A moment of madness cost us some silverware

February 28, 2011

Written by GoonerinExile

I was at Wembley as a 12 year old in 1988 and I remember that defeat clearly, Nigel Winterburn missing a penalty to put us 3-1 ahead, Tony Adams bringing down Mark Stein in the 90th minute to concede the free kick that his brother Brian scored from and won the cup for Luton. 14 years later Tony Adams retired an Arsenal legend, 12 years later Nigel Winterburn left the club as one of the best left backs we had ever seen.

Why do I mention this, well we need to remember this when the media scrum gathers to tell us yet again that our defence is weak and we have a lack of spine within the squad. Yesterday Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny combined to gift Birmingham the winner in the 89th minute. We know they are not weak we know they are capable of brilliance, only a week and a half ago Koscielny was probably our best player against Barca, Szczesny has filled us all with confidence for his persona and his command of the area. Yesterday unfortunately a blip, it just so happened, as so often a mistake does for defenders and keepers, to lead to a goal to the opposition. It was doubly unfortunate that it happened in a cup final and ultimately cost us the game. As it happened I looked on in horror, for anyone else the ball would have probably bounced back on to Koscielny and out for a corner, but for us it just rolled into Martins path, who had to do nothing more than roll the ball into the empty net.

We have probably all accepted now that Arsene Wenger will only ever concentrate on sending his team out the way he wants them to play football, he does not look at the opposition and consider sending out his team to counter their strengths, he wants them to worry about our strengths. We had all hoped that we would start with Nicklas Bendtner in the side to counter the effect of the height of Birmingham at set pieces, that we didn’t was an even bigger concern when Zigic’s name was on the team sheet as a starter, clearly from open play Bendtner would not have helped but he would have helped us deal with the threat created from set pieces. But this was not to be we would have to outplay Birmingham to win the game and hope that our defence could stand strong against the aerial bombardment.

As it was after a bright start from Birmingham and a slack opening from Arsenal the team were lucky not to be down to 10 men when Bowyer was wrongly given offside and Szczesny brought him down in the area. After that initial scare the team started to get into the game, controlling possession, albeit with little end product, but that was difficult against a well organised, solid and spirited Birmingham defence. This is where the brain and guile of Cesc gives the team something different, the ability to pick open defences with a sublime pass or two, not that we didn’t create a couple of chances in this period. Nasri playing in Arshavin a skilful turn later and he had  shot at goal saved by Foster.

Inexplicably Arsenal began to misplace passes, from one incident Sagna trying to find Wilshere missed him by about five feet and allowed Zigic to gain possession, the resultant ball into the box forced Koscielny to head the ball out for a corner. From the corner the ball was headed towards goal by Roger Johnson, and Zigic flicked the ball past an onrushing Szczesny.

Minutes later it could have been much much worse, when Gardner burst through the midfield and passed to Zigic, Szczesny spread himself well to prevent a second Birmingham goal and a mountain to climb.

As it was Arsenal had still failed to really impose themselves on the game, it took a storming run from Wilshere to stir the team, after some brief interplay he smashed a shot against the crossbar, with the bar still rattling the ball made its way to out little Russian who after some nimble footwork delivered an inch perfect cross for Van Persie to volley home with his right foot. However the delight turned to immediate concern for us sitting at home who watched as Van Persie’s celebration was curtailed by an injury to his knee.

Arsenal ended the half applying the pressure and searching for a second goal to take us into the lead. The team started the second half in a similar vain but the team were consistently thwarted by Ben Foster who had a stormer in the Birmingham goal when the defence had been breached. Despite the pressure the game was on a knife edge knowing that any breakaway from Birmingham could lead to a goal as Arsenal committed more men forward in search of an elusive winner. So it nearly did when Fahey’s effort beat Szcezney and rebounded of the post.

On 67 minutes it appeared that Robin van Persie could no longer continue, and so it was that Nicklas Bendtner was introduced to the attack. At this time Roger Johnson was showing signs of injury, was he removed as a precaution, no chance he played through it, and just once I would like to see the same from our players, maybe Robin has suffered too  many injuries to risk losing him for the rest of the season, but this was the most important game at the time, nothing else mattered, Birmingham have a relegation battle to fight but they didn’t pull off Johnson, nor did he want to come off.

Something else changed at this point for once Arsenal were shooting from outside the area form all angles, Samir Nasri, Rosicky and Wilshere all had efforts from distance, either blocked by defenders or Foster. Wenger sent on Chamakh for Arshavin, as if putting as many “strikers” as possible would bring us a goal by willpower alone. I thought Bendtner had done well when he came on, but to see him removed from the centre forward position after only ten minutes was reorganisation we didn’t need. With Cesc and Walcott injured there was no other attacking option, but clearly Wenger could have chosen any other player to withdraw, perhaps looking to the next game again?

Of all chances the one that could have won the game fell to Rosicky, the ball played to him by Bendtner he had only to scoop the ball past Foster but inconceivably attempted a back heel from more than 6 yards out with defenders on the line this seemed a very strange decision for one with such experience and technical ability. This is perhaps Rosickys biggest failure, he seems to want to do the difficult things, look for the difficult passes, look for the flicks, as a result he is more wasteful in possession than a man 11 years his junior who 95% of the time finds a teammate with his passes, beats men at will, and runs into space, and is constantly available for his team mates, that man of course is Jack Wilshere, more of him later.

