Fàbregas Saves the Day.

January 31, 2011

Arsenal face Leyton Orient away in the fifth round after what turned out to be an unexpectedly exciting fourth round FA Cup tie against Huddersfield. I say turned out because for the first half hour Arsenal not only couldn’t move out of second gear into third they couldn’t even get out of first.

If the team win, the argument that the correct selection was made prevails, rightly so in my opinion and today was no exception. Wenger used the opportunity of playing lower league opposition to experiment: Nasri had his training wheels on, practicing the midfield play-maker role while trying on the armband for size; Diaby was given an opportunity to knock some of the rust off; Arshavin and Chamakh to restore confidence, Gibbs needs games, Bendtner to gain even more self belief by scoring more goals and Almunia to try and remind the Spanish footballing community that he is still alive and available for sale or loan.

With that amount of experimentation I doubt if too many expected grade A Wengerball, I certainly didn’t. Nevertheless Arsenal moved the ball around well enough creating a gilt edged chance after ten minutes for Arshavin who blasted over from six yards out. The next memorable opportunity occured just a few minutes later; the ball came across the box to the waiting Bendtner, it seemed to take for ever to get to him allowing us to wonder if he was going to carry on where he left off against Ipswich and produce yet another piece of Bergkampesque play and volley it home but alas, no, that was not the case, he completely missed it to the taunts of the Huddersfield fans. The thing that they would not have known is that when it comes to self belief our Nikki is head and shoulders above any other player they may care to name. It took only five more minutes for the next opportunity to arrive which he duly slid past the keeper and proceeded to taunt the Huddersfield fans himself by putting his finger to his lips in a gesture of who is quiet now.

What little urgency the game started with all but disappeared with the scoring of the goal; my mind started drifting to other more mundane things, I suspect the same happened with a few of our players because Huddersfield started creating some fairly good chances but as close as they came the alarm still didn’t ring and wake us into action. All this changed when Squillaci got himself sent off; suddenly the remaining players on the field seemed to take the view that the odds had been sufficiently evened out that it might now be a challenge worthy of their full attention and commitment.

Not happy to just reduce us to ten men the Gods of Football saw fit to try and even up the competition furthermore by having Nasri pull up with a torn hamstring which will probably keep him out for three weeks.

Arsenal held out until half time but there was little surprise that Huddersfield came out in the second half sensing they had a real opportunity and proceeded to throw everything they possibly could at us, getting their reward from a corner to make it one one.

Time for the biggest gun we have in our arsenal to be brought off the bench, the Spanish thirty six pounder was unfurled and proceeded to do what Fàbregas does best…add a world class dimension to the proceedings and win the game. And this is exactly what he did, stepping up to score what turned out to be the winning goal from a well taken penalty. Overall not pretty and not a game that will stay in the memory for too long but the Arsenal go marching on and I for one will settle for that.

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Player ratings:

Almunia: affectionately known as the Spanish Waiter was attentive, focused and available when needed but not overbearing, only dropped one plate but I think he can be excused for that. 7

Eboue: the best thing this Ivorian does is give Sagna a rest. 6

Squillaci: school boy error, totally unnecessary sending off. 5

Koscielny: we should not forget that he is playing out of position, he is a right sided CB and is only filling in on the left due to Vermaelen’s injury; with that in mind, I think he is doing even better than he is getting credit for. 7.5

Gibbs: a better game, better positioning, that’s not to say perfect, there is still a long way to go but these games are so good for him and his development. 7

Diaby: rusty, as expected but the gulf of difference (we’re talking Grand Canyon here) between him and Wilshere was there for all to see. 6

Denilson: hurry up Ramsey. 6

Arshavin: the Russian’s confidence is such that if someone flicked a two headed coin in the air I swear he would fear that it would come down as tails. 5………. but an extra two for the brilliant, brilliant tackle he made a yard away from the goal line. 7

Chamakh: they say that the first time you parachute out of an aeroplane you are not scared because you do not know what to expect, where as the second time you know exactly what is coming and you are cautious; the first half of the season was the Moroccan’s first jump into the EPL; Christmas has passed, he is now on his second. 5

Bendtner: he is getting better and better and we will need him if RVP gets injured. 7.5

Subs

Rosicky: Super Tom showed more determination than I expected, still fighting to be regarded as an important part of the squad. 7.5

Song: calmness personified 7.5

Fàbregas: simply the difference. 8

Van Persie: just for being an Arsenal player. 10

Written by London


Breakfast at the Emirates

January 30, 2011

I usually have a good moan about early kick-offs and that’s when they’re at 1.30 so todays midday start is going to feel really strange. I like to look forward to going to football – well for at least a few hours anyway but today it’s up, washed, dressed and out the door before my coffee has a chance to hit the sides of my stomach.

