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Category Archives: 2011-2012

A few thoughts on a few things, West Brom Preview + Lineups

West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal, The Hawthorns, Premier League

Kickoff – 15:00 GMT (19:30 IST), 13th May 2012

As we move into the final day of Premier League action for this season, my emotions remain mixed. This has been one of the most topsy turvy season I have been witness to, and I have watched just 8, including this.

Being an Arsenal fan is not easy. It is an extremely hard choice to make, and certainly not one for the faint hearted. While we had to endure millions of jokes butted at our 8-2 mauling, at the hands of Manchester United, earlier in the season, I have also had the pride of rival fans coming up to me and telling “Arsenal were awesome yesterday!”, after we beat AC Milan 3-0. While all Arsenal fans may sum this to be a largely disappointing campaign, the word ‘disappointing’, being used only in the context of lack of silverware, I don’t see this as a disappointment or a success. Rather, I see it as another season gone by. I always have seen it that way. Of course, I would be elated, more than anyone else, if we had a cup to go with it, but then, football is football. It goes on. There’s always next season. Players may go, players may come. But, Arsenal will always be close to my heart.

So, moving on, in our quest for Champions League football next season, is our extremely massive league encounter with Roy Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion. After 37 games of league football, it all comes down to this, and it is still in our hands. If we win tomorrow, irrespective of what Sp*rs do against Fulham, we will be competing in Europe’s premier football tournament. Else, we will be competing in the rather harsh environs of the Europa League.

No disrespect to the Europa League there, but a lot hinges on our Champions League qualification. So much has been talked about this, and all of you know why qualifying for it is of paramount importance to the club’s fortunes at this crucial juncture. A 4th place finish means, we will have to hope Bayern Munich beat Chelsea in the Champions League final next weekend, and while I will be cheering on Bayern, irrespective of our league standing, just because I want the Gunners to be the first club, to bring the European Cup to London, there is no two ways about the fact that we have to win tomorrow.

Much has been said about West Brom players looking to give old man Hodgson a good farewell. On the flip side, we will have the same agenda on our minds, Pat Rice the man in question here. What a fine servant he has been to the club, and a win tomorrow, will be a nice gesture of saying ‘Thank You’.

All games will kick off at exactly the same time tomorrow, and while all of us will be scrambling for live scores, around the grounds, we all know that a 1-0 style win will do the trick. Robin van Persie has had a magnificent season for us, and at times I wonder, where we would be, at the end of the season, without him. Talk surrounding his possible exit from the club has disgusted me enough, and I hope he gets to the 32 mark, to be the Premier League record goal scorer, in a single season, and proceeds to sign a contract.

I don’t believe much in transfers, cos’ they are all a load of bullsh*t. 99% of them never really happen, and with us, it has never happened. This time, though, it seems a bit different, with Lukas Podolski signed even before the present season ends, and the next one starts. This statement of intent has led newspapers to link us with every other professional footballer on the planet. But, for now let’s not talk about it.

Team news, then. Theo Walcott will face a late fitness test, though I doubt he will start tomorrow. Attack wise, we weren’t too bad last week against Norwich, and I think we will stick to that midfield. Bacary Sagna injured himself last week, and is certain to miss the Euro’s, which is quite sad, for him, personally. I would expect natural right-back Carl Jenkinson to start, rather than Francis Coquelin. Another Frenchman, who could miss the Euro’s, not with injury though, is Laurent Koscielny. He has been bloody brilliant this season, and Arsene Wenger wants him to be in the France squad. Also, recent news that Wojciech Szczesny could be out for the final game, because of a knee/back problem, no one knows for sure. Meanwhile, Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie and Jerome Thomas will face late tests. Captain Chris