Arsenal had 20 efforts on goal according to BBC stats, 12 on target, Birmingham had 11, unfortunately not one of our chances was as simple as the one presented to Martins in the 89th minute the chance that sent the blue half of Birmingham into delirium, and the chance that sent the red half of North London searching for alcohol and flak jackets.

56% of possession 20 attempts on goal, six corners, we pressed and pressed but Birmingham held firm. The BBC commentary team said that the better team won, how the man of the match was Ben Foster then I have no idea, surely he would not have had much to do if they were indeed the better team. Take nothing away from Birmingham they defended well, and always looked threatening on the breakaway, in a cup final there can only be one winner, we have been there before and we will be there again. But in between now and the next final defeat there might also be some wins, there definitely have been since our defeat to Luton in 1988.

As disappointing as the goal was there were other concerns for me, the game seemed to pass Song by, never bossing midfield as we would expect, Robin Van Persie did not see  great deal of the ball in the build up play, hindered by Rosicky’s approach of looking for a difficult ball. The team needed to press high up the pitch to stop the easy get out ball to Zigic, the desire to do so wasn’t there, we were second to the knockdowns in out half of the pitch which enabled Birmingham to build pressure which could easily have been avoided. Our best players on the day were Nasri and Wilshere.

I have heard bottlers mentioned already by some of our own fans on this very forum, to bottle the game would have been to not play to our strengths to not play with our normal conviction, to appear to be waiting to lose, as we have done against Chelsea, and Man Utd in the past, that wasn’t the issue today, the team played, they pressed, they tried but unfortunately a moment of madness cost us some silverware.

I’m not going to put in any player ratings today, I think there is no point adding insult to injury. This week we must be strong together we must support our team, for those who couldn’t be bothered to hang around in Wembley when Birmingham scored please hand back in your Season Tickets that is not support, I don’t know what it is but it definitely isn’t support. Support when you win and when you lose, the team need support and positive energy. Birmingham fans waited 48 years for this success, but I guarantee of they’d lost they would have still been in the ground at the final whistle, and applauded their teams efforts. The Arsenal end was empty before the team had even been up to collect their runners up medals, how do you think they feel seeing that.


Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners

February 27, 2011

My first post for Arsenal Arsenal was just over a year ago and I sit today writing a Cup Final pre-match. What drought?

And what of this team that today can earn some silverware and stop the ludicrous carping from the media and a few of the fans? Why are we favourites to win a Cup for the first time in 6 years?

Cometh the time, Cometh the Man. And in this case it is Cometh the Men. Arsenal have moved forward as a club in a very short time and the sudden impact of 4 players has given the team a solidity not seen for many a year. Step forward Messrs Wilshere, Koscielny, Djourou and Szczesny. Suddenly we look solid at the back, and have a new and very young spine, one that can take us to glory.

In just a few games our problemic goalkeeping position has found a pillar of strength, our young Pole has shown against the differing attacks of Barca and Stoke that he is the real deal, and likely to be the Arsenal number One for at least a decade.

Djourou was written off by many, nicknamed Bambi for his ungainly style he has had a checkered injury filled career at Arsenal, but now, fully fit. he is established as the first name of the defensive teamsheet. His absence from the pitch at Newcastle led to 4 goals in 20 minutes – can anyone doubt that we would have won the game had he remained on the field? When Koscielny took the field in an Arsenal shirt I was one of many who questioned Mr Wenger’s signing. He looked lost, lacking in height and pace; yet here we are a mere 4 months later and he looks the real deal. I would even go so far as to say that Vermaelen will struggle to regain his place in the team. JD and Kos have an awesome record playing together, they have a fine understanding and both are just 23!! Probably the youngest CB pairing in the League.

And then there is Jack. What can be said that hasn’t been written? In half a season he has become an integral part of the team and forced two regular Internationals to become B teamers. He is always available for the ball when the defenders are under pressure, and with the ball at his feet is comfortable in the tightest situations. The man has genius.

And what of our other players who have improved beyond recognition? Samir Nasri has become a World Class player, a possible Player of the Year and a man who can mesmerise a defender, He can tackle, he can beat a player with pace, he can cross, shoot, pass with precision – he is a pleasure to watch. And he maintains the ability to give a sly dig which is essential in the hurly burly of the Premiership.

Van Persie is playing the best football of his career, Walcott has come of age, The full backs are back to the form they showed 2 seasons ago – Clichy was brilliant against Barca and Sagna has been strong all season.

Cesc is a big loss today, not because we cannot win without him but because if the game gets hairy, he is “the man”. Cesc has developed into the real leader of the team and I am very sad he will not have the opportunity to lead the side up the Wembley Steps. His injury leaves a midfield berth which I would give to Diaby, who is a more creative player than Denilson. He also has the height to cope with the inevitable Birmingham aerial bombardment.