You have to feel sorry for the Huddersfield Town supporters who must have left home in the dark  this morning and wonder why our game had to be scheduled at midday while spuds only have to travel to Fulham for a 4 o’clock ko – the decision making of the TV scheduelers astounds me. But midday it is and I’m hoping its not too early for a loud throng to make their way to the Emirates for this fourth round FA Cup tie.

We go into this game unbeaten in 9 apart from the Carling Cup tie away at Ipswich having scored 21 goals and conceded 5 but its the loss at Ipswich and the draw at Wigan with the ‘B’ team that will worry many gooners about the team selection for todays game. I feel the team might be  set up like this :-

Subs – Almunia Clichy Squillacci Fabregas Theo van Persie

Why have Shea on the bench if you’re never going to play him Arsene? Arshavin made two great assists on Tuesday night and maybe, just maybe today will be his day to hit the back of the net. Chamakh needs to get back to scoring ways too and if he’s been watching Robin he’ll know how to put his work-rate to good use and be in the right place for Niks fabulous crosses. Tuesday night’s win against Ipswich should set the ‘A/B’ team up for this game, Arsene loves the FA Cup, Arsenal love winning the FA Cup and this team needs to keep on winning.

The best thing about the ‘A’ team hitting a rich vein of form is that the others will have been watching, watching them score, watching them win and they’ll want some of that. No lapses in concentration, no underestimating the opposition, just come out and work for each other and play the best football on the planet – well in the UK at least.

Huddersfield Town are sitting third in Division 1. They’ve won 13 out of 26 games scoring 42 goals but conceding 32 so there’s hope – joking! They are very excited about this fixture against us but will be without their top goal scorer Jordan Rhodes who has 16 goals to his name but was injured last weekend. You may remember that Arsenal were invited to play at Huddersfield’s Centenary match for the Herbert Chapman Trophy in August 2008. Our very own Herbert Chapman had managed Huddersfield Town and led them to a FA Cup trophy in the 1921-22 season before being prized away by Sir Henry Norris in 1925 to join Arsenal.

There’s not going to be too much time to agonise over how the team will set up and those going to the game will out early but we’ll also be back early so catch you all later. Enjoy the game.

COYRRG

Written by peachesgooner


Football, Sexism or Naked Politics

January 29, 2011

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am a long time Arsenal supporter, having first stood on the Highbury terraces  over 50 years ago, a time when seats were basically for the well to do and, as they would have it in those far off days, the bosses.

The workingman stood on the terraces; this was his place, and his fiefdom. Here he exorcised the frustrations of having to kowtow to those same bosses all week. Probably also working Saturday morning, before clocking out on the stroke of midday and rushing off to the North bank at Highbury, the Kop at Anfield or any of hundreds of other league and non league grounds scattered around the country for the statutory 3 O’clock kick off.

There to shout, swear, curse, cheer, sing and bond with mates who stood shoulder to shoulder with him at the same place on the terraces every week, watching their heroes, who had quite likely travelled to the game on the same bus or tube as the fan himself, before running out to perform on the hallowed turf which, if the truth were told, was the ultimate dream of the vast majority of fans massed in swaying ranks above them.

Dads took sons, who as the grounds filled and took on a swaying surging dangerous life of their own were lifted and passed hand to hand overhead by the adults and placed in a prime position close to the pitch.

What, you might well ask, has all this to do with today’s sanitised game?

Well for a start, women were generally conspicuous by their absence from these gatherings.  Yet, it is from this point that despite, disasters, violence and hooliganism over the years, football has evolved into the all seater, health and safety obsessed, politically correct, female inclusive game that exists today. All brought about by massive investment as the game has grown and become the number one TV sport worldwide. Despite this  investment, somehow tribalism and bigotry has survived, and although women have joined the brotherhood.  Some brothers have not yet cottoned on.

It is this fact that has led inexorably to what will undoubtedly become known as the Keys and Gray affair as the unsuspecting broadcasters were cast on the altar of political correctness, with the usual suspects and rent-a-gobs queuing  to gleefully castrate the hapless pair.

For what, you may ask?  An unfortunate conversation deemed sexist and broadcast across a microphone left open unknown to the smug Keys and his footballing Guru by some careless engineer. A conversation in which they suggested the female referee’s assistant was unlikely to understand the intricacies of the offside law and followed by a disparaging remark concerning a newspaper article about sexism penned by Ms Brady of Birmingham and West Ham fame, these comments were made in what they believed to be a private conversation.

