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A brief look at Arsenal’s game + Chelsea preview + Lineups

Arsenal vs Chelsea, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 12:45 GMT (17:15 IST), 21st April 2012

Hello Gooners. The Champions League football has helped me take my mind off the Wigan defeat, over the course of the week. It wasn’t exactly good to look at, but both the games were tight, and exciting contests, and the second legs can get even better.

But, that’s the week. The weekend is here, and we face a massive tie on Saturday, against an in form Chelsea. Let’s not beat around the bush, with a few abusive words towards our history-less (Oops!) rivals. They are a completely different team under Roberto di Matteo.

I don’t know what the sly looking bald Italian, with a wicked smile has done to the Chavs, but they have really picked up. While their league form is still a bit jittery, they have progressed quite comfortably in the FA Cup, humiliating another club, so lacking of history, Tottenham, by a margin of 5-1. And, by the way, they also managed to beat the world’s best club, thanks to Didier Drogba’s acting lessons to Sergio Busquets, by a 1-0 scoreline.

News poured in this morning, that Mikel Arteta, one of our more influential midfielders this season, is out for the remainder of the same. This is actually quite a blow. We have pivotal games coming up. If Chelsea at home was hard enough, we have to play our bogey away side, Stoke Rugby Club, Norwich at home, who will be playing just for the fun of it, and a tricky last day game at West Bromwich Albion.

While Arteta has been pivotal, he will be replaced by a player, much criticized this season, Aaron Ramsey. No, I am not going to hop on the bandwagon. I really like Aaron Ramsey. He is a good young player, but probably a bit naive and inexperienced. I see a lot of blogs and posts coming out in support of the Wales captain, and I am one too. You just cant be captain of your nation, if you aren’t good enough. While Ramsey may not be the midfield orchestrator like Arteta, or a pass-master like Fabregas, I feel has the quality to become both at once. Yes, he may attempt the odd backheel, or miss a goal, which Harry Redknapp’s missus would have scored, or just give away the ball to the opposition, like he just wasn’t interested. C’mon, that’s part of being young. You make mistakes, you learn from the, and you move on. I have watched almost every Arsenal game this season, and of course seen a lot of Ramsey in the centre of the park. And he runs around a lot, busting his lung. Give the boy some due.

While Arteta’s injury is some concern, another player Arsenal won’t be able to use, for the crunch game will be Israel midfielder Yossi Benayoun. According to rules, a player on loan can’t play against his parent team. He will be another miss. When he has played in the big games, against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, he has been immense. This, of course will give Arsene Wenger a selection headache, as to who to choose on the left hand side of midfield. Does he go for everyone’s favourite, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or does he opt for the at-times frustrating Gervinho.

Chamberlain was given the free role against AC Milan, where he played in the centre of the park, and used the full breadth and width of the pitch, to produce a game, far too ahead for his age. The role of Alex Song, and the adventure-minded Rosicky allowed Chamberlain to dictate play, and what a fine job he did. On the wings, at times, he seems a bit suffocated, due to probably, a lack of space, to play his game. And, unfortunately for him, most of his appearances come after the 80th minute, when the team is in dire need of an equalizer, or when we just need to hold on to a precarious lead.

Robin van Persie will hope he will be in the same nick in the game, as he was back in October against the same opposition. Chelsea do have some defensive worries, when it comes to really quick forwards. Barcelona managed to expose it time and time again, but they just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, owing to their own wastefullness, and the brilliance of Cech.

Much has been spoken about the defence in recent weeks, and its susceptibility to counter-attacks. Wigan exposed in the space of 2 minutes, the frailties, which have hampered our campaign.  One swift counter attack off a corner, and another well taken goal, gave Wigan the impetus to close down the game. The problem lies in how Arsenal go forward. Far too often, we see Vermaelen bomb down the midfield, and while our full-backs all love going forward, there needs to be a bit of balance here. It just leaves our defence too open to an attack or too less in numbers. This is where, Laurent Koscielny has been vital this season. I personally feel he is a better defender than Thomas Vermaelen. His nimble movement and pace allows Vermaelen to give that extra bit going forward. However, no such risks can be taken against a Chelsea side, who can put on pace when necessary. Left back will be occupied again by Brazilian Andre Santos, as I suspect Wenger wouldn’t want to risk Gibbs.