Walcott’s absence opens a space for Bendtner. I like Nik, he always gives his all and despite not being the most elegant of players can be very effective, he is important when defending corners and set plays. Nik’s goal in the semi-final was as good as any seen at the Grove, and in his two appearances since he has had two assists. A goal and an assist would cement his place in the Arsenal fermament. However, Arshavin has been looking dangerous of late and we could play Nasri on the right with Arshavin on the left which allows us more movement than with the slightly ponderous Bendtner.

My team:

With Arshavin and Denilson coming on after 60 minutes

Birmingham are not a team studded with star players, they have lost the creativity of Hleb through injury and will look to play as a tight unit. They are clear underdogs. A midfield of Ferguson and Bowyer are sure to be combative. Should Birmingham win today it will be as a result of a huge team effort whereas we have the individual brilliance all over the pitch to win the game by having one player on fire.

One may wonder why I have used so few words on this Birmingham team. Truth is, I am bored by them – they are a reflection of their manager. Nothing more needs to be said.

The man who really deserves to win a trophy this season is our esteemed manager. Year after year he has had to listen to the same inane question about our lack silverware whilst delivering the best football seen in the Premiership week after week. Like Birmingham our team is a direct reflection of our manager, and I am very proud that our manager is Mr Arsene Wenger.

Birmingham is the birthplace of some of heavy metal’s stellar bands. The wondrous Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and the very Kings of Rock, Led Zeppelin all hail from Birmingham.

We are better than Birmingham in every department – it is a game for us to lose.

COYRRG

Written by BigRaddy


Carling Cup – Plan A will defeat Clan B

February 26, 2011

Written by ryandanielwood

It’s been almost as long as AFC have gone without a trophy since I last posted a feature on AA. I don’t know if that makes this post a case of perfect timing and fate, it probably doesn’t. I just can’t help but want to express myself whilst the Arsenal are on the brink of expressing themselves all the way to a little piece of history! Yeah…that’s definitely it!

And what a chapter in our grandest of club histories it could prove to be. After peeling myself off the ceiling from ARSE-BARCE Round 1, I’ve become a little partial to dreaming of a spectacular quadruple don’t y’know?. Come on, don’t roll your eyes now, it could happen. The Red and White machine has been blowing gaskets and valves over the past five seasons, and when the going’s been good, the tank has either run out of gas or the fragile underbelly has suffered from a lack of maintenance. What about if this year “The business end” of matters is met with a head of Ashburton steam!?

The first road block en-route to our clean sweep of glory is Alex “let the dogs off the leash“MacLeish. A managerial figure of Scottish steel, that would scare the living pants off me, if I wasn’t all to aware that his steel is nothing more than cheap economy knockoff compared to that of the Purple nosed nightmare further north.

His plans IMO will be to put the Blues through a fitness and determination cycle the likes of which can only be equalled by the famous montage from Rocky IV. He’ll also no doubt fill Bowyer’s head with one last Wembley hurrah, and a strict instruction to end an Arsenal career on the night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Mcleish would love to play beautiful football to achieve results, evidence is suggested by some of his dips into the transfer market . A couple of Blues have even plied their trade in our corner at one time or another, but to put trust in Mcleish to play a fair strategy on CC final day, would be as foolhardy as ever putting your faith in Hleb or Bentley to remain loyal to a badge with a certain cannon on the front. Maybe it is unfair of me to question their integrity, but it seems as though they took it as a literal sign to move on from our club as if being shot from one!

So what of our own chances and tactics?

Well so good is our Plan A at this moment, it can overturn the best team in the world. So I’d go with that, wouldn’t you? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t really do our game plan the justice it truly deserves.

That said, We’ve been spectacular and underwhelming on all competitive fronts in equal measure this season, so caution will no doubt be rife at times.

In fact such an inconsistency in our league and at our level would usually see a club knocked out of at least two competitions by this juncture, if it weren’t for the fact that our telling difference this season, is that we truly don’t know when we’re beat. We are the EPL team that is snatching victory from the jaws of defeat on a regular basis. And I am confident it is that new acquisition of unshakable grit, that is convincing all that watch on, that the Arsenal have finally matured.

And if we are to win it all, after living so long with nothing at all,  it might even plant a seed of doubt in the mind of that smug git Xavi, that Cesc is not all but Barca bound.

COYRRG


Talksport – hitch all your anti-Arsenal bandwagons here

February 25, 2011

During last summer’s England World cup debacle, much to my chagrin, I found myself listening to the above radio station specifically for  an “exclusive” interview with everyone’s favourite wheeler dealer Henry James “Harry” Redknapp.

Aside from the usual sycophantic toadying one would expect from Ginger Durham towards a good honest Brit manager I heard an example of the blatant double standards the station employs when addressing our club and any other.

At that time England had just ignominiously exited the tournament and Defoe had been pictured, along with others in the squad, puffing a large cigar as if to celebrate his teams departure from the competition (around this time Cashley was making clear his feelings on playing for his country: “I hate England and all the f***ing people”) so obviously his club manager was going to be asked about it.

His answer?

“I haven’t see that picture”

Now can anyone think of a Premier League manager who is routinely ridiculed if he says he hasn’t seen “it”?

Mmmm….

So what was the Ginger ones rejoinder? A cutting remark, repeat the question, insist he must have seen it?
Nothing, a swift move onto the next friendly question and the usual inordinate amount of questioning allowing as many anti Arsenal digs to come in.

