Man Utd Flops Show That Arsenal Can Dominate English Football

May 29, 2011

If you ask Pep Guardiola which team were his most difficult opponents en route to winning the Champions League, I can guarantee that his answer won’t be Manchester United.

It will, of course, be Arsenal.

In yesterday’s final at Wembley, United were clueless and gutless.

They scored with practically their only attempt on goal and for the rest of the game were chasing shadows. In the final half an hour it was clear that they had given up. They had been beaten on the pitch and beaten in their heads. It was almost embarrassing to watch their lame capitulation.

If the referee had been the same card-happy Swiss dipstick that we got for the second leg in the Nou Camp they would also have been down to 10 men long before the end.

Rooney blustered around the place with his familiar “you spilt my pint” expression. He took his goal well but otherwise was completely ineffectual. If he’s the best that English football has to offer it’s no wonder we’re so bad in international tournaments. He’d be lucky to make the bench for Barcelona.

Valencia might as well have been IN Valencia for all the good he did, Giggs looked more superannuated than super injuncted, Carrick and Park spent the game chasing shadows and I had to check the team sheet to be sure that Hernandez was playing.

The fact that Vidic and Van der Saar had good games was all that kept the score respectable.

And as for Evra… well, watching it in North America, there was a great moment towards the end of the game when the Fox Channel co-commentator said: “It’s men against boys.” (Evra, you’ll remember, made the same gloating comment about us last season).

When the cameras cut away to the claret conked Caledonian after the third Barca goal he looked as utterly defeated as I’ve seen him since the Invincibles used to dish out regular drubbings to his teams. He knew there was no chance of repeating the flukey 1999 win this time round: for one thing he could see that his players had no fight in them.

From an Arsenal point of view it just made me angry.

This is a very ordinary United side and certainly the weakest English champions for a very long time. If Arsenal had had a little more maturity and composure this season we would have won the league at a canter.

Contrast yesterday’s game with our recent matches against Barcelona.

This season we deservedly beat them 2-1 at The Grove. And at the Nou Camp we were well on the way to knocking them out until the aforementioned Swiss conehead sent off Robin van Persie in what looked then and still looks now like a premeditated act of vindictiveness or corruption.

Up until then Barca had hardly had a clean chance on goal. And even after the sending-off we were only one Bendtner touch away from putting them out of the competition. With only 10 men. In the Nou Camp.

At the final whistle Guardiola looked as relieved as you’ll ever see him.

Last season they absolutely outplayed us in the first half at The Grove, but unlike United we didn’t give up. We came back at them like tigers in the second half and earned a 2-2 draw from 0-2 down. We were well beaten in the second leg because we were bereft of half the first team through injury.

So – and I apologise for the delay – it’s time to return to the message of my headline: how the United defeat yesterday offers hope for Arsenal.

In the Arsenal Arsenal comments after the game I noticed this statement from TotalArsenal: I reckon that over the next few years only Arsenal(‘s style of football) will have a serious chance to beat Barca in the CL. Come on Arsène, buy us a few decent players and we can do it!”

I have no great love for Barcelona. They tarnish their brilliant footballing reputation with cheating, diving and simulation. But they play a brand of football which is quite mesmerising.

It also feels absolutely modern, a turn-of-the-wheel in how the game should be played (and yes, I know its roots go back to Total Football and beyond to the great Brazil side of 1970). United’s play, by contrast, looked unsophisticated and old-fashioned.

I agree with TotalArsenal: In the EPL only Arsenal have a footballing philosophy that can hope to match the Catalans.

Which is why there are grounds for optimism for Arsenal. Our end of season collapse was pretty dreadful, but I don’t buy the argument that it was our system that made it happen. In fact it was our system that got us to a point at the end of February where we were in a cup final, we had beaten Barcelona, we were still in the FA Cup and we had a serious chance of snatching the league title.

What happened subsequently was, in my opinion, about a lack of maturity among the team in general and about a lack of quality in some of the players. Both these failings can be put right by letting some players go and by bringing in some more experienced personnel. Arsene Wenger has said that he will be doing both these things this summer.

Arsene’s experiment is not just about trying to win things with young players. It is also about trying to win things with a Barcelona style of play. This season I believe he has finally realised that the existing squad can’t quite pull it off, but his response will be to create a squad that can do it. And he’s right to try and do so.

I expect more up-and-coming coaches to start to emulate Barcelona’s style. This is the new wave and we need to surf it or get left behind in the doldrums, which is exactly where United are heading.

There is considerable talk of us slipping out of the top four next year. Some of our more negative supporters even have us finishing mid table.

But they’re wrong. I firmly expect us to come much, much closer to being champions next season than we have done for six years. I believe we will dominate the league with the same, modern style of play that has led Barcelona to dominate Europe. And then we’ll beat them too.

