a man of integrity, told them where to go, and has since seen the team play some fantastic football, and barring the two defeats in Manchester (jobbed by the referee against United and to a degree in the City match as well), looking like worldbeaters.

The bigger interest was in the happenings off the pitch, as American Stan Kroenke has been hoovering up shares in the club, coming very close to the 29.9% threshold that would force him to make an offer for the entire club. Kroenke remained silent when asked about his intentions, as chairman Peter Hill-Wood stepped in, saying, "I don't think we are looking for a change in custodian. I think you will find the club is in pretty good hands... I believe he [Stan] is happy to be a long-term shareholder in our club. Really its not for me to say what his intentions are." I'll reserve judgment on the issue until something actually happens; we've seen what has happened in Manchester United and Liverpool, with American owners miring the clubs in massive amounts of debt. I will say that I'm pleased Stan is aligned with the Board, and it's encouraging that he does come over to watch the club, despite his obligations in the states.

Now I wouldn't dream of doing a Weekend Preview without a Celebrity Pick 'Em. So, through my vast influence in the football world, I was able to set up an interview with Spurs legend, David Ginola. He was about to make his picks when I accidentally kicked him in the balls and laughed. I must've tripped or something. Anyway, for some reason he didn't want to continue the interview. After going through possible replacements that included Matt Damon, Hutch from Starsky and Hutch, and the ghost of Richard Nixon, I was able to convince a true Gooner celebrity, Nevada Smiths legend Stepháne Montas, to help us out with his picks of this weekend's action. Big man, WHADDYA GOT?!

Here's how I see the matches from my, non-expert, Arsenal-lovin' POV:

Wolves v Aston Villa -- 1-3 for Villa. If Villa can't beat Wolves, they don't have a prayer of breaking into the top 4. Oh yeah, and another thing -- Wolves, at home, gifted Pompey their ONLY points of the season. 'Nuff said.

Birmingham v Sunderland -- 0-2 for Sunderland. They beat Wolves 5-2, and Birmingham deserve to lose for their poxy fans singing for Martin Taylor. Cunts. If they weren't at home, and if Kenwyne Jones were a definite to play, it'd be 4-0. But they'll park the bus in the box as usual.

Burnley v Wigan -- 2-1 for Burnley. This one could go either way. But Burnley are plucky and Wigan aren't stellar away from home.

Hull City v Portsmouth -- 0-0 -- snoozefest. They both suck ass. Of course, it could also be an extremely nervous affair as both teams actually try to attack. It'll be hilariously bad -- like 6-4 to Hull. More likely is 0-0, since both teams will be careful.

Tottenham v Stoke City -- 0-3 to Stoke, as an incredible performance by TP's men coincides with an abysmal Sp*rz outing reminiscent of their usual late season stinkfests. An early treat to bring St. Totteringham's Day that much closer.

Chelsea v Blackburn -- 2-2 with the Blue Poo looking the better team, but Blackburn's grit and luck bringing them a point.

Bolton v Everton -- 2-1 to Bolton. With nothing but 3 points separating the two, and with both having poor goal differentials, home advantage pays off for Bolton.

Liverpool v Man Utd -- 2-2 with 3 red cards, 9 yellows and over a half dozen fairly serious injuries. Uniturd ties it up in the final minutes after trailing 'Poo the entire match. Oh, yes. Just like that.

Man City v Fulham -- 2-1 to Shitteh. Unfortunate, but in the cards due to the home advantage. Shitteh's mercenaries will carry the day. If Toure and Ade play, it will be 3-1 and a more comfortable win

Many thanks for bailing me out today, S. And I reeeeeally hope that Scousers v ManUre match plays out exactly like that. Unfortunately, Stephane will have a rare off-day from Nevadas on Sunday, which means the rest of us need to step up our game that much more to make up for it. I expect every Gooner in attendance to think up one original song in the shower on Sunday morning.

Now it comes down to it, our first London Derby this season, as the Arsenal visit the confines of Upton Peniten--Park. Upton Park.

I should warn you all, however, that at this point in the blog, I've been drinking pretty heavily for several hours, so if things get a little silly, just play along, all right? Okay. We travel to West Ham this weekend, and purely based on form, we should have no problems, should we? Yeah, I didn't think so either. See, a London Derby tends to bring out the best in the players, or the worst. And West Ham supporters have seen a fair bit of the worst this season. This was a team that I, in my infinite wisdom, predicted to finish in the top half this season, and while this has not been mathematically eliminated yet, it's about as likely as Tottenham winning the league, isn't it?

The Hammers lost to us in this fixture last season, and I would be foolish to say that this season's version of the Hammers are as good as last season's, or that this season's Arsenal team is no better than last season's. However, this is a London Derby. All of the normal rules go right out the window.

That's not to say that Arsenal aren't the favorites; obviously they are. But I'm throwing both team's records out the window. Because I'm kinda drunk. We've all seen upsets, and anyone who's seen Arsenal knows that we can leak goals, particlarly on set pieces. And West Ham have personnel to score from those same set pieces, particularly Carlton Cole, who has had a fine season as a striker for a team that's had a difficult time scoring. Meanwhile, Arsenal have had little trouble scoring. Also, my friend Matt says West Ham is for fags. West Ham 1-3 Arsenal.

So I'm left guessing for myself. I won't insult the Hammers by predicting their inevitable demeeeeeeese. But then again I will. Because as any self-respecting historian will tell you, the Iron Age ended 1,300 years ago. Therefore the Arsenal will win 3-1. Arsenal have every reason to win this match and challlenge for every trophy they are up for.

So that's all I've got, Gooner and Goonerish. KEEP THE FAITH! I'll see you there on Sunday, so BRING YOUR SHOUTING VOICES. Let's make up for every missed opportunity. UP THE ARSENAL and COME ON YOU REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDDDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!

- B, a Gooner.