For example Mertesacker, who we were rumoured to be interested in at the time, was pronounced ”meat stacker” (ho ho ho) and was labelled useless because “oh, Arsenal are interested”

It’s also strange to see how enraged the station were by Flamini’s tackle on Corluka in the first leg of the Spuds Champions league fixture, to which Harry said:

“That is a red card all day. How has he not got a red card for that? It’s an absolute disgrace, they should look at that, surely, and do something about it. It’s a dangerous, dangerous tackle. He was two or three feet off the floor with two feet. It was a leg-breaking tackle”

Now imagine if that had been our manager saying that about any tackle performed on one of our players, do you think they would refrain, as they did for Harry, from saying – it was a slightly mistimed fair but firm challenge and you can’t take tackling out of the game?

Harry’s stance on the Flamini tackle varies somewhat with what he said earlier this season when asked if Wenger is right to ask for the problem of reckless tackling to be addressed:

“What Arsene’s saying is they’ve had one or two injuries. But if people are going for the ball and it’s a fair tackle then there’s no problem if they’re aggressive.”

Again, would Talkspite allow that kind of self-contradiction from our manager to go unchallenged? Of course they wouldn’t, indeed they spend a good deal of their time peretuating and reinforcing myths about him, for example that he wants to take tackling out of the game.

I’ve heard the Ginger one say “I don’t care enough about Arsenal to hate them” yet for the next hour or so after he said that he spent a lot of time highlighting why our team is all that’s wrong with the foreign teams.

Just recalling how much time is spent on discussing what is wrong with Arsenal by him shows he cares too much and while I doubt it is his personal choice to jump on anything that even remotely resembles an anti-Arsenal bandwagon.

The stations policy is clearly built on antagonising the fans of the team who are the most articulate and have one of the largest internet presence in the blogosphere and thereby goading them into responding.

This is not an isolated case, one Stan Collymore, emboldened by the company policy of sticking into the Arsenal, let rip once and showed his Arsenal hating credentials by launching into a very unfunny impression of Wenger’s French accent which had it been in ,say, an African accent would have rightly been unacceptable on the grounds of racism.

One has to say Collymore is consistent as around that time Setanta were broadcasting a supporters talk forum where he was on the panel and when asked about Arsenal’s chances of staying in the top 4 said “No chance” and he expected Aston Villa to take their place in the top four.

That’s not to say S V Collymore is a good example of footballing punditry, I’d rather ask him for relationship counselling than expect a worthwhile insight into the game from him and I’d get more footballing sense out of Ulrika.

During the time of the Cesc-spitting slurs it was clear that the case hinged on one person’s word against another – that of (as Alan Brazil put it) an “Honest pro, a real Brit football man” like Horton and a non-English, Spaniard Cesc Fabregas, who was from the continent and – incidentally – foreign.

Guess who Brazil sided with?

Now of course experts have a right to support a team it’s just I wish Talk sport would allow them to say “I hate Arsenal and you will not get even handed discussion about things football here as we have an agenda to live up to” – that way listeners would know what to expect.

The fact they have hired the ex-Sky Sports pair comes as no surprise, no doubt we can look forward to the hirsute one exhorting Theo to “get up you stupid little boy” and “You’ve been s***e, son, in your daft pink boots – absolute rubbish.”

So what to do if you want to keep your blood pressure in check? Switch off and starve the station of listeners – you won’t miss the intrusive and persistent advertising nor the product placement references you are force fed during the non-commercial sections of the broadcasting.

I took part in a radio listening census and put, in the “Other comments” section, that I no longer listened to Talkspittle because of its lack of even handedness in its treatment of different clubs.

A small gesture but worth making, like when I cancelled my Vodafone contract once they became sponsors of Sir Alchopop’s team – and I wrote to them saying exactly why I’d cancelled.

If gooners have had enough of our team and us, as supporters, being routinely vilified (who was surprised that Talkshite’s response to our Barca first leg victory would be that of “Arsenal were lucky and didn’t deserve to win”?) then I suggest turning off in droves and maybe starting up a twitter campaign as has been mentioned by one of our contributors here (#BoycottTalkSport).

It may not amount to anything but you just don’t know who may be monitoring its effect, the ripples in ponds effect.

Either way, why not try alternative stations or perhaps re acquainting yourselves with music of your youth?
In any case don’t get angry at Talkhate and do not bother phoning in(they’ll keep you hanging on for ages at a minimum of 10 pence a minute) because ultimately there is no reasoning with stupidity, and plenty of that abounds from that radio station.

Written by charybdis1966


Three points – Not a classic but a serious performance

February 24, 2011

Written by 26may1989

After all the prematch neurosis, that was what this game was about. Not Shawcross, not Ramsey, not Pulis;  just the points. And they’re ours.

Le Boss summarised things nicely:

“Tonight was a night when nobody else played [well] and if you can take three points and glide closer to the top, that means that your team is really hungry for success. The number of games we play, not to make a mistake at any stage… we were less sharp creatively but you could feel the team did not want to make a mistake and that’s a very positive sign.”

Couldn’t agree more.