Of course, given the animosity between the various arms of the media, it was seized upon by a rival in the printed press who obtained a recording from a willing punter and triumphantly trumpeted its existence in large type across their pages before, in a fit of splendid self-indulgence, despatching a copy in righteous disgust to Sky TV asking for answers.

Do we believe that this mass outpouring from the purveyors of the written word, was solely driven by a genuine distaste of the boundaries they alleged had been crossed? Could it be that after years of dealing with yesterday’s news on the back pages, whilst trying to compete with the immediacy of sky they had finally been handed a scoop of sorts or at least a chance to get even? The paper concerned is, of course, famous in its own right among football fans for its accuracy and impartiality. (I wish)

Who was it then waiting in the wings, who had access to this material as well as other previously recorded salacious titbits ready to be  uploaded to Utube, Thus ensuring the twenty-year reign of the unfortunate pair would be terminated. The old cliché Careful who you damage on the way up, less they get you on the way down seems relevant and points perhaps to a crew member, probably emboldened by the whistle blowing antics on-line and in print of recent times.

From Sky’s point of view a combined salary of £2.2 million will undoubtedly entice whatever pairing they consider appropriate. A revamp after twenty years is probably seen as a gift from heaven in this fast changing technical world. Whilst at the same time enabling them to come out as White knights in the cause of Political Correctness just as they did with Ron Atkinson’s demise.

Now I have no love for the long-term red top TV front men, in fact I can think of many good football based reasons to replace the gruesome twosome, not least among them the deliberate and constant striving to create controversy rather than celebrate excellence.

Their treatment of our own Eduardo is a case in point. A gifted striker who had his leg so savagely broken that he will never be the same player again. Indeed so horrific was the incident that Sky themselves decided the tackle should not be broadcast again. Notwithstanding that decision, had poor Eduardo been in any condition to listen to the end of the match discussion, he would have heard the deadly duo blithely passing it off as an accident, as the player whose flying tackle caused the damage, ”wasn’t that kind of player”. I suspect some would dispute that.

A year later on his return, Eduardo then finds himself being crucified for supposedly diving, which whether true or not on that occasion, is universally acknowledged as being rife among most premier league players. Witness Rooney’s double somersault with twist against Sol Campbell to end the Invincible’s unbeaten run, which was again watched, replayed and then forgotten.

So perhaps the result can be perceived as a kind of poetic justice for football. But for me there is the smell of hypocrisy in the air, an unholy alliance of expediency within sky, coupled to the frenzied baying of the press hounds both in the written word and in their headlong rush for guest appearances on air. thereby swelling their bank balances at the table of opportunity and who knows, maybe convincing the powers that be, that a journalist and not an ex-player should get the pundits job

Written by dandan


Oooh to, ooh to be…the best things about being a Gooner!

January 28, 2011

Written by CarlitoII

It’s time to fly the flag, to stand up and be counted, to be unequivocally and shamelessly chauvinistic about all things Arsenal. Today, we fight for our pride!

I may be preaching to the choir on this one but a re-affirmation of all that the letters AFC stands for is long overdue.

History

We are the most successful club in London and the third most successful team in English football history. Herbert Chapman was our first visionary manager, introducing numbers on the back of players shirts for the first time, developing under-turf heating on his watch and creating new playing systems (the famous W-W) that are still relevant today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010/oct/26/the-question-barcelona-reinventing-w-w

The way we won the league in ’89 has never been matched for excitement by any other league-winning club and the Graham years featured a back four that was so famous it inspired references in films!

And then we have the league and cup doubles in’71, ’98 and 2002, the league and FA cup double in ’93- the first time this was done, and we were the first team since Preston in 1888 to go an entire league season without losing.

Not only do we have an immense history of success, we also have a history of ‘firsts’ in innovation and changing the game that has inspired the whole of world football.

Kit

No team anywhere in the world has such an elegant kit. The red shirts and white sleeves have been copied but never bettered!

Financial Dealings

I don’t believe any club in world football has been entirely honourable in their financial dealings. That said, with the exception of the Graham Bung story, our club is world-renowned for its transparency in financial dealings and its unwillingness to get involved in the murkier transfer dealings. I believe that the owners of the club have always been keen to set the standard and operate as gentlemen. Long may it continue!

Scintillating football

Aside from Barcelona and the current Spanish national team- which current team can compare to the mighty Arsenal for attacking fluency? The oohs and aahs than emanate from the stadium and pubs across the country are testament to the “fantasy” of our players and the vision of our manager.

Amazing Youth system

We produce more first team top level footballers from our youth team than any other in the country. West Ham and Manchester United may feel they have a claim but neither have a next generation as promising as ours.

