Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confidence from an Arsenal fan - on transfer deadline day!

So its just 3 days since the worst result Arsenal had in 115 years, but with the transfer window about to close and apparent relentless activity from Arsenal, I remain confident.

The Man Utd result was a severe shock and marks an all time low point, but I see only positives coming out of that.

First of all, there is nowhere to go but up, but aside from that, with a bunch of new signings and top players coming back, I believe this season is wide open.

Yes, both Manchester teams look extremely strong, but we are only 3 games into the season and a lot can happen.

By my reckoning, Arsenal are only 3 point off the pace. A draw at Newcastle is a fair result, a loss at Old Trafford is probably par for the course anyway, and only the defeat at home to Liverpool was really against the grain ... in my book, we have to look to take 3 points from every home game.

So we (Arsenal) are a little off the pace, but we have Song, Sagna, Gibbs, Vermalen, Gervinho and Frimpong all to come back and the new strong signings (looking like Mertesacker, Benayoun, Santos, Park and Arteta as I write just prior to the transfer window closing) all make for a totally different team to the one that resembled a non-league team that got demolished on the weekend.

Maybe that colossal defeat will prove to have been for the club. I remain an avid support of Wenger and think he has been treated unfairly. He has done his job well and was handicapped when David Dean left. He always talked positively about the budget he had to spend, but I'm not really sure he had it. I think the current board was scared to spend and believed too much in Wenger's ability to keep buying and developing new talent (which is a remarkable skill). However, I think the embarrassment at Old Trafford has woken up the powers that be and it seems that Wenger has finally been allowed to raid the sweet shop. It may be late, but nit too late. The signings we are hearing about are quality and in the positions we need. The next time Arsenal take to the pitch (at home against Swansea thankfully) I think we will see a rejuvenated team that is back in contention. The goals will flow and the points will follow. Arsenal will be back quickly and strongly and shall be competing for all four competitions again.

Remember, you heard it here first. I may be an eternal optimist, but it's definitely better that than crying very night.

Come on Wenger ... Come on Arsenal!



Monday, August 29, 2011

Farewell Jay, Neil, Simon and Will (and Will's mum)!



It's been a hilarious 3 years.

Ever since I first saw an episode of The Inbetweeners on a Cathay Pacific flight (episode 6 of series 1) I became a huge fan. The characters were instant classics and their simple setting within a school and suburban London and the very down to earth style of British TV, it made this "situation" so very believable. The 3 series have been amazing and I've been able to watch them over and over and not get tired.

Through 18 episodes, from Will's "Bumder" speech to his dodgy stomach "moment" in the exam room. From Simon's dip in the sea on the school trip to his vomitting on Carly's brother. From Neil's one piece tuxedo at the school prom to his uncontrollable bladder during the boys trip to Warwick. And Jay ... what can you say about Jay's moments? The fantasy world he lives in and his classic vocabulary gave him moments in every single episode, all of which will keep him remembered for sure.

Along with the parents and Mr. Gilbert, watching the entire journey through the boys’ sixth form years has been a delight.

So what was in store for the finale? In a word, Hilarity!

It would have been so easy for the team and the writers to "cash in" on the success of the series with a movie and go for a big screen theme and "experiment" with new ideas and grander ventures, but it was delightful to see that they all stayed true to their experience and made the big screen movie just a long version of a TV episode (albeit on location), but even then, the location was perfectly selected to stay in keeping with the feel of the series ... traditional “English” Magalouf!

The boys continued their antics  as the "Pussay Patrol" go on boys holiday and as expected, there were classic moments throughout the film. Although many of these so predictable as the story line sets them up, they are nevertheless executed excellently. There are embarrassing moments, hilarious moments, painful moments and (it wouldn't be Inbetweeners is there weren't any) gross out moments (note how Neil uses the "kids loo")!

I have loved the settings and the characters and the story lines of each and every episode, so as much as I hate to admit it, I think this is a good, appropriate and timely ending to The Inbetweeners. I'd love for it to go on for years to come, but it's better to bow out from the top with some excellent memories, and that’s where they are.

So I want to say a big thank you and good luck to the entire team for their futures.

Jay, Neil, Simon and Will (and Will's mum), we will miss you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hope for a new season (?)

Coming back from The Emirates last night, there was a distinct lack of optimism and enthusiasm in the air. Part of me understands why, but another part, the ever-hopeful part, doesn’t. We won our game and kept a clean sheet … given our most recent history, that’s improvement!


So we accept the latter part of last season was nothing short of a disaster. The fans, the players and the manager accept that, but now we have a new season … where is the fresh hope?

Yes we have lost our captain to Barcelona, but this was on the cards all of last season anyway, and I for one will not mourn his departure. We need to live beyond one player, and I believe that the team have the strength to cover for him.

Part of that cover does fall in the arms of Samir Nasri, so his possible departure would perhaps be more costly than that of Cesc, but that is not a foregone conclusion yet.

There is all the talk of transfers from Arsene Wenger, and there is anger and frustration from the fan base that very little has transpired, but I accept the word of the manager and agree with his philosophy that there is no point to buy anyone if they don’t improve the team or squad … and there aren’t dozens of players out there who are available and who are needed by Arsenal. Yes there are talks of bids for strong center backs, and if these haven’t happened, it is not necessarily because Wenger doesn’t have the desire or the money as I don’t believe it is that simple to just snap quality players up (the Cesc Fabregas saga took more than 2 years after all!).