The opening ten minutes contained much of the game’s creative content: Fabregas, Bendtner and Walcott carved open the Stoke defence three times, and Theo was very unlucky to see his first effort bounce back off the post to Begovic rather than nestle in the net. And on the 8th minute a corner pinged around the box, before being deftly knocked back into the danger area by Bendtner to Squillaci, who nodded in from no distance, with Stoke’s defending surprisingly weak. And that was that, 1-0 to the football team, which is how it stayed till the end.

This was certainly no classic. No surprise there, the Stoke way makes classics a different thing to achieve. There’s a reason fans watching Stoke have seen fewer goals than any other team’s fans other than those of Fulham and Birmingham (only West Brom fans have seen more goals than Gooners). But without doubt, our boys weren’t at the top of their creative game either. Fabregas’s early departure must be a big part of the reason for that, the remaining players seemed to lose their fluency and dynamism as soon as El Capitan limped off, and didn’t really get their mojo back before the end of the first half.

There was a strange lack of intensity to both teams in the first half – where the appearance of Shawcross a year after he split the tibia and fibula in Aaron Ramsey’s right leg was meant to fire up this game, it was a calcio, uber tactical, sterile exchange, with Arsenal working hard but failing to string many moves together. However, the defence staying strong and disciplined in terms of shape and position. Stoke started in more of a 4-3-3 but after a while Walters and Pennant spent most of their time in midfield, making it a 4-5-1. Neither John Carew nor Wojciech Szczesny saw much of the ball before half-time, save for one sparkling, powerful drive from the Norwegian that our young Pole saved without much fuss.

Things picked up in the second half, as Stoke came out of their lair and tried to press us more aggressively. That, plus the inevitable rubbish from the referee, prompted a more vigorous style of play from our guys, with Nasri in particular coming into the game more effectively than he had done up to that point. Walcott, who had been one of the bright sparks before half time, faded a bit, before being chopped down from behind by Whitehead without Peter Walton spotting the foul. Walcott was stretchered off and will now miss the League Cup Final. Thanks Stoke. I guess we should be grateful the doctors aren’t debating whether one of his limbs needs to be amputated.

Szczesny and the defenders had to deal with the inevitable artillery barage from throw-ins, corners and free-kicks, and for the most part they dealt with it well. They were assisted by Stoke’s undisciplined approach to our offside trap, Stoke’s front players often being lazy in holding their position. But Robert Huth ought to have scored from one of the deadball mortar shells lobbed into the penalty area to consolidate his position as Stoke’s top scorer. Fortunately for us, he headed over.

Arshavin worked hard throughout, and unlocked the Stoke defence beautifully when he took his defender to the line and cleverly beat him, then set up Walcott in the centre, only for Theo to miscue when he should have buried the ball in the net. There were occasions when we carried some threat to Stoke, usually when one of our attacking players received the ball between Stoke’s midfield and defensive lines. But truth be told, they were few and far between.

This was a serious performance from Arsenal, one that suggests the appetite and focus that they’ll need if they are to overhaul United. There were no frills or thrills, and no hysterical attempts at revenge, just a determination to bag the points in a game against an obnoxious but potent opponent. The price for those points may have been high: we’ll have to see what the morning brings in terms of the injuries suffered by Fabregas (who appears to have the tightest of hamstrings) and Theo. But fingers crossed, they’ll be able to resume duties, at least when we play Sunderland and West Brom.

Here are my rankings, which I think will prompt disagreement:

Szczesny: 8 - Dealt with what was thrown at him well and without panicking. That’s more than we can say about either Fabianski or Almunia.

Sagna: 7 – Disciplined, no nonsense performance.

Squillaci: 7.5 – Showed the doubters that there is more to his game than he’s often given credit for, the goal just being the icing on the cake. Clearly more comfortable alongside Djourou than Koscielny.

Djourou: 6 – Positionally superb and dealt well with the ball in the air, but on a number of occasions he was uncharacteristically error-prone with the ball at his feet, exposing us to unnecessary risk.

Clichy: 7 – Again, a disciplined performance, along with some of the usual Clichy bite, and some of the usual misplaced passes.

Song: 7.5 – Efficient with the ball, with very few errors, and executed his defensive duties well.

Wilshere: 8 – What more can be said about this boy? He is a marvel, it’s astonishing to think he was playing youth team football not long ago. His maturity with and without the ball in a game like this is incredible. MOTM.

Nasri: 6 - Not his best performance but worked hard, and got some traction in the second half.

Walcott: 7 – Fantastic and explosive beginning. He saw less of the ball after Fabregas went off, but still worked hard. Went down a couple of culs-de-sac in the second half but was still one of our better creative players.

Fabregas: 7 – He was only on for 14 minutes, and looked mighty unhappy when he had to come off, but in the time he was on, he looked willing and able to spring the Stoke defence.

Arshavin: 7 – Worked very hard, and used his tricks to good effect. Has clearly got over his difficult phase, he’ll be a big part of our run-in.

Bendtner: 7 – Again, worked hard against Huth and Shawcross often without support, and got an assist for the goal plus was at the heart of our early chances.

Denilson: 7 – Very astute substitute for the injured Walcott when the logical choice might have been the off-form/in decline Rosicky – Denilson did what he does best, retained possession and completed a very high proportion of his passes, just what we needed.