Saying that you trust Arsene these days is exposing yourself to ridicule from many quarters. I don’t care. I do trust him, and I will enjoy the humble pie that his critics will be eating this time next year.

RockyLives


Goal of the month? Of the season? Is our passing game killing us?

May 25, 2011

Written by WiganGooner

When we look for markers during the summer to show us where we went wrong I think we should consider the lack of true quality we have shown up front this season.

Playing one up front has stifled our attacking threat to a point that when we do bomb forward to try and press home advantage and nick a goal (because that’s all we seem to do now) we leave ourselves open on the counter. How many times have we seen it this season?

We are the only side that employ a defensive midfielder, give him the job of being that said defensive midfielder and then let him roam forwards with impunity, leaving a less-experienced, but perhaps more eager player in Jack Wilshire to stay back and try and mop up.

That’s getting away from my point though, this season we haven’t achieved a single “Goal of the month” on Match of The Day. Not one. Every year for the last fifteen-odd years we’ve always had at least one entry, not this year. We haven’t shown significant quality to do it. Why? Because going forwards we aren’t as creative, as clever or as swift as we used to be.

The Premiership has got quicker and we’ve got slower. We try to play a continental passing game, but in this Formula 1 Premiership it is too easy to defend against. It’s too slow! We even changed formation to try and play this way. We can’t play that passing game in a 4-4-2 because there aren’t enough triangles, enough combinations of players close enough to the ball, so because it doesn’t work in a 4-4-2 we’ve changed to a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Cesc and this passing game.

This Barcelona-esque passing game is no use to us in the Premiership, in Europe it can work as it’s a more tactical game. In the Premiership it’s about pace, power and penetration. We can’t play our passing game like Barcelona, be it down to personnel, technique or opposition we haven’t been able to boss teams and score 5 goals.

The passing game is the true experiment and it looks like it has failed. Project Youth still has time to prove itself, but the Barcelona effect has to stop. Or we will struggle again.

WG


Not Getting Enough Cesc?

May 21, 2011

There is a distinct possibility that Cesc Fabregas will leave Arsenal this summer.

Persistent rumours originating from people with ‘inside knowledge’ suggest that our Number Four may finally be on his way back to Barcelona.

Cynics will say the deal was done last year – that Arsène Wenger persuaded Cesc to stay for one more year by agreeing to let him join Barca for the 2011/12 season.

How does that make you feel?

Are you distraught at the idea of going without Cesc?

Or do you feel that the Cesc you’ve been having has lost its lustre and that, maybe, it’s time to look for something a bit more exciting elsewhere?

Well, let’s examine some statistics.

I have made this point before, but in his first four seasons with Arsenal Cesc was a fit and resilient young man who played almost all our games:

2004/5: Total appearances 46, including 33 (87%) in the EPL.

2005/6: Total appearances 50, including 35 (92%) in the EPL.

2006/7: Total appearances 54, including 38 (100%) in the EPL (yes, that’s right – every single EPL game, although four were as substitute).

2007/8: Total appearances 45, including 32 (84%) in the EPL.

Then something happened – and it’s a cautionary tale for Jack Wilshere.

Four EPL seasons of full-on football, coupled with international tournaments in the summer began to take their toll on his fitness. The player who had been almost ever-present started to become often-injured.

In 2008/9 his appearance record dropped to just 22 games (58%) in the EPL.

In 2009/10 he managed 27 EPL games (71%).

And this year?

Cesc has played in 25 games in the EPL, three of which were as substitute. That gives him an appearance percentage of 66%.


So – and apologies for doing the full Vorderman with all these numbers – in his first four seasons as a regular starter for Arsenal Cesc averaged an EPL appearance rate of 90.75%. Pretty much every time we stepped out for a Premiership game our little Spanish genius was on the pitch.

In the subsequent three seasons (including the present one) his rate has dropped right off to an average of 65%. In other words, he has missed more than a third of our EPL games in the past three years.

He is our captain and our best player. Can we really afford to have him absent for so many important games? Hard and wrenchful though it would be to see him go, might we not be better with star players who can turn out in most games?

Well, here’s another statistic that might give pause to the minority of Arsenal supporters who claim they would be happy to see Cesc depart this summer.

This season, in all competitions, our win percentage when Cesc started has been 62%.

In games where Cesc didn’t start, our win percentage was 46%.

That’s pretty clear: we win significantly more games when Cesc is on the team sheet. If he goes to Barca (or elsewhere) during the close season, Arsene Wenger is going to have to think long and hard about how he makes up for that loss in quality.

So there you have it.

On the one hand Cesc’s increasing susceptibility to injury might make his departure less damaging than it might seem; on the other, the fact that we are considerably more effective with him in the team should be a cause for real concern if he goes.

RockyLives


Should Arsenal emulate Barca or Manu?

May 14, 2011

In the absence of a post this morning I thought I’d write a short piece and ask this question that has been playing on my mind. It is over to the technically gifted observers to develop the debate and flesh it out with tactical analysis.