Wenger has said he still hopes to keep Nasri. The option of letting him play out his contract may seem financially reckless, but the cost of not having could be greater if the team don’t perform, and is there a difference in losing potential revenue on selling Nasri compared to buying a new player of his quality? I would say no, and the risk of potentially losing him for nothing next year is a risk worth taking. I am sure this is being discussed behind closed doors, and it is premature for our supporters to be slating one of our best players!

There is a danger that all the negativity currently surrounding the team is in danger of becoming self – fulfilling. The fans need to get behind the team and push them on, especially at difficult times.

Last nights game against Udinese wasn’t a disaster by any means. After all, we did win, and a single goal in the return fixture will almost certainly secure passage to the Champions League group stages.


The opening 5 minutes were superb and the goal contradicted everything that has been wrong with us till now. A break down the wing and a placed cross by Ramsey found Walcott at the near post to tap it in, and Gervinho following close behind as back up in case he missed!

But then what happened? A few more breaks down the wing, and there was no more support down the middle. Aresenal again overplayed the ball in the opponents final third, and at least 3 times that I counted, when there was no way through, we played the ball all the way back to our own goalkeeper! There was only one close chance for Arsenal for the rest of the game, and that was in injury time of the second half.

We were missing (Nasri of course), Van Persie and Wilshere. So while our play was reasonably smooth, this lack of attacking flair can easily be solved by the latter two returning to first team duty, and a return of form for Andrey Arshavin would be more than enough to compensate our lack of penetration.

I take away positives from the defence as well. 180 minutes and no goals conceded with Vermaelen back and a solid display Szczesny in goal give us more hope at the back than we have had for a long time.

Gervinho was impressive up front against Udinese. He showed some speed and strength and skill. With better support from absent players, he will do well.

Rosicky and Ramsey played with confidence and flair, but again could do better with the presence of our lacking world class stars, so there are definite positives to be had.

Its going to be a difficult year, and we have to give our team a chance, so for all the Gooners out there, lay off the team for a while and let them know we are behind them … I believe they can yet surprise everyone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

24 hours in Shanghai

It was an interesting 24 hour stop over in Shanghai.


A modern city and impressive by it's growth, and the old and new architecture along the Bund give the place some interesting character, but despite the 23 million (or so) population, in my opinion the city seems to lack the buzz of many other "capitals".


I have passed through Shanghai a few times en route to other places on North China, but this was the first time I had a chance to stop and take a proper look.

I stayed in a very impressive Ritz Carlton which is attached to the new IFC shopping mall. All the top global boutiques are there (as you would expect), and none showing any sign of a recession or "slowdown".

Indeed it also hosts a very impressive Apple Store and walking in there, it was clear to see why Apple credits their latest (and future) success on the Chinese market.


My day of arrival was warm and humid and I planned a stroll around the next day ... which was a downpour!



I had to take cover in a nearby mall, and it was an experience to see the crowds swarming in there. Not dissimilar to a busy train station, or indeed The Emirates stadium on a Saturday afternoon!


The town and the shops and the restaurants were all busy, but they lacked a certain buzz that you can tangibly feel in cities like London or Hong Kong for example.

I had a late drink at the rooftop bar of my hotel. A stunning view, and a stunning venue. For me it was accompanied by a nice Macallen, but it was a clear example of buzzlessness (compared to Sirocco in Bangkok for example).


  
I left early the next morning and will no doubt be back again. I look forward to see how things develop there ... Which I have no doubt they will.


Monday, August 1, 2011

A thorough disappointment!

What a disaster!

After a week in China and good behavior toward my food, I was looking forward to a "farewell" dinner in Hong Kong of a sumptuous hamburger that I had been craving for my entire trip.

I had put up with some scary food during my trip (I tried black eggs for the first time), but the last meal selection was 100% in my hands.

After staying in my favorite LKF hotel (http://www.sunilsworld.com/2010/08/lkf-hotel-not-all-its-cracked-up-to-be.html), I tried to book a table at Gold ... A tried and tested and most excellent restaurant. International cuisine and a superb Malbec, but they were full! It was Friday night and I should have planned better.

Instead, I ended up in the Opus Grill (2 floors further up). I should have realized there was a reason it was the only place that had tables available!

I got the menu and went directly to the main courses and this rather expensive grill restaurant did indeed have a hamburger as a featured dish, so my selection was made in 3 seconds.

I did find a nice Malbec as well which I ordered in anticipation to wash down this gorgeous juicy gourmet hamburger I had been dreaming of.

So the order went and the food arrived, satisfyingly quickly ... but that is the only thing that was satisfying about it.

First of all, it was served between 2 slices of toast! Now I'm an open minded guy and am ready, in most cases, to try new things... but a burger in-between 2 slices of toast? That's just not cricket!

Second was its thickness. This thing was a huge patty. Had it been delicious, that would have been a dream come true, but I had to eat this with a knife and fork (and in my book, that's no way to eat a hamburger). But even worse, as I cut it, it was firm. Not soft and juicy like a good burger should be. This was firm. Not quite like a steak, but it's density and texture lay somewhere in no mans land. This was heading towards a disaster.

So finally I took a bite, and it couldn't even pass the "not bad" test. This was a thorough disappointment. I know my expectations had been high and I had been hankering for a perfect burger. Any restaurant was going to have to excel to satisfy me, but this one totally let me down.

I ate half the burger as I needed something in my stomach (I had practically fasted all day), and feel awful as I write this that I wasted a consumption of mega calories and red meat on something so utterly bad! A good old trusty Big Mac would have been better. My taste buds would have been supremely satisfied and I would have known exactly what I was getting.

So the LKF has let me down again. Between the rooms you can't sleep in, the disastrous breakfast, the appalling Opus Grill, the Gold restaurant remains the one glimmering hope in this building.