Chamakh: 6.5 – Didn’t do much wrong, and did well in the air for the short period he was on, but no sparkling contribution either.

The fans’ lack of spark also contributed to the mean fare that was on offer. It really isn’t good enough on such a crucial night for our fans to put in such a poor shift – we have a lot to contribute to the push for the title. Playing Barcelona is all very well, but let’s be realistic, we’re not going to win the Champions’ League; our season is about these league games, and we need to contribute to the drive for the title.

Finally, and on a very different subject, I just wanted to send my best wishes to everyone in Christchurch. I have family in NZ, and know the country and Christchurch very well, having even gone to school in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner for a few months. My parents are in NZ visiting my brother right now, and were only 60km up the coast from Christchurch when the earthquake hit. They’re fine but seeing the devistation done to the city and its people is shocking, and hearing that rescue efforts for those trapped are now being wound down is deeply depressing. My thoughts are with Christchurchians and all Kiwis.


From Messi to Shawcross.

February 23, 2011

Funny old game football. A week ago we were facing sublime skill, at the weekend passion and unlikely hope, and tonight aggression and anti-football. It is a testament to the Beautiful game that all types of football can be encompassed inside 7 days.

We know what to expect from this Stoke team under the tutelage of Mr Pulis, it will be park the bus, long throw ins and long, long balls to test the aerial expertise of our defence.  The midfield will be tigerish putting our skill players under intense physical pressure and yet trying to remain within the rules. Pulis will not be distraught if another Stoke player gets a red card because his defence for any loss will be that Arsenal are a team of foreign pouffs and divers…… “Same old Arsenal, Always cheating.”  Mr Wenger doesn’t speak to Pulis which tells me all I need to know about the Stoke manager.

Lest we forget, Ryan Shawcross is a stalwart in the Stoke defence, an innocent according to his manager, a nice guy who doesn’t deserve the criticisms from fans according to the pandering British press, and an out and out thug according to Aaron Ramsey. I expect to hear a strong vocal “welcome” for young Ryan which will hopefully temper his tackling and remind him that he caused a brilliant young talent to lose a year of his career; though I doubt he has the sensitivity to understand our dislike.

It should be noted that Shawcross is not the only hardmen in the Stoke team – they are full of them. From Carew upfront, to Faye, Delap, Whitehead and Diao in midfield, to Collins and Robert Huth in defence, Stoke are packed with aggression. This will be no easy ride for our artists.

But we have developed the ability to fight fire with fire, and it is some time since we were bullied out of a game. Wilshere and Cesc may be delicate players but they can handle themselves in the heat of battle as can Song and our defenders. Plus we be without the finesse of Van Persie who will be replaced by the added bulk of Chamakh or Bendtner (I would pick Nik who is better defensively).

Sadly Koscielny is out for tonight, a big loss considering the style of Stoke’s attack. Szczesny will have to use his height and strength to counter the Delap effect; I imagine this will be a baptism of fire for him and that our young keeper will not have faced tonight’s type of bombardment, but having come through the Barca game, I expect him to take Stoke in his stride. The inclusion of Djourou and probably Nik B will assist the defence at set plays.

I expect Theo to score the first goal.

My team:

We are on a super run of League form. Apart from the 20 minute madness at Newcastle, Arsenal have been in great shape. Mr. Wenger will be looking for another 3 points tonight and hope that our rivals start to drop points.

Iron Maiden on Sunday and today it is the turn of another of Britain’s great Rock acts, Lemmy from Motorhead, who was born in Stoke in 1945 (can he really have made it to pensionable age?!). Though Stoke’s most famous son is of course Robbie Williams.

COYRRG


Almunia Back in the First Team

February 22, 2011

With Fabianksi out for the rest of the season, we’re only one injury away from Manuel Almunia resuming his position as Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper.

Let’s say Szczesney picks up a knock in training or gets Shawcrossed on Wednesday night – it would mean Big Al coming in for a string of important games that could include Barcelona away and the Carling Cup Final.

This sort of scenario could happen any time between now and the end of the season and whenever it does the timing will be inconvenient. Let’s face it, the games are only going to get more intense the closer we get to May.

I know that most Gooners would welcome the prospect of Manuel’s return about as much as a cyclist would welcome a bad case of piles during the Tour de France, but it’s a distinct possibility.

So what do we do about it?

For me it’s simple. We throw out the preconceptions, we ditch the bitching and we get behind our man.

If Fabianski, Song, Eboue, Arshavin, Clichy, Walcott and others can find their form again after becoming the butt of the fans’ frustration, Almunia should be given the same chance.

He is being blamed by many for the Orient goal on Sunday – although opinion seems divided as to whether he was at fault. But even if he could have done better, it was one mistake by a player lacking competitive game time.

What many Arsenal supporters seem to forget is that Manuel Almunia can be a very good ‘keeper.

And before you shout me down, take a look at this:

Yes, you can point out that that was way back in ‘08/’09, but cast your mind back just a year ago to this:

There was a time when Almunia was being seriously mooted as a possible England goalie. When the competition included David ‘Calamity’ James, Paul ‘Air Kick’ Robinson and Robert ‘Butterfingers’ Green, you can see why Manuel was in the frame.