We are shortly to see how these two highly successful yet differing footballing cultures match up in the Champion’s League final. It’s a one off game, so the answer will not be definitive, but it is nevertheless a mouthwatering prospect.

The main difference I can see is that Barca is overflowing with talent and invariably manages to get the best out of their gifted players. They have superior players in every game and a system that maximises their potential, and that is why they are winning La Liga and in the CL final.

Manu are also going to win the Premiership and join Barca in the final, but they have managed to win or at least gain a draw in many games whilst not playing the best football. This is not a criticism, if anything, it is to be greatly admired.

Arsenal, like Barca, has many gifted players. We compare our team to the opposition man for man before a game and conclude that ‘we should win’. But we lose when we should win as frequently as Manu win when they should lose.

Why is this?

My answer may not be popular. We have some fantastic players but most are not at the level of their Barca counterparts. With our budgetary constraints we are unlikely to ever be able to compete with Barca for buying top players. So we should forget the rather high brow distraction of thinking we are the English Barcelona and examine how we can be more like Manu (sorry chary)

Manu have the advantage of a winning dynasty that permeates throughout the current side. They are not the greatest group of players but they are a very good team. They have a rock solid defence and respect the basics of football. They have strength at the back, power and passing ability in midfield, pace on the flanks and goalscorers up front. Add those traits to a steely determination instilled by their manager and it becomes obvious why they are so successful.

How could we make Arsenal more like Manu? – it sickens to even ask the question, but if we want to add trophies to our much admired playing style, I think that is exactly what we have to do.

I’m not going to answer the question…. over to you…


Proud to wear the Shirt?

May 1, 2011

Another game we need to get 3 points from, however in this case we must be underdogs. Following a very poor run of results (too disappointing to discuss) the team have a choice – either we settle for an underwhelming 3rd place  or we fight to the end, I expect to see some fighting spirit.

Unfortunately, United are in excellent form having strolled through a Champions League semi-final on their way to Wembley, where most right minded people will be hoping for a Barca win. Much has been said about this MU side, mostly to it’s detriment – dull, workmanlike, efficient, lacking flair, not as good as SAF’s previous sides, the worst side to (potentially) win the PL, and above all inexplicably lucky; yet their fans will look at the Silverware and the 2010/11 season with pride. Once again the Purple Conked Glaswegian has shown he is the best manager in World football, who else can make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear?

But, But But  …. the little angel on Big Raddy’s  left shoulder is screaming at me ……. this season has been about us throwing away a title not MU winning one. Alongside the  West London Russians we have contrived to gift United the title, we have consistently thrown away important points, drawing games  we should have won, losing games we should have drawn. I am no statistician but it would be interesting to know how many points we have lost to goals in the last 5 minutes of games – enough to win the title one would imagine.

Before we doff our proverbials to the excellence of SAF’s management of so called “average players,” let us take a closer look at his team. Oh, this is a surprise, it is packed with extremely expensive talent; 3 players who cost over £30m, the most expensive defender in EPL history, a midfield that (taking out Giggs) cost almost as much as our entire team, a forward line with an average cost higher than our most expensive ever signing. And how many of the regular MU players are home grown? Take out the  ancient  Giggs and Scholes and the answer is NONE. This MU team could have a bench that cost as much as our entire squad !! Yet the press cream themselves about how SAF has guided an average team to such heights, a team he has expensively cobbled together – how has this myth been spread? I will tell you – because SAF has the press under his control in the same way that the ref’s and linesmen are too scared (it would be churlish to say corrupt) to give 50/50 decisions against the Red Devil.

I could write a whole post on Nani. Without doubt the most odious player in the  PL.How can any decent football fan pay money to watch this cheat week after week? We have players who are prone to theatrics but this guy who is undoubtedly a fine player takes “simulation” to an art form. The only players in his league are Alves and Busquets at Barca (may I refer back to a fine post by Dandan highlighting the appalling cheating by Barca players midweek). I realise I am old fashioned, but what happened to honesty and integrity? How can SAF allow Nani to perform like this week after week? –  anyone who saw SAF’s playing style would know how he would have reacted to Nani had he been on the pitch against him. And they say a cheat never prospers!!

Hernandez has been a revelation and is just the type of player to cause us problems. The fox in the box who has superb reactions – AW says he was monitoring him, so why not splash a few of our millions on him and sell Vela? Sadly, this guy has the potential to become a United legend.

Our team? Kind of picks itself – we play the best we have. The major disappointment to me of the past 3 weeks is that we have underperformed when having an almost full squad; no injury excuses (apart from TV) and exhaustion cannot be a factor –  today’s opponents have played as many games with a smaller (and worse) squad.