The final talking point of Arsenal’s play will be Alex Song, who probably played his worst game this season against Wigan. He gave the ball away far too many times, and he just couldnt balance between attack and defence, probably due to the loss of Arteta. He needs to be at his absolute best tomorrow.

The pressing game suits Arsenal best, and has served us well this season. Manchester City couldnt muster a single shot on target, and Sp*rs couldn’t manage any either, after they got their 2 goals of course. A high defensive line was the norm on both the days, and will prevent Chelsea from completing swift counters.

Let’s have a look at Chelsea then. While we have had respite in between league games, since our exit from Europe and the FA Cup, Chelsea have had a relentless round of fixtures, and they still have a minimum of 7 games left to play in the season. Roberto di Matteo is expected to rotate his squad around a bit, and why not, with the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals against Barcelona coming up, on Tuesday.

Arsenal fans will be happy to hear that Didier Drogba, so often Arsenal’s tormentor in the past is ruled out. And, with the exertions of the past week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Malouda, Essien and Torres getting a run about. Even Ryan Bertrand being selected ahead of Cashley (Oops!), I mean Ashley Cole wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit.

Ramires has been a real workhorse in midfield. His darting runs can pose a threat to Arsenal’s defence. He has been consistent throughout. Another man to watch out for is Spain winger Juan Mata. He got just 9, yes, 9 touches of the ball against Barcelona, and has been the Blues’ best player this season. His goal in October, against us, was, in the least, sensational.

Fernando Torres has been piss poor in front of goal this season, but hey, never write him off. He can come up with the goods in the big games. Daniel Sturridge’s form has waned a bit of late, but they still have the Ivorian Salomon Kalou, whose incisive runs can be dangerous. A host of different options is what Chelsea have.

Defensively, the ban for Ivanovic means a start for Portugal right-back Jose Bosingwa. They really don’t have a choice, but to play Terry and Cahill in defence. There will be a lot of tired legs, as the match wears on.

Here is how I feel the two teams could line up.

There is no doubt about the importance of this clash. A loss here, for Arsenal would mean, that we would be just 2 points ahead of Sp*rs and Newcastle, having played a game more. A loss for Chelsea will all but end their hopes of a top 4 finish, with so little to play this season. A win would of course keep them in contention for Champions League qualification. A win for the Gunners would almost seal a top 4 finish, of not 3rd spot.

All in all, the game promises to be an exciting battle of tactics and nerves.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal :)

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-3 Arsenal

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 – Arsenal 3 (van Persie 9 (pen), Walcott 11, Benayoun 69)

Man of the Match – Yossi Benayoun (Arsenal)

The expected happened last night, well, atleast at Molineux, as Arsenal romped home with 3 more vital points as they look to secure 3rd spot and automatic Champions League qualification, and also edge closer to ensuring the annual St. Totteringham’s Day celebrations will take place as is the norm this year as well.

On the other hand, Wolves, despite all the spirit and determination they have, look closer than ever to Championship football next season. Arsenal, without Laurent Koscielny, booked in the previous game against Manchester City, replaced him with brother of calamity Johan Djourou. Kieran Gibbs, who suffered a slight strain, was given a rest, as he was replaced by bustling Brazilian left-back Andre Santos. Surprisingly, Tomas Rosicky, the man in fine nick at the moment, was given a well deserved rest, as Yossi Benayoun held on to his place in the starting 11, while Wales captain Aaron Ramsey got another chance to shine.

Wolves, made a surprising selection, opting with only Kevin Doyle upfront, rather than the Fletcher-Ebanks Blake partnership that has been preferred recently. Roger Johnson missed out, as Spurs loanee Sebastien Bassong, and Ronald Zubar were chosen. Young midfielder David Davis was given a rare start.

The game began at a blistering pace, as Wolves look set out to frustrate their opponents, with a high up pressing game. Wolves had barely caught their breath, when Walcott displayed tremendous pace, to get behind the Wolves’ defence. A slight touch from Bassong, and Walcott made the most of it. Bassong, being the last man, was shown the red card, and the tone was set for the match.

Robin van Persie, who seems to be going through a bit of a slump, with no goals to show for in the last 4 games, stepped up, against Wayne Hennessey, who had earlier frustrated the Dutchman in the league encounter in December. van Persie cheekily nicked home the penalty.