Almunia has played very well for Arsenal in the past and, while he’ll never be in the Seaman or Lehmann class, he’s a solid professional who, if he played in a mid table EPL team, would probably be highly thought-of by the fans.

He has had bad spells as well as good, but some of the bad spells have coincided with having a defence in front of him offering about as much protection as a cotton condom.

In his good spells he has been very good and, in my opinion, his greater stature makes him less likely to be bullied than Fabianski. (I’ve never seen us concede a goal by having Almunia bundled into the back of the net, as has happened with Fabiasnki).

Szczesney is undoubtedly in Pole position (pun intended) for the Arsenal number one spot but if Almunia comes back into the first team in this exciting season he will need our support, not our ridicule.

Apart from anything else, I have never heard Almunia complain about his lot, I have never heard him slag off the boss or his team mates. He has not sulked. He has just consistently tried to do his best for the club.

So if he does come back in a big game, let’s not give him the ironic cheer treatment and let’s remember his great moments instead of his bad ones.

Let’s forget the Spanish Waiter and Coco the Clown jokes and give him the respect and credit he deserves.

Our season may yet depend on him.

RockyLives


Arsenal’s lack of sharp shooting gives O’s a payday

February 21, 2011

Written by GoonerinExile

After the highs of Wednesday night, expecting either the fans or the players to get excited about the game against Leyton Orient was a big ask.

So with that in mind and also the visit of Stoke on Wednesday night and the trip to Wembley on Sunday we could only expect Arsene to field a much changed side.

The likely candidates were given a much needed outing, Squillaci, Rosicky, Gibbs, Denilson, Chamakh and Bendtner all needing starts. The surprise selection was our 18 year old Spanish centre back Ignasi Miquel. Remaining spots filled by Sagna, Arshavin and Song.

This side looked strong enough on paper to overcome League One opposition, unfortunately football, as the old adage goes, isn’t played on paper, it turns out at Brisbane Road it isn’t played on grass either, but still the pitch should not be used as an excuse as it seemed in the main to be flat enough to play our style of football on.

At kick off I sunk back into my sofa to relax and enjoy the match, this was my change from Wednesday night when I couldn’t move from the edge of my seat for 90 minutes of football.

Despite controlling possession from kick off the play stagnated around the edge of Orient’s box, where it became ponderous and confused in front of two banks of four defending. Bendtner seems in these games to think he can walk the ball around the opposition and forgets the Wengerball principle of pass and move, often realising too late that he needed to release the ball, and by then being too far into a treble stepover to do anything about it.

Chamakh was holding the ball up well and attempting to bring others in to the play, when through a combination of his hold up, a pass by Rosicky and a cross from Gibbs he was presented a chance on a plate but fluffed his lines and failed to get enough contact with the ball to give us an opener.

The first half played out with us camped mainly in their half or, if not in their half, in our half with possession in droves. Still failing to create any more clear cut chances except for a quick bit of interplay between Bendtner and Arshavin which saw the latter shoot wide at the near post and into the side netting.

Bendtner was shooting from improbable angles and positions but that is I suppose better than failing to have an effort on goal.

The second half continued as it left off with the team stalling in Orient’s defensive third. That was until Sagna decided to fire a shot from well over twenty yards, which after a bit of ping pong found its way to Bendtner who moved the ball wide to find space and picked out Rosicky with a cross, a well placed header later and it was one nil to the Arsenal.

Following the goal Orient then decided to play a bit and broke their banks of four at the back, this should have meant that we could then break through in numbers and on the counter. Twice after our goal breaks were made, but where we would normally expect to see two or three players join the break Arshavin had to make do with trying to score from 18 years out, and Song had to try and beat the defence on his own when he found himself clear.

Lacking match fitness or too frightened to commit men forward the team allowed Orient to get a foothold in the match, then the crowd started to get involved, and eventually we were made to pay for our ineffectiveness going forward, the ball falling to Tehoue, who in a blink of eye had skipped past Gibbs and Miquel and was through on goal, he smashed it as hard as he could between the legs of Almunia and added an unnecessary game to our fixture list.

In summation I think the team should have been good enough, but for whatever reason once they had got their noses in front decided to sit back and see out a comfortable win, I guess no one in the side got the memo that Barry Hearn wanted a replay at the Emirates and seemed to think what Orient had been giving up until the 53rd minute was all they could muster, they ended up getting a shock for their naivety.

A quick word on our debutant Miquel, for an 18 year old he appeared very calm at the back, unflustered in possession, and quick to read the game. Another cracking prospect for us to look forward to seeing more of.

Ratings:

Almunia 6 (still hesitant when the ball is his for the taking)

Sagna 7 (untroubled defensively, supported attack well when given the ball)

Squillaci 7 (great block with his face, otherwise untroubled)

Miquel 7 (would have been 8 but for his part in Orients goal)

Gibbs 6 (not as attacking as I would hope and dived in to give Tehoue the room to get away)

Rosciky 7 (seems to be unable to find his teammates consistently enough, but did score!)