SAF’s usual tactics when playing us is to employ a very physical forcing game and hit us on the break; the game at OT earlier in the season was typical, as was the Cup game when SAF sent out a team with a hugely defensive bias, expect the same today. If Fletcher is fit to play, Cesc and JW can expect a good kicking – the man is the essence of SAF’s  chosen midfield general (Robson, Ince, Butt, Keane, Scholes etc). I like Park, a man who must despair of Nani and Rooney’s cheating abilities, he is a player who would fit well into our squad, an Asian Ray Parlour!

Thanks to our poor run what should have been a title decider has become another interesting game –  a game that SAF can afford to rest Giggs in. Yet today remains one of the highlights of the season. Home to MU has always been a huge game. Some of my all-time favourite  goals have been against MU; a brilliant George Graham scissor kick at the Clock End in a 2-2 draw with Best scoring in front of the North Bank, Alan Sunderland at Wembley, Wiltord at OT, TH14’s goal of the season at Highbury, Freddie’s first goal for AFC, David Platt’s last minute header in a 3-2 thriller at Highbury, PV4’s last kick for the Gunners etc etc. So many great memories – I am sure you can add your own.

What I would like to see from Arsenal today is for AW to get his tactics right and send out a team to match the opposition. Keep Rooney out wide, stop playing such a high defensive line,  allow Nasri to play more central, push RvP onto the shoulder of Vidic – he has the pace to turn him. And above all, the team have to show the fans that they value their shirts, that they are not just professional footballers but that they are immensely proud to be Arsenal players.

Angus Deayton, Eamonn Holmes,  Steve Coogan, Mick Hucknall, Gary Rhodes, Sean Connery, all big MU supporters …………. all live in the South 🙂

COYRRG

BR.


The Debacle in Madrid

April 28, 2011

Written by dandan

Half time in Madrid, players pushing and shoving, all the backroom boys getting involved, is this what we want in our league? Mourinho is in the thick of it having started it off at his press conference, Barcelona’s reserve goalkeeper gets involved in the melee in and around the tunnel and is sent off from the bench.

Many bloggers think we should court this man, are you sure? Do we really want to even consider Mourinho to take Arsène’s place? Rumour says Jose covets Fergie’s job, would Man Utd’s directors want their name sullied by such a man? Is this the price one has to pay for trophies?

What does Cesc think when he watches his would be team mates diving and play acting? every decision questioned, the referee constantly harangued and mobbed. Imaginary cards waived in his face by players every time a team mate throws himself to the ground, anything to pressure the referee to gain an advantage and get a fellow professional booked or sent off, Is this really where he wants to go and exercise his skills? More fool him if he does, he’s welcome to it. This is supposedly the best team in the world we are watching.

The more I watch it, the more I recognise the basically inherent honesty of our league, sure we have a few dodgy divers, Fergie plays his mind games and the occasional crunch tackle goes in. But compared to this whinging, cheating, orchestrated pantomime of a game, even old Trafford is a Temple of fairness.

Sportsmanship or gamesmanship – what do we pay to watch? How would we Gooners react to such conduct in our stadium every time one of our main rivals plays there?

If this is Champions League football they can shove it.

Come on Arsene: buy the couple of players you need for next season and let’s show these prima donnas we are the best team in the best league in the world.

What the final outcome will be tonight I don’t know and quite frankly, I don’t care. Pepe and Mourinho have mercifully just been sent off and I am going to bed.

Its morning now, Barca have won, Messi has worked his magic and by his genius, partially it seems watered down the reaction in the press, to what had gone on before. Mouriniho true to form however takes no prisoners at his press conference and launches a tirade against CL refs with all kinds of innuendo, that Barca have help in that direction, no matter who they play.

Its all smoke and mirrors, what really matters is the atmosphere in which the match was played, something has to be done, this is not football, the most important match this year ruined by patent self interest, disregard for the rules and a breathtaking expediency that sees the means justify the end. neither side is blameless. No doubt the authorities will throw the book at Jose, but in my book an enquiry into the conduct of the whole match should be instigated and the video evidence used to punish all the guilty parties who sullied our beautiful game last night.


Foreign Ownership the Arsenal way.

April 12, 2011

Written by Gooner in Exile

Ok, the day some of us (me included) dreaded has finally arrived. The ownership of our beloved club has moved into a single pair of hands, some of us have said not over our dead bodies, some of us have asked for it to be done the Arsenal way, some of us said its ok if its a billionaire to come and buy us trophies.

It is early days yet but all signs point to Kroenke amassing at least 60% but more likely around the 90% mark. And in the main it appears to have been done the right way, no ugly public confrontation very quick progression from breaking news to confirmed within 24 hours.

So what about those who wanted an end to the ownership uncertainty to allow more investment in the playing staff, well I think Kroenke’s successful takeover will disappoint here, it is unlikely with such a lump of cash required to buy the shares that there will be any loose change hanging around for injection into Wenger’s pocket for transfers.