Before you knew it, Arsenal were 2-0 up. Theo Walcott, again showing some blistering pace, as he linked up with van Persie, to slot home the killer goal of the night. Wolves seemed happy to be doing damage limitation, as they allowed Arsenal to pass around the ball freely at well. The crowd cheered whenever Wolves got possession of the ball, as the game seemed to look more of a rout. Arsenal never looked threatening enough after that, and clearly had taken their foot off the pedal.

The second half was a slightly different story though, with Wolves showing more intent. Ronald Zubar exposed Andre Santos as he helped himself to a few crosses from the right. Kevin Doyle even managed to force Wojciech Szczesny into a fantastic one handed reflex save.

Aaron Ramsey should have scored when he was in a one-on-one situation with his national team’s goalie, but his shot was blocked, while van Persie too missed a chance to make it 3-0. It didn’t matter though, as Yossi Benayoun stabbed home the third, to seal 3 points.

Later, Arsenal’s complacency was quite evident, as Serbian midfielder Nenad Milijas forced Szczesny into another good save. But, from then on, it was just a formality for the Gunners, who now move 5 points ahead of fierce rivals Tottenham.

Next up, slayers of Manchester United, Wigan Athletic on Monday night.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (8) – Pulled off two fantastic saves, one of which was at a critical point in the game.

Sagna (8) – Had a relatively easy outing.

Vermaelen (8) – A bit susceptible to sloppiness, but a good performance nonetheless.

Djourou (8) – Cant fault his performance yesterday. Needs to be at his best against Wigan, too.

Santos (7.5) – Looked a bit suspect at times, against Zubar and Kightly.

Song (8) – A good game, but slowed down the game on many a occassion.

Ramsey (7.5) – Missed some glorious chances, but had a neat game today, with his passing and movement.

Arteta (8.5) – Fantastic in midfield, spraying the ball around at will. Was at the end of a few crude Wolves tackles.

Benayoun (8.5) – Fantastic performance from the hard working Israeli. Constantly made runs behind the midfield, allowing a more stable build up. Scored a good goal, too.

Walcott (8.5) – Killed the game early on, with his pace.

van Persie (8) – The goal drought’s over, finally.

Subs -

Chamberlain and Jenkinson – Came on too late to get ratings.

Overall Team Rating – 8.04

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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A Welsh test, a bit of Swansea history and more…

Swansea City vs Arsenal, Liberty Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 16:00 (21:30 IST), 15 January 2012

So, finally Sunday is here. As a football fan, all you care about is muddling your way through a hectic week, to be able to catch your favourite team in action. And thanks to our friends in ESPN/Sky Sports UK, Arsenal’s fixtures are now being tampered with so that they can be shown live in the UK

This bodes well for us too, the fans in India, as now our fixtures won’t clash with the other well-followed teams, and they will be show live. It always riles me that Manchester United games are always shown live. But, you can’t complain. They are the champions, and even though every other football fan or wannabe’s you meet on the street, is a United supporter, and doesn’t know shit about the club, they deserve their matches to be telecasted. As for Liverpool, I am not so sure, how they get their preference above us. They finished 7th last season, 3 places below us, and not even in Europe. Bloody, their games are always live. They may have the second largest fan base after United, but that just undermines the whole point. Anyways, Arsene Wenger has been fairly critical of how the fixtures seem to be favoring some clubs and not so favorable to others.

Yes, if you can’t blame the players, blame the fixture list, eh? Well, he does have a point. Arsenal beat QPR on Saturday, and then went away to Fulham on Monday night. Manure lost to Blackburn on Saturday, and they had to play Newcastle away on Wednesday. Manchester City, too were at a disadvantage. Liverpool defeated Newcastle on Friday and then visited Eastlands on Tuesday to face City, who had just 2 days to recover after a 1-0 loss at Sunderland. Chelsea, on the other hand, who lost to Villa at home 1-3, made up for it as they beat Wolves 2-1. The Christmas period scheduling is very complicated. However, things seem to be easing out now.

So, now our fixture list says we have to travel to Wales, a town named Swansea, second largest after Cardiff, to play our Premier League game against the town’s darlings. Arsene Wenger has a bit of history with them, having faced them in the 1991 Cup Winners Cup. But then, Swansea was a completely different proposition and Wenger’s Monaco, which boasted the likes of Emmanuel Petit, who would rejoin Wenger at Arsenal; Youri Djorkaeff, who would help Bolton stay up, and the legendary Liberian George Weah; by a thumping 10-1 aggregate.