Denilson 6 (kept the ball moving, rash in the tackle)

Song 6 (needed to step up to the plate and move the team forward more)

Arshavin 7 (always showing and continued to try for 90 minutes, shame his teammates were not on same wavelength)

Chamakh 6 (a shadow of the player we saw at the start of the season)

Bendtner 6 (needs to be taken down a peg or two, glimpses of skill followed by a lot of arrogance)


Romance vs Silverware

February 20, 2011

What a run we are on!  Can our East London neighbours stop the momentum this team is building? If Arsenal were to lose today would it have a knock on effect for the rest of the season? What do you think?

I know what I am about to write will be as popular as a root canal treatment but I can see advantages to our suffering a cup upset. Hold hard before you jump on me and allow me to explain……

The magic of the FA Cup. Let’s be honest, it has disappeared as the Champions League and  TV saturation of the Premiership has developed. Gone are the days of the plucky young David’s defeating the Goliath. Nowadays we see Man Utd put out a team with 10 changes from their regular PL side scrape past Crawley – does SAF take this action because he believes in the sanctity of the FA Cup? No, he does so because he puts a low priority on the Cup with big games to come for his side. I expect Mr Wenger to do the same today. In my youth, the Cup was as important as the League and I travelled near and far to watch the Arsenal (one particularly gruesome and bitterly cold trip to Yeovil stands out in the memory). Today, that excitement has dissipated..

It would be great for the future of the Cup if a minnow won and reached the final rounds, and why should it not be Orient? A club which many Londoners and in particular Arsenal fans look upon with affection. Headlines would be written around the world about how the mighty Arsenal having just beaten “the best team of all-time” have been beaten in the World’s oldest Cup competition. It would be a superb advert for the Cup. Surely we can be that generous to the long term future of the FA Cup.

And how would a loss affect our side? In my opinion we would have a group of deeply ashamed and embarrassed players who would gird their loins and refuse to allow that ever to happen again. Sometimes a good kick in the kischkas is the propellant required to push a team to glory.

Plus we would have one less competition to worry about. One could argue that there are only 3 decent sides left in the competition and we have a real chance to win another domestic Cup Double, to which I can only agree.

Games like today raise questions about our loan system.  Most of our loanees would have played today  - Mannone, Cruise, Traore, Bartley, Ramsey, Vela, Coquelin, JET, Randall, Lansbury to name but a few. Instead AW will be forced to play a number of members of his first team just a few days prior to a tough game at home to Stoke.

This is my guess for today’s line-up:

This team should certainly have enough to beat a determined Leyton Orient.

Leyton is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It was severely damaged by Zeppelin raids during the First World War who were trying to bomb the local docklands. Iron Maiden , those true English gentleman who carry the banner of Proper Rock to the world were formed in Leyton.

COYRRG

Written by BigRaddy


Proof That Arsenal Are The Greatest Club The World Has Ever Seen

February 19, 2011

Form, as they say, is temporary. Class is permanent.

According to the form books, Barcelona are pretty good at the moment. And Chelsea have had a decent run over the last few years. Manchester United have had a great 20 years and we all know about the Liverpool heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

But if you want a team and a club that has exuded pure, unadulterated class for its entire history then there’s only one: The Arsenal.

And here’s why:

Which team has spent the most consecutive seasons in the English top flight (90 years and counting)? ARSENAL

Which team holds the longest unbeaten sequence in the English top flight (49 games, from May 7th 2003 to October 16th 2004)? ARSENAL

Which team has the longest unbeaten away sequence in English league football (27 games, April 5th 2003 to September 25th 2004)? ARSENAL

Which team has the longest consecutive scoring run in league games in England (55 games from May 19th 2001 to November 30th 2002)? ARSENAL

Who scored the most away goals in an English league season (60 goals in 1930/31)? ARSENAL

Which team has scored the most goals in an English league season (127, in 1930/31)? ARSENAL

Which team has the record for most goals scored by a single player in an English top flight game (Ted Drake – seven goals away at Aston Villa, December 14th 1935)? ARSENAL

Which club holds the record for having the highest number if players in an England starting eleven (seven players, versus Italy in 1934)? ARSENAL

Which club has the highest attendance in English league football (83,260 for a game against Man Utd at Maine Road in 1948)? ARSENAL

Which team has featured in all three of the highest-attendance league games in English football? ARSENAL

Most away points in a top flight English season (47 in 2001/02)? ARSENAL

Most consecutive Champions League matches without conceding a goal (October 18th 2005 to April 26th 2006)? ARSENAL

First team to use numbers on the back of their shirts (1927)? ARSENAL

First team to play a match broadcast live on radio (versus Sheffield United, 1927)? ARSENAL

First team to play in a match broadcast live on TV (versus Arsenal reserves, 1937)? ARSENAL

First team to play a match broadcast live in 3D (versus Man Utd, January 31st 2010)? ARSENAL

There you have it.

The Arsenal is not just a club with history.

It’s a club that writes history, shapes history and makes history.

Others may have their moments in the sun, but only one side has endured in such a way for such a long time.

I look at the supporters of all other teams and feel only pity.

So thank whichever God watches over you (or if you ascribe to the new religion of Dawkinism, thank the mindless tinkering of the blind watchmaker) for one simple fact:

You are lucky enough to have been BORN TO SUPPORT THE ARSENAL.

RockyLives


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