Beautiful stadium

The Mothership! The beautiful, curvaceous, state of the art arena which we now call our home. It needed to be to follow on from the uniqueness of Highbury.

Heroes

We all have our favourites and I’m not old enough to talk of the players from the 70s and early 80s. But there are so many! All teams have their heroes but does any team treat their heroes with such devotion? Two that strike a particular chord are Rocky whose song still echoes around the ground on most matchdays and Eduardo’s reception on scoring a late goal in our recent Champions League encounter with Shaktar. You wouldn’t want to play for any other club would you? If you hear our ex-players talking about Arsenal you would be forced to agree.

Villains

There’s just something about the way we treat our villains- from Totnum to Cashley. There is so much humour and banter and very little true bile. Yes we hate them, but we’re secure enough in our own identity not to take it to extremes. When you compare with the way the spuds treated Sol or West Ham and Millwall go for each other- it makes me proud to be a supporter of the greatest club the world has ever seen!


Have Arsenal progressed at all this season?

January 27, 2011

Something about this website has been bugging me for a while. It’s a very welcome home for Arsenal-oriented debate, and the regulars here are great, all bringing something different to our little party. And the format is excellent, with contributions coming from that group of regulars, meaning one voice doesn’t dominate.

So what’s been bugging me then?

It’s that “Points total” table over on the right-hand side, just below the bit about “Our day will come again” (which it will). I like the fact that the table is there, it provides a little bit of information not routinely available elsewhere. But when I’ve glanced at it this season, more often than not we’ve had fewer points than at the same stage last season. That doesn’t exactly suggest progress, does it?

I’ve been reassuring myself that this is a strange season, that all the title contenders have failed to achieve consistency, that they’re all misfiring, so no need to worry that we appear not to be doing quite as well in crude terms of the number of points bagged. But is that right? I decided to run some figures (yup, I really am that sad), comparing the standings of each of the top five with their position at the same point (in terms of games played) last season. Here are the results:

Man United
Now: 51 points from 23 games
Last year: 50 points

Arsenal
Now: 46 points from 23 games
Last year: 49 points

Man City
Now: 45 points from 24 games
Last year: 44 points

Chelsea
Now: 41 points from 23 games
Last year: 54 points

Spurs
Now: 38 points from 23 games
Last year: 41 points

The stand-out fact from these figures is the collapse in Chelsea’s form; a 13-point fall in one season is appalling in anyone’s books, let alone for the self-styled would-be world beaters. They had a run of 11 games in which they collected just 10 points, a run that has all but destroyed their title hopes.

Beyond that, a few other things emerge: the two Manchester clubs are pretty much where they were last season, being just one point up each. United’s unbeaten run needs to be judged in that context – at this point last year, they had already lost five games, so turning that into zero looks very impressive. But they’ve become draw maniacs; a one-point improvement on last season sounds a lot less impressive than the media’s much loved undefeated United, especially bearing in mind that United have had their easiest fixtures in the first half of the season and have tough games stacked up in March and April. They are annoyingly but rightly renowned for being strong in the second half of the season. The test will be whether a side built on Ferdinand and Vidic can reach those heights this year.

City could still end up winning the league, but so far their one-point improvement on last year looks a pretty pathetic return on the Abu Dhabi United Group’s enormous, gross investment. They’ll argue they’re a work in progress, but the question has to be asked: where’s the improvement?

And then there are the North London clubs. (Spurs are still North London club, aren’t they?) Both are three points down on this stage last season. That may not sound like much but it’s a significant difference, one neither side can be proud of. For Spurs, there’s no surprise, they’re having to cope with juggling CL and EPL football for the first time, and as Harry has said this week, it was a miracle they finished fourth last season, so a decline for the contenders’ weakest side shouldn’t shock anyone.

But what about us? We’re all feeling buoyant after the dominant performance against Wigan (shame we didn’t cash in on the goals though) and getting to the League Cup Final. We’ve not conceded a league goal for four games, Nasri, van Persie and Fabregas are on fire, and we are looking to have overcome blips in the domestic cups with a rejuvenated and relatively injury-free squad, so it all feels good. And so it should. But the fact is we are three points down on the same point last season, and before the Wigan game, that difference was five points. Just as United’s season is often marked by an improvement at this stage, so our performance often falls away in the home straight. Last season, United won 12 of their last 16 games, dropping just 8 points along the way. By comparison, we dropped 21 points in our last 16 games, completely losing pace with Chelsea and United as a result.