Talking of history, Swansea trounced Arsenal twice in the league 2-0 in the 1981/1982 season, when the Welsh club, on the bounce of 3 promotions in 4 years, took the old First Division by storm. They also secured wins over other traditional powerhouses Liverpool and Manchester United that season, also thumping Leeds United 5-1 on opening day, and despite being top on many occasions through the season, they eventually finished 6th. However, that revolutionary season ended there as Swansea soon dipped back to a nomadic life on the football ladder.

The erstwhile glory days! :)

Today, Swansea is a changed team. Having moved from their traditional styled British stadium, Vetch Field, to the Liberty Stadium, they are now strutting their stuff with the biggest teams in England. They have a talented manager, Brendan Rodgers, who has inculcated in the team, a  ‘beautiful football’ philosophy. And, what’s more, they have conceded just 4 goals at home. Manchester United, are the only team to emerge with 3 points, even though they could have lost that game, had the Swans been more clinical in front of goal. Now, the Swans sit pretty in 13th place, 6 clear of the relegation zone.

Yesterday’s results have given some semblance of hope for Gunners’ fans that they will finish above their fiercest rivals Spuds. Spurs think they are a club with ambition. First, they qualify for the Europa League. And then, old man ‘Arry decides to play his youth team against the Communist inspired European sides. It bodes well, for them, as they play their strongest team in the league, and keep plucking 3 points of every game. It didn’t work last night, as Wolves did a piece of justice, by emerging out of North London, with their second point in as many weeks.

Old Man 'Arry knows the trick, doesn't he?

Liverpool, who just can’t seem to get 3 points at home, again slumped to a bore goalless draw at home to Stoke, while Chelsea scrambled past Sunderland 1-0. Torres, was particularly good. He was a goalscorer at Liverpool, yes, but now at Chelsea he seems to have shifted his role a bit. Now, he is overall a better player in terms of holding up the ball and allowing the others to come into play. Fat Frank got the only goal in that. Inspired by Thierry Henry, or not, I am not sure, but Paul Scholes scored against Bolton, after making a shocking return, an hour before the FA Cup game against Manchester City.

It means, that if Arsenal secure 3 points today, they will go 7 points within Spurs, with the Yids still having to play at the Emirates. And, who would win the battle. A stupid cockerel balancing on a leather football, or a loaded cannon? The answer is quite obvious.

Team news, then. Wenger seems to be keeping faith in the Russian, Andriy Arshavin, who did put up a decent display against Leeds. Henry, again, by the looks of it, could be an impact sub. But, till the teams are officially out, you never know. Wenger might just be tempted to play van Persie and Henry upfront. Speaking of which, van Persie is back after a well-deserved holiday in the Middle East. He was quoted as saying ‘that he has recharged his batteries and is raring to go’. Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky seem to be having some sort of sickness, which means they will have a late fitness test. It will mean, we will be short at the back, despite the return of Johan Dhourou from suspension. The backline could be Yennaris-Djourou-Koscielny-Miquel. Should the BFG be fit, and I would certainly hope so, the defence would be Djourou-Mertesacker-Koscielny-Miquel.

Swansea will be particularly hard to break down. They have an excellent keeper in Michael Vorm. He is probably the best keeper in the league at the moment. Heck, he is in my Fantasy Premier League team! Mean, they may be, but a solitary Arshavin lucky goal, was enough to seal 3 points last time around at the Emirates, which started a small resurgence of sorts. It will take a lot more than that this time around to get 3 points.

Some good news then. Thomas Vermaelen could be back for the visit of Manchester United next Sunday. Kieran Gibbs is 10 days away from a a return and will probably start in the 4th Round FA Cup match against Aston Villa. Carl Jenkinson also seems to have attracted the word ‘good news’ by Arsene Wenger. Bacary Sagna, could be back by the end of the month. Francis Coquelin is 2 weeks away after tearing a hamstring against Leeds. Jack Wilshere, could make an early return by the start of February, to bolster the squad. Aaron Ramsey seems to be excited by this, and has told of his eagerness to link up with Jack in midfield. And, finally Abou Diaby, will surely be back by the start of the 2026/2027 season.

Hoping for 3 points tonight.