To this end some would have preferred Usmanov to come in and pile in the Roubles, but we have seen how little respect that gains you in the football world and also how few trophies it buys you at the same time. As I type this I am watching the multi million pound assembled Man City getting a pounding by Liverpool three goals down in 35 minutes.

Allegedly (according to Mark Kleinman of Sky) Usmanov attempted to make a counter offer for Bracewell-Smith’s shares, Kleinman reported that he offered £13,000 and a lower offer earlier but she being an honest type rebuffed due to the irrevocable undertaking she had given to Kroenke. She has issued a statement regarding her sale:

“This marks the end of an era for our family’s association with Arsenal FC and we are proud to have had such a long history with one of the world’s greatest clubs. I am confident of Arsenal’s continued success both on and off the pitch and believe that Stan Kroenke will continue to develop the club in a manner true to its heritage for the players and the fans.”

And this is a lesson to Mr Usmanov, money can’t buy you everything especially from people who love what they are selling.

With Usmanov now nothing more than a thorn in Kroenke’s side we can hope that he is inclined to sell his lot for a quick buck and move on. Unfortunately for a man who is valued at $17.7 billion one must wonder what that quick profit will mean to him and this one could run and run.

Assuming Kroenke is successful in a full takeover (minus hopefully a token gesture for the Arsenal Supporters Trust) all I ask of him is to continue the work he has seen whilst he has been at the club and to recognise that what has made the club so valuable is its prudence, its trust in its managers, its loyalty to players past and present, and its ability to keep its dirty washing in house.

On that final point I hope that Kroenke lives up to his nickname, I don’t want the club to become more about the man upstairs than the men on the bench and the lads on the pitch. Say Chelsea and most of us think of Abramovich first, mention City and its the Sheikh that dominates our thoughts, the trophies are for them not for the players or managers, the staff come and go like the mercenaries and playthings they have become. This is where the Glazers have been successful at Man Utd, yes they have taken the club into debt, yes they have forced a hold on transfers, but could you really say they make you think of them first, no, you think Fergie, you think Giggs, Rooney and others before you think of the owners.

Comparisons will likely be made with the Glazers, neither they or Stan speak openly to the media and both made their money through real estate (one from trailer parks and one using family ties to build malls next to his Father in Laws Wal-Marts). It appears both have a penchant for sports teams too, although to that extent Kroenke is far more active having owned three top flight American Sports Teams, plus a couple of minor ones too.

Kroenke also insists that he will not be using any kind of debt financing to fund KSE’s purchase of Arsenal shares, although similar promises were made by Gillett and Hicks at Liverpool and the Glazers at United, all reneged and effectively put the clubs into debt to fund their acquisitions. We can only hope that the Board are right to believe Kroenke has the funds to make this happen without needing any extra finance secured on the assets.

Clearly a clever businessman, what of his sports teams. Everything I have read about Kroenke is that he is hands off when it comes to team matters but heavily involved with the financial detail. It is also worth remembering that American sports teams have to operate under salary caps, with the Financial Fairplay rules apparently around the corner it would seem that American ownership with experience of these conditions will be beneficial to the club.

Kroenke has owned 40% of the St Louis Rams since 1995, he bought the whole kit and kaboodle in 2010, but that has forced him to relinquish control of Denver Nuggets (NBA) and Colorado Avalanche (NHL) (both owned since 2000) due to NFL rules.

In his time as major shareholder St Louis Rams have won the Superbowl, but since his full takeover have been undergoing a bit of a rebuilding pinning their hopes on a Rookie Quarterback in 2010.  The Avalance won the 2001 Stanley Cup, and the Nuggets whilst winning their division in his time have failed to win the conference or the championship.

But to compare trophies is probably unfair as the American system does not allow any one team to dominate year after year, for example the reason the Rams have the young Rookie Quaterback was that the season before their record was 1-15 and therefore were given first draft pick.

So all we can do now is sit and wait, to be honest I do not expect any major changes but I have one final thought before I put this post to bed.

Look after our club Stan, its ours, you may own the shares at the moment, but the people make this club, the ones that have followed in their fathers footsteps to Highbury and now the Emirates, please make sure its still in one piece so we can take our children and grandchildren on the same walk. And don’t ever forget we’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen. Make sure it stays that way.


Corruption or Incompetence?

March 9, 2011

Well, that was without doubt that most bizarrely awful refereeing decision I have ever seen.

Robin van Persie is put through on goal, the ref whistles for offside, a second later Robin shoots.

The referee gives him a second yellow for time wasting and he’s off.

I was watching with some Arsenal fans and some who support other teams. Every single one of them thought it was a disgraceful decision.

In the excitement of a Champions League game, in a crowd of 90,000 where the home fans always whistle loudly when the opposition has the ball, the referee decided that Robin heard the whistle and ignored it. All within a second.

The first thought that came into my head was “have they bought the ref?”

I discounted it equally quickly.

