In this column recently I wrote about Arsenal lacking a leader — a player in the mould of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Emannuel Petit or Patrick Vieira.
Nothing that I have seen in the last week has altered my view.
I love watching the Gunners and am a big admirer of Arsene Wenger.
What he has done for Arsenal, and indeed English football, is incredible.
He deserves immense praise for the type of football his team play. When they are on top of their game, I don’t think there is a better side to watch.
But I have to say that I was disappointed with some of Wenger’s comments after last weekend’s defeat to Stoke City.
In my predictions at the start of the season, I stated that newly promoted Stoke would surprise a few teams, especially at the Britannia Stadium.
Having played there, I know how difficult it is to go to that ground. The crowd can be very intimidating and the manager Tony Pulis is not afraid to tell his players, who are all big guys, to get stuck in. He’s done it everywhere he has been and I would say good luck to him.
Football is physical and if Stoke use that element of the game to their advantage, surely it is up to the other sides, be it Arsenal or anyone else, to match it.
Wenger suggested that some of the Stoke players set out to deliberately hurt his Arsenal players, but I would be astonished if that were the case. The Stoke players were making lots of tackles and hustling Arsenal for all that they were worth, but not for one minute do I believe that they went out to hurt the opposition.
When Arsene Wenger criticised Stoke’s tactics, Pulis was quite right to come out and defend his team. I was glad to see that.
Stoke have to get results to stay in the Premier League – I believe they will achieve that aim – and if the best way to get them is by making tackles, being physical and using Rory Delap’s long throw then of course they have to do that. All this from Arsenal sounds like sour grapes. I’m sure Arsenal fans would prefer their team to be looking forward rather than back, especially with a game against Manchester United on the horizon.
Back to the subject of leaders and Arsenal are going to have to find some for tomorrow’s match at the Emirates.
Cesc Fabregas is the heartbeat of the team but I don’t believe he’s a natural leader in the mould of, say, Tony Adams. Don’t forget Fabregas is still a very young man. It’s the same for a player like Theo Walcott. He’s a quality performer, but he can’t be expected to lead the team.
That should be someone experienced. William Gallas is the current skipper and it is his job, but any time I see Arsenal concede a goal, he seems to be having a pop at other defenders, which I’m not sure is helping.
The match with United is massive for Arsenal. It’s a fixture that in the past has created many memorable moments and I’m sure there will be a few more on Saturday.
And I imagine there will be a few tackles – from both sides!
Celtic may have final say
Celtic once again proved how good they are at Parkhead on a European night against Manchester United in midweek.
At Old Trafford a couple of weeks previously, United had cruised to a victory against Gordon Strachan’s men, but on home turf Celtic were a different proposition.
A completely different proposition. It took United until late on to break them down through Ryan Giggs after Scott McDonald had scored a superb goal for the Bhoys.
For long periods in the match, it was hard to see any way through for United because Celtic were so determined to keep them at bay.
Before and after the match Strachan was very gracious saying United were a million miles in front of his team in technique.
But as Northern Ireland showed when we played England and Spain, who are far better technically than us, if you have pride, passion, belief and every player has a willingness to do his job anything can be achieved.
The draw with United should hold Celtic in good stead for the rest of the season, as they have shown they can mix it with the best. And in Europe it is just what they needed.
Celtic can still qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, though it is more likely that they will end up in the UEFA Cup by finishing third in the group. To do that they will have to finally win away from home in the Champions League against Aalborg.
Given what they did against United, I fancy Celtic to do the business in their next game.
It’s been a long wait and it has to end some time.
That victory on the road would assure them of a spot in the UEFA Cup at least and although that competition is stronger than it has been in recent years with AC Milan in there, Celtic would fancy themselves to reach the final.
They did it under Martin O’Neill a few years ago and if the draw was kind to them, I believe they could go all the way and make the decider.
Remember Rangers did it last season against all the odds when lots of people were having a go at Scottish football.
So, maybe it could be Celtic’s turn in 2009.
I was glad to get back on the goalscoring trail in midweek.
While many of you were watching Celtic take on Manchester United on Wednesday night in the Champions League, I was playing in a reserve game for Sunderland against Bolton Wanderers at Leyland in the north of England.
I was delighted to be out there getting 90 minutes under my belt. The venue may not have been the most glamorous location, but the pitch was decent and I enjoyed playing in a match with a lot of eager and hungry young lads who are hoping to become stars of the future.
And it was made all the more pleasing because I scored the only goal of the game late on.
A young substitute, Jordan Cook, delivered a fine cross and I was there to dink it over the goalkeeper.
Any goal is a good one and I was happy with the finish.
There is healthy competition for places in Roy Keane’s (pictured) squad and I have to show patience. Some people may say it was only a reserve game, but no matter where, when or who you score against it is a boost for your confidence.
Playing the full game was also good for my fitness.