I’m often accused of being over-optimistic about Arsenal, and of showing excessive faith in Wenger. But on this occasion, with our side in danger of realising its potential, I want to add a note of caution. We really need the players to concentrate from here on. No more two-goal leads thrown away (or one-goal leads come to that), no more defeats extracted from the jaws of victory, no more dropping points against the lesser sides, no more home defeats, we had enough of that in 2010, on both sides of the summer break. With Chelsea collapsing, United retreating into their shell, City stymied by internal division and change and Spurs dealing with their biggest challenge to date, this season could have been much easier for us than it has been; it wouldn’t have taken much for us to have accumulated much more than 46 points to date, just more focus and concentration. But the failures of the first half of the season mean we’re now under much more pressure than we needed to have been, and we need to respond positively to that pressure.

I remain an optimist, I believe we’ll be fighting United toe-to-toe until the end of the season (making our home game against them massive). My comments might be read as being negative or pessimistic; in fact, I make these points because I consider our squad to be the best in terms of talent, bar none, in English football. I (like Wenger and all other Gooners) just want them to go out and show it, not in flashes but in sustained runs of victories. The frustration is we haved ceded control of this season to the weakest United side in years when we could have dominated.

We still have what it takes to prevail over all four of our rivals, and even to give the best side in the world, Barca, a run for their money in the CL. We just need the players to take each and every game seriously.

Written by 26may1989


Arsenal Plough their way to Wembley……..

January 26, 2011

Before I speak of a match that had all gooners on the edge of the seats for far too long, I will just say what a great night it was for my boys, tonight my youngster Reece was one of 12 lucky Junior Gunners to form the Guard of Honour as the teams came on, my eldest Luke is a ball boy all season, so all round, how jealous, but proud, am I?

Back to the match, Arsène stated in his programme, he will select his strongest team available for each match, although he started with a reasonably strong team, I always worry when Cesc and Denilson start together as I feel they don’t gel well……

Nasri and Walcott were on the bench alongside Song, but red hot Robin was on the pitch, so Wenger was certainly taking Ipswich seriously.

Arsenal started with a good tempo and had some early chances, RVP turning and hitting a shot wide.  Cesc was bundled over and from where I was sitting, it looked a stone wall penalty, but the ref waved away the claims……It should have been a scrum down at least?

A scary moment occurred after about 15mins or so when Chez went up for a corner and went straight through Sagna,  Eboue was soon into the fray as his replacement……Hope Sagman is ok……

Throughout the game Cesc took quite a bit of stick, I’d be surprised if he can walk in the morning……Talking of stick the Tractor boys were giving our fans a right bashing and clearly out sung us in the first half, milking their moment as we struggled to get the goal to get us into this tie, when will our fans learn…?

Bendtner soon floated a delightful cross over and RVP smashed a header against the bar with the keeper Fulop well beaten…….Would we score or would it be a night to forget?

Then a ball over the top, into the path of the on running Cesc, through the defence, slanting his body and hitting across the keeper, but agonizingly wide again…..

For me we were trying too hard and not holding our nerve, to get the pass right, as we tried to force the play, Ipswich stood firm and resolute, hoofing the ball away.  We needed to expand our play, and try to create an opening, rather than thread it through a gap, tighter than Wengers wallet…

The boys were trying though and notably Little Jack was growing every minute and becoming more and more involved, perhaps because most of the Ipswich team were intent on marking Cesc, that was giving Jack a little too much room, which he exploited…….

Half time came, and then the 2nd half started the same, admittedly I was crying out for Nasri to come on and make a difference, but it was a sublime ball from little Jack on 60mins that got the break through, deep in his own half, he collected the ball, looked up and sprayed a ball right to forward left, as super Nik ran onto the ball cushioned it down, ran on and cut back inside the defender, before curling a lovely right footed shot into the far corner, cue eruption and fans singing……….

Moments later and Kosser headed in a beauty from a corner delivered from the left by Arshavin, 2-0 and the boys went wild, with all the subs part of a mass team hug……It was good to see a corner actually getting into the box, when was the last time that happened?

Ipswich started to wade through mud now, looking for a Tractor to pull them out as they noticeably tired….

The 3rd goal was started with a cracking intervention by Denilson, who stole in and took the ball off Edwards and played straight to Cesc, who run forward and played onto Arshavin, who ran at the defence, cut inside and just as you felt he would go for goal, he slipped it back outside to the in running Cesc as he came into the box who then slipped it through the keepers legs, game over………3-0.

Nasri and Walcott came on for Rockin Robin and Arshavin for the closing moments as Arsenal knocked the ball about and round a now down trodden Ipswich, who for 150mins had held the Arsenal at arms length………and kept the Arsenal fans too quiet for my liking………….