Notwithstanding some glaring examples to the contrary (like Bernard Tapie’s Marseilles regime) I don’t believe there is much corruption in football.

So it’s just plain incompetence, from an official who allowed himself to be influenced and intimidated by the crowd all through the game (witness all the Arsenal bookings in the first half, while Barca fouls, particularly on Nasri, went unpunished).

Whatever, it killed the game. At the time of the sending off it was 1-1 and Arsenal were on course to qualify.

Barcelona, as we have come to expect, had most of the possession and occasionally played some breathtaking football. But Arsenal were defending with great determination, clearly wanting to keep it tight until we could open up in the final 15 minutes when our superior fitness would reap dividends, as it has done before against Barca.

Would we have qualified if RvP had stayed on? We’ll never know, but I suspect we would have been in with a damn good chance. But trying to play with 10 men against the best pass-and-move team in the world was never going to have a happy ending.

So here’s my match report, such as it is:

First half, we defended really well and restricted Barca to very few clear chances, even thought they dominated possession. I’m sure many a heart was a-flutter when Szczesney went off with an injured finger to be replaced by Almunia, but Manuel did really well throughout the game and can’t be faulted for their goals.

When Barca did tiptoe their way through our defence, usually Djourou or Koscielny was there to clear things up. It was nervy, no doubt, but it reminded me of Parma 1994.

Then, in added time in the first half, Cesc made a stupid, stupid mistake, trying a fancy back-heel on the edge of our box. I doubt he would have tried that at The Grove, but he was having an anonymous game and maybe wanted to try and prove a point with some fancy play at the Nou Camp. We lost the ball, a couple of quick passes later and Messi was one-on-one with Almunia and scored at the second attempt. Half time 0-1.

Second half, we carried on soaking up pressure. It was a dangerous game but we were working hard, closing Barcelona down and occasionally riding our luck. Almunia was called on to make some great blocks at the feet of the Barca attackers. Then Nasri won a corner and when it came over a huge leap by Diaby was enough to confuse the Barca defenders and the own goal went in off the head of Busquets. Cue pandemonium among the Arsenal faithful.

Barca almost created a goal from the re-start but then we regained our shape and continued to defy them. I was thinking that if we could just hold it at 1-1 until around the 70th minute we would start to step up a gear and maybe even get a second.

Unfortunately it was at that point that the Swiss referee decided to hand Barcelona the tie.

Down to ten men, the Barca onslaught was inevitable. Their second goal was a classic Barcelona move rounded off by Xavi – a really great goal. Their third was a soft penalty (Koscielny adjudged to have fouled Pedro) which was calmly slotted home by Messi.

We had one great chance to steal the tie, when Bendtner was clean through in the final minutes, but everything that’s wrong with the big Dane was evident in his clumsy first touch and the chance went begging. Would Robin have converted it? Very possibly.

In the end, all those who said it’s better to go out now than in the semis or the final have been given their wish. And the manner of our defeat – the blatant injustice of Robin’s sending off – may help drive us on in the other competitions. Time will tell. But I was left angry and dejected by it all.

No question Barcelona play sublime football, although some of their play-acting and cheating lets them down. I would like them to go on and win the competition simply because their style of play deserves to be successful.

I hope Arsene plays the strongest team possible against Manchester United on Saturday. This is not the time to have our ‘cup team’ take another spanking at Old Trafford.

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Szczesney: Digitally challenged. No score.

Sagna: Picked up where he left off in the Carling Cup, unfortunately. His form has suddenly gone off in the last couple of weeks. He did OK, but his ball use was poor as was some of his decision making. 6

Djourou: Good game from big Johan. Tracked the Barca players well and made some great interceptions. 7

Koscielny: Also did well, particularly given his early yellow card. Like many of our team he occasionally flirted with danger by over-elaborating having won the first ball, but overall pretty good. 7

Clichy: A bit wayward positionally at times but got forward well when he could. Decent effort. 6.5

Fabregas: Anonymous and caused their first goal with a stupid back-heel. 4

Diaby: Out of his depth in this quality. Tried hard but always needed a second longer than he ought to have done on the ball. 5

Wilshere: Always working, always trying, another really good effort from Jack. Showed his inexperience and naivety at the death by taking a short free kick in stoppage time when he should have waited for everyone to get in the box and then just hoofed one in. 7

Rosicky: Closed down well but overall pretty anonymous. 5

Nasri: Worked hard down the left flank all game long and looked our most promising outlet. Was consistently fouled without any protection from the ref. 7

Van Persie: Very difficult for him as the lone striker, but kept running and kept showing for the ball until his disgraceful sending-off. 7

Subs

Almunia: Outstanding game from the Spaniard. Blocked countless on-target attempts. No chance for the Barca goals.  MoTM 8

Arshavin: Looked busy and dangerous as we chased the game.  7

Bendtner: It’s all about that terrible touch when he had a chance to get us into the quarter-finals. His skills sadly lag way behind his ego. 4


BRING IT ON!