Jai Arsenal :)

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Arsenal 1-0 Queen’s Park Rangers

Arsenal 1 (van Persie 60) – 0 QPR 

Man of the Match – Robin van Persie (Arsenal)

Phew!! Just my second match report, and it speaks of 3 points on the board and a 4th place end to the year. Yes, there’s still half the season left, plenty of games to fight it out for, but for now I am just satisfied with 3 points.

Much of the pre-match talk was about two men. Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie. The former, because, he has just signed a short two months contract at the club where he became a legend, and the latter, because he was just two goals shy of equalling the all-time record for highest league goals in a year, held by Alan Shearer.

The last game of the year saw Andriy Arshavin being chosen ahead of Gervinho and Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey returning to the starting line-up. After dropping 2 points against Wolves, Arsenal needed a win to keep pressure on Chelsea, Tottenham as well as Liverpool, who had leapfrogged the Gunners into 5th with a 3-1 win over Newcastle on Friday.

Arsenal had a lazy start though, and Shaun Wright-Phillips could have scored the opening goal, only for Szczesny to make himself big and block the shot. But soon, Arsenal got rolling and van Persie seemed the man most likely to hand them the advantage.

A long Vermaelen ball was lobbed over the post by the Dutchman after he had turned past two men to shoot right at Cerny from a tight angle. His header went wide off a Ramsey cross. Andriy Arshavin, who had been criticized heavily for his recent performances put up a good display as he managed to squirm out of tricky situations, more often than not throughout the game.

Aaron Ramsey seemed to have scored with a brilliant volley, only for Joey Barton to head it off the goal line. The first half got more frustrating as two penalty appeals were turned down, after both Luke Young and Joey Barton seemed to have handled the ball.

Thomas Vermaelen was at the receiving end of a recognition error, as he was booked for a foul committed by Laurent Koscielny.Theo Walcott was quite disappointing, and missed a glorious chance in the second half after being put through by Ramsey, with time and space on his side. He shot wide with only the goalie to beat.

However, it didn’t matter as minutes later, Arsenal took the lead. Shaun Wright-Phillips sloppily gave the ball away to Andriy Arshavin. The diminutive Russian sent a perfectly waited pass to Robin van Persie, who gleefully netted his 35th goal of the year, and broke Thierry Henry’s club record of 34, with the Frenchman applauding from the stands.

QPR immediately responded with pressure of their own, as the Moroccan midfielder Adel Taraabt forcing a save off Szczesny. Arsenal’s rearguard were firm as they seemed comfortable enough against their inconsistent London neighbours.

van Persie was brilliant overall, as he created few more opportunities through the game. Gervinho should have doubled the lead, but the Ivorian missed narrowly. Tomas Rosicky too was brilliantly denied, thanks to some brave blocking.

But, all well’s that ends well. Arsenal collected the 3 points, they so needed today. A concern, however, was the injury to Thomas Vermaelen, who according to reports will be out for 2 weeks, owing to a strain.

Arsenal end an eventful year in 4th spot, after being touted as candidates for relegation at the start of the season. Manchester United lost the early kickoff to bottom-of-the-heap Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea also lost at home to Aston Villa. Tottenham slipped up in Wales, against Swansea; which means the Gunners are hot on their heals. With Thierry Henry set to make his return to North London, things can only seem upward.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny  (8.5)- Made a few vital saves throughout the game, without which the story would have been different.

Mertesacker (8) – Another flawless performance from the lanky German.

Koscielny (8) – Impressive again. Held his own against the witty Bothroyd.

Vermaelen (7) – Being played out of position. He is a giant at centre-back. Not so much at left-back.

Djourou (7) – Got a silly yellow card. Another player being played out of position.

Arteta (7.5) – Was a major figure in the centre of midfield today.

Ramsey (7.5) – Good performance from the Welshman, Can do away with his backheels though.

Song (7.5) – Didn’t get a yellow. That’s improvement.

Walcott (7) – If you want to play as a centre-forward, you can’t miss that kind of an opportunity to impress the boss, Theo.

Arshavin (7.5) – Seems to be coming back to his best.

van Persie (9) – Matchwinner. Need I say more?

Subs:

Coquelin (7.5) – Deputized well at left-back, despite being a right-footed central defensive midfielder.

Rosicky (7) – Has the potential to be an impact sub. Almost scored a second.

Gervinho (7) – Clearly needs to finish better. Even Harry Redknapp’s missus would have scored off that van Persie pass.

Overall Team Rating – 7.57

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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