Player Ratings:

Szczesny: Little to do, but oozez confidence, which I think settles the defence at times. Error of judgement when he clattered Sagna, but he will learn as he goes…. 7

Sagna: Unfortunately, short outing……..gets a….7

Djourou: Much better display than at Portman Road, strong and tenacious, read the game well and pushed forward when he saw openings….7

Kosser: A very solid game, pushed forward well, got booked harshly..Great Goal…7.5

Clichy: I think his performances are getting better defensively week by week. Good going forward, only caught out once at the back that I noticed…..7

Denilson: Industrious and plugged away against the backdrop of moaning fans, admittedly I wouldnt have started with him, but he did ok and his interception set up the move for the 3rd crucial goal….7

Cesc: Kept the team pouring forward and closed down very quickly and worked very hard, not at his dazzling best and should probably scored in first half, but still instrumental and probably would have done more if kicked less.. Scored a great 3rd goal….7.5

Little Jack: Head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch in my opinion, he grew as the game went on and ran the show in the 2nd half, his pass for the first goal was pure class.. It was going to be something special to get the break through. Only a goal was missing from his night….8.5***MoM

Bendtner: Another player who gets the moans and groans from most fans, but worked tirelessly and made things happen, won most of his duels in the air. His goal was sublime…….8

RvP: A continual handful, who tried to get the break through and his endeavour really pushes us on. Hit the woodwork in the first half and had another couple of chances…..7

Arshavin: Kept going and had two assists on the night, better, keep going little fella, we all love you really, just we know there is so much more in your locker……..7

Subs:

Eboue: Solid and kept attacking, still throws himself around too much for me, but a great squad player for me….7

Nasri and Walcott had too little time to comment.

Overall:

After 150mins, the Tractor choked , spluttered and the Gunners blew them away with 2 quick goals, a third near the end ensured no slip ups. Wembley here we come at last……..

Wengers young team, will now take on West Ham or Birmingham as they try to win some silverware after 5 long years, so in the competition that Wenger has bloodied his young boys in over the last few years, might just be the one that breaks the Hoodoo that hangs over us, lets pray, 27th Feb will be our day.

One final note, fair play to Ipswich, you did yourselves proud with your efforts….

Written by Harry


Wembley Awaiting or Despair Descending?

January 25, 2011

Who would have thought that Ipswich at home would be our most important game of the season to date? Some may say that beating Chelsea and overcoming our Big 4 hoodoo was vital but a loss tonight is unthinkable, especially for Mr. Wenger.

Ipswich were superb at Portman Rd. They deserved to win and but for a fine Chesney save could have won by more. It wasn’t that Arsenal were poor, more that Ipswich came out with a gameplan which they applied with great determination and skill, and Arsenal didn’t have the cojones to deal with them. One would have thought that our midfield would be quite used to playing against less talented but very dogged opposition, and that AW would have sent out his team fully aware of the dangers of underestimating any opponents.

I highlighted Conor Wickham before the game and he showed why he is so highly rated. I am sure that if one were to check the statistics he would have run twice the distance of Nik B and with far more effectiveness. To see him  – a 17-y-o. – closing down Eboue in the corner and then tracking his run up the pitch was an object lesson to all our players. Hard work reaps benefits.

Ipswich’s central defence was never ruffled nor were their full backs given the grilling one would expect, though to be fair to Nik B and Theo, they didn’t get any decent service from the players around them. Even Cesc had an off day. The side that took the pitch at Portman Rd should have won; it was packed with Internationals (Chesney was the only player without caps) and every player had bags of PL experience – they just didn’t gel. Arshavin and Eboue had stinkers resulting in a very narrow attacking area and no cutting edge.

The old adage “form is temporary, class is permanent” is apt for Arshavin this season. He WILL come good and looked to be determined to work his way back to form last time out. This applies to Chamakh as well, what has happened to our star striker? Can he regain his blistering early season form? Will AW play them, particularly in light of the kicking Nasri got at the weekend and Van Persie’s notorious chocolate legs?  It should be pointed out that we have Huddersfield in the Cup on Sunday and can therefore choose when to rest players.

In view of the importance of this game I would start with the A team, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the famously stubborn AW stick to his principles of playing some members of his B squad.

 

Tonight Arsenal have to walk onto to the pitch with the correct attitude – losing is not an option.

COYRRG


Wenger’s Barca Raid

January 24, 2011

If Saturday’s performance proved anything, it was surely that Arsène Wenger’s plan to bring Barca-style football to North London is succeeding.