March 8, 2011

What do you expect from tonight? Will we estacionar el autobus? Will we start gung-ho, try to score early and then work on the counter, or try to play keepball and settle slowly? Or do you expect Barcelona to blow us away early and give us a lesson?

All my non-Arsenal friends are predicting that Arsenal will get a hammering tonight and that we were fortunate to win at the Grove. To them I say “ Pish Tosh and a bottle of Pinosh”. Beating Barca was one of the great Arsenal performances and I see no reason why we cannot progress at the Camp Nou.

I have read the suggestion that we would be better off losing tonight; that we cannot win the CL because there are too many English teams in it and it is less shameful to lose to Barca than, say Chelsea. Again I say “pish”. We have beaten the Chavs on aggregate this season, thrown away a win against Spurs and were unlucky at Old Trafford. We are better than Bayern. In fact, the only fear I have is Real. We can win this Cup.

But first we have to get a result tonight ….

One of the key questions to be answered tonight will be which team is most affected by their missing players? Will we be able to take advantage of the absence of Piquet and Puyol without our most effective strike force? How damaging will be the loss of Song? (he is 50/50 as I write, and I am assuming he will not be risked.)

Should Song be out, who should take his place as our defensive shield? In a perfect world it would be Ramsey or even better, a fit Vermaelen. As it is AW has to decide between Denilson, Diaby and Rosicky. I expect Mr Wenger to take a safety first stance and play Denilson, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rosicky get a start in place of Nasri or Arshavin. AW must have been hoping for more from Diaby, who would be ideal if he could just play with more intelligence. Diaby is without question the most frustrating member of the squad; tonight should be a night where he showcases his huge talent but I doubt he can be trusted in so important a fixture.

Wilshere established himself as the coming man at the Grove – I hope he can keep his cool at Camp Nou. His booking for what appeared to be dissent on Saturday was a worry and hopefully not a portent of a young man developing arrogance. Self confidence is an absolute in a player of JW’s undoubted skills, but the glare of the media on one so young can turn heads. I hope AW can keep him grounded. One thing for sure is that Barca will not take him so lightly again.

Our defence is solid at the moment and I am delighted to see Sagna return (though Eboue did well in the first game). This is the best back 4 we have had for 5 years; youth, experience, physical power and ability on the ball. Have we ever seen our CB’s propel the team as we saw JD and Kos do on Saturday?

Upfront we have problems.  RvP is in the squad, but is unlikely to start. In his absence and on the evidence of Saturday, I would play Chamakh as a lone striker. I love Nik but it appears he requires more time than the Barca defence will allow him (though he has scored at Camp Nou). Chamakh has been publicly praised by AW and I expect him to start. The news has just been released that RvP is travelling with the squad – I wouldn’t risk him, but what a sub!  With 20 minutes to go at the end of a tight game, Robin could make a huge impact.

Our most important players? Fabregas and Szczesny. Fab will be so excited about tonight, the opportunity to show his wonderful talents in his home town stadium.  He will control the tempo of our game. What a night for our 20 y.o. GK. To play at his age in what is the glamour tie in World football is unimaginable. He seems to be unflappable which he will need to be. There is no question that he will be by far the busier keeper and should he perform to his highest ability we have a chance. If he freezes, we are sunk.

My team:

My fear is that should we be 2 down at any time in the game we haven’t the weapons to get back into the game. Without RvP in the starting line-up we lack bite – we need a big night from Nasri and Fabregas. If we score (and have the luck) we will win.

Barcelona is home to many interesting chaps.  Picasso, Dali, Jean Miro`, Gaudi, Jose Carreras, Montserat Caballe`, Pablo Casals, Victoria de los Angeles among others, but does not appear to have any proper Rockers. Perhaps it is a weather thing?

Will I be nervous tonight? Will I be envious of Brigham who is at the game tonight? What do you think?

COYRRG


WE CAME, WE PLAYED, WE WON!

February 17, 2011

Written by Californian Gooner

Very few people gave Arsenal a chance of advancing in the Champions League this season when we drew Barcelona back in December. But after 90 minutes of amazing football and an even more amazing 2-1 victory, the Arsenal will travel to Catalonia in three weeks time with more than a fighting change to send the hosts home. Most of us will approach that game with a great deal of optimism. For now, let’s just savor a fantastic game, a great night and a stunning victory against what may be one of the best club sides ever.

With such a wonderful game, one is tempted to just dispense with a review and tell you, dear reader: go watch the game again (assuming you didn’t miss it). And then watch it another time. It is some of the best football you are likely to see.  While other teams – the Chelsea or Inter— might have come to park the bus, this Arsenal team came to play, and came away victorious.