It’s no secret that the boss admires the style and manner with which the Catalans play. Now he has shamelessly lifted their football manual (or should that be Manuel?) from under their very noses and put a red and white stamp on it.

Barca’s front six of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa and one of Keita or Mascherano play beautiful pass-and-move football, denying their opponents the ball and carving their way through the most resolute of defences.

After much experimentation, Arsène now has his own ‘Super Six’: Cesc, Song, van Persie, Nasri, Walcott and Wilshere.

What both ‘sixes’ have in common (and why I have referred to them as ‘front sixes’ rather than the more familiar midfield/attack definitions) is that all the players swap positions at will and all pose an attacking threat.

After the two Champions League games against Barca last Spring I wrote a post saying that “Arselona is Closer Than We Think.”

Despite the outstanding first half from the Spaniards at The Grove and despite the Messi master class at the Nou Camp, I took heart from Barca’s exhibition because it showed what Arsenal could aspire to.

I reflected that there were three differences between the sides: Barcelona had more money, they had better players and they worked harder.

Revisiting those thoughts today, the picture has changed.

Do Barcelona have more money? It subsequently became clear last season that they were grossly in debt and in no position to keep making huge-money purchases. Then some rich Qataris came calling and in the blink of a cheque book Barca threw their much-vaunted principles in the bin (along, presumably, with all their Unicef shirts) and accepted a shirt sponsor in exchange for £125m. Given how high their debts were, this is hardly a licence to buy big, although it gives them more clout in the transfer market than they would otherwise have had. Arsenal, meanwhile, continue to revel in the best financial model in big time football, and you really get the feeling that if Arsène made the case to the Board for a £50m signing they would give him the money. Admittedly, he’s as likely to ask for fifty million quid as Wayne Bridge is to ask John Terry to tea.

Do Barcelona have better players? They may just still shade it, but that gap has closed considerably.  Fabregas or Iniesta? Nasri or Messi? Pedro or Walcott? Van Persie or Villa? Those questions don’t produce the simple answers they would have done a year ago. And both our so-called holding players, Song and Wilshere, have more innate footballing talent than either Keita or Mascherano. Earlier this season I was moaning about Alex Song’s forward tendencies, but he has won me over completely. He is becoming a true box-to-box player with silky skills to go along side his wrought iron commitment. Wilshere, meanwhile, at just-turned 19, is surely heading for world superstardom. We’ll certainly be cheering on little Jack long after the name Balotelli has faded from memory.

Do Barca work harder? The answer to that one is still ‘yes’ overall. The genius of that team is that they work as hard when they don’t have the ball as when they do have it. And it’s still an aspect of the game that has let Arsenal down this season. However, I truly believe that our first team DOES have the right work ethic and has demonstrated it repeatedly since the Christmas period.

To summarise, I would hazard that Arselona is just about here. The players, the style of play, the swagger – it’s all coming together beautifully.

We’re reaping the benefits in the domestic competitions and there’s no reason why we can’t also succeed in Europe.

Certainly the games against Barcelona this year will be very different. Barca are a great team and may still beat us over two legs, but I expect things to be much more competitive this time round. Our players know exactly what they’re up against and, let’s not forget, we were decimated by injuries last year.

All of which is not to say there are no concerns.

This Arsenal team still desperately needs some silverware and, psychologically, that may yet be a big step to climb. The Carling Cup would be a great way to start.

I would also like us to sign a good centre back this January. I would feel even more comfortable with some cover for Alex Song, who has become so crucial to our success. And I fret every game about the fitness of key players like Robin, Cesc, Theo and Samir.

But if Lady Luck favours us with a smile, good things could really happen this year.

RockyLives


The Stuff of Champions

January 23, 2011

If you don’t tingle with pride at being an Arsenal supporter today then you my friend have a severe case of Jaguaritis and that is not good because yesterday we walked with giants and witnessed the quality of champions.

How dare these pie eating upstarts take two points off us up North? How dare they? Well the natural order has been restored after the good guys put on a football display to make Barcelona sit up and think very seriously about what they are about to face in the not too distant future. You may say that it was only Wigan but what kind of opposition do you think Barcelona make mince meat of every week? Wigan are exactly the kind of opponents the Catalans meet save for two Saturdays in the season when they face Real opposition.

Seriously, Wigan; Spanish manager, limited resources, what’s the difference between that and what Barcelona play practically every week?………bring em on, I say, we are ready.

The game, yes, yes, the game I should say something about that; we completely out played Wigan, different class from start to finish, total domination, absolute control.

We all knew what the line up would be: the A team was required and the A team dutifully appeared. It took no time for the gulf of class to be established: chances were continuously created and missed throughout the first half, only interrupted by Van Persie’s hitting the back of the net after 30 minutes. The rest of the time Walcott was carving out opportunities left and right for his team mates, all of whom went close but all were denied by one Wigan limb or another thrown in the way. There were so many chances in the first half I honestly lost count, just to say that it was an absolute miracle that Wigan went in at half time only one nil down.

Our Northern opponents took heart from the generous score line coming out after the break and trying a bit of quick closing down themselves, it looked quite good for all of fifteen minutes, that is until Fàbregas sent a world class pass over forty yards to Van Persie who volleyed it into the Wigan net.

Two nil, game over, time to sit back and enjoy the master class in front of us; chances kept appearing until eventually it all got a bit too much for Wigan and they couldn’t stop themselves hacking down one of our players, (still haven’t seen MOTD so not sure which one) in the area, up stepped Van Persie but instead of scoring his first ever professional hat trick in his career and that includes his Feyenoord days, he skied it in what I can only describe as one of the worst penalties I have ever witnessed. We had to wait a bit longer for the Boy Wonder to break that duck and much credit has to go to Walcott who held off the Wigan defender, very cleverly enabling Van Persie to fulfil my prediction of three nil to the good guys.

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Player ratings:

Szczesny: had little to do but what he did he did perfectly. 10

Sagna: we have a quality right back. 10

Djourou, calmness personified. 10

Koscielny: I wonder if he communicates with Szczesny in Polish. Faultless.10

Clichy: good runs, good positioning, good tackling. 10

Fàbregas: my MOTM, he was more World Class than The Boy Wonder today even though he didn’t score. 10

Song: Rasp was the first person I noticed to use the adjective imperious to describe our Alex, it struck a cord with me, since then I use it when ever it is mertited and today Alex Song was imperious. 10

Wilshere: this young man is surrounded by world class midfield players and yet at the tender age of nineteen he still manages to hold his own which is quite astonishing. 10

Nasri: Wigan systematically clipped the ankles of our players, they were obviously not Shawcross tackles but they were dirty and sneaky, most of our players survived but poor old Super Nas caught it and hobbled for most of the game. 9

Van Persie: This man can take us to the Promised Land. 10

Walcott: good, good, good a better game than might meet the eye, watch how clever he was for RVP’s third. 10

Written by London while drinking a bottle of Rioja, Gran Reserva, 2002.


No repetition of stupid mistakes

January 22, 2011

A few weeks ago I left a room in deep despair about the team I love. Having made  many changes from the team that destroyed Chelsea, Mr Wenger’s second string team threw away two points against a 10 man relegation threatened Wigan side. I was furious, particularly so because there was an inevitablilty about Wigan’s equaliser. Admit it, when Wigan attacked and won that corner you knew, you just knew that they would score, that Fabianski would be in no-man’s land, that no-one would properly defend the back post and that once again Arsenal would be soft in the centre of defence against a set play. My language was to say the least, colourful.

Yet today I have no such fears. We are at the start of a runof 6 home games out of the next 7, and I expect us to win ALL of them. We are riding high in confidence, are relatively injury free, have cover in all positions (assuming Squilacci is on track) and almost all our players are in-form. If we are going to win trophies these 6 home games have to be won and I fully expect us to make a successful start this afternoon.

Wigan arrive in a sorry state having thrown away two points to Fulham following a very late equaliser. They are rooted in the relegation zone despite playing decent football. Martinez seems to have a good footballing philosophy (though there was some vicious tackling at the DW).

Someone wrote on the yesterday’s post that a player is only as good as the team around him.  I wanted to take issue but didn’t have the time. Wigan are a case in point. N’zogbia is a quality player – only 24 y.o. with plenty of skills – he could play at a much higher level than Wigan. In my opinion, if N’zogbia was really a star player he would be able to lift his team-mates performances and  take them out of the relegation zone. Maradona took a dull Argentina to win the World Cup almost single-handedly; Ronaldo’s 40+ goals took an average Man Utd to the Double.

I hope you have seen the excellent BBC interview with Mr Wenger (on the BBC website). What a privilege it is to have him as our manager. If ever a man represented the club with honour it is Arsene. He is intelligent, polite, erudite, humourous and above all a decent man. An Arsenal man.

I expect us to start with our A team. All are fit and rested apart from Fabianski :-

I have never had the pleasure of a trip to Wigan. I know there is a pier there (thanks to George Orwell), and that it is a town which benefitted from the Industrial Revolution.  Wigan’s current claim to fame is that it hosts The World Pie Eating Championship and is the home of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.

If we are to win the Title we must take 3 points today and we will.

COYRRG


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