As the game started, I was filled with hope, but also trepidation. Fresh in many minds were the first 25 minutes of the same tie last year, which saw us virtually played off the park.  The first 10 minutes put those fears to rest. This was a different Arsenal team – one with much more confidence, much more aggression, and importantly, a full first choice line up (minus Sagna).  The rise and rise of Jack Wilshire also added something that was missing last year – another player who could keep the ball in a tight spot and move it on intelligently. Arsenal players were finding space and Van Persie came close after a beautiful dinked ball from Cesc set him free on Valdes’ right. Fear of Walcott may have also played a role as the Catalans played unusually deep, leaving us space in the midfield.

As the match continued, Barca began to tighten things up, stifling our attack and pinning us in our own end. An early run from Messi was ended by a very late Song tackle, and the later received  a fair, if slightly harsh, yellow card that signaled the beginning of a difficult night for our midfield enforcer.  The ref was calling things extremely tight and the Catalans began to play for the whistle a bit. A through ball to Messi saw him scamper through the middle, only to see his chip go wide. Credit to Szczesny, who made the shot difficult, hesitating a split second to go to ground and forcing Messi to adjust. Barcelona began to tighten the screws, but Arsenal’s attack looked dangerous each time we managed to break their midfield pressure. Around 23 minutes, quick work from Wilshire released Walcott who carried the ball up the middle of the pitch, releasing Cesc with an inch perfect pass on the right. As Valdes came out, Cesc opted to pass, rather than shoot, Abidal clearing with a desperate header just before Van Persie could get there.

Minutes later, Barcelona had scored. A seemingly innocuous run by Messi drew the defense in before he released Villa, who sprung the offsides trap and scored through Szczesny’s legs. From that point on, Barcelona dominated possession, smothering the Arsenal attack quickly. Still, while the Catalans no doubt dominated this long stretch of play, Arsenal looked dangerous when they were able to break the pressure, and it was clear that an equalizer was possible.

Everyone on the pitch and off it for that matter knew that Walcott would be our danger man, our main outlet. But it was the increasing confidence of another man – 19 year old Jack Wilshire—that really gave cause for hope, taking the ball in tight positions and time and time again breaking Barcelona’s pressure with a clever pass. As Barcelona’s spell of pressure subsided at the end of the first half, one was left with the feeling that the match could go in any direction; 2-0 or 3-0 for Barca or a comeback for Arsenal all seemed a distinctly possible. A victory for the Arsenal, at that point, felt a bit far-fetched.

Arsenal opened the second half with much the same intensity they had opened the game with. Wilshire in particular began to take possession of the midfield and Koscielny was growing in confidence, taking on Messi and Alves and Pedro and time and again, coming away with the ball.  At 69 minutes Wenger removed Alex Song, who had played much of the game on a yellow card, for Arsivin, and shifted Nasri back to midfield. A few minutes later, Bendtner would come on for Theo. This line-up was either going to score or lose 3-0, effectively eliminating us from the tie.

The goals, when they came, were stunning. RVP, who had previously shot errantly and tamely when he might have done better, was put to the corner of Barca’s  six yard box by a promising through ball off Gael Clichy’s right foot. While the obvious play was a cross to Bendtner, RVP found his balance and rocketed a shot through the narrow gap between Victor Valdes and his right post. 1-1. Game tied and The Emirates was rocking. My local pub in the suburbs of San Jose, California– equally divided between Barca and arsenal fans – was rocking as well. Cue baby crying… she is an Arsenal fan in training, so I can only assume those were happy tears. The response was a bit frightening!

The second came minutes later, as a Cesc pass set Nasri free down the right side. Unable to beat the defenders, Nasri slowed the play down and bought time, before shuffling a lovely low cross for the onrushing Arshavin to curl a sumptuously controlled shot into the lower right corner from 12 yards out. 2-1!

Seven minutes left, but in no way did this match seem to slow down. Brimming with adrenaline and confidence and cheered on by a raucous crowd, arsenal began pressing higher up the pitch. Clearly they could smell the fear in their opponents, and either they were going to take the ball and head in for more or Barca would some how come back and nick one. Despite some late jitters, arsenal was able to hold on for the victory.

I will leave the player ratings to others, but just mention a few standouts. Jack Wilshire (my MOTM) and Laurent Koscielny were excellent. Wilshire grew as the match progressed and actually outplayed Xavi and a somewhat anonymous Iniesta later in the match. Koscielny basically won every dual he entered – against Alves, against Pedro, and most impressively, against Messi. Eboue – a major worry for many fans—was good and got even better as the game progressed –confidently carrying the ball out of defense. Clichy was his normal, battling self – his pass to RVP was better than normal. Theo was ‘kept quiet’, but his influence should not be underestimated. Much of Barca’s defense was geared at stopping him, and that opened up space elsewhere. And Szczesny was immense.

Now that you have read this review, go back and watch that match again.

This is the second of two great match reports we received, to save confusion please return to the first post to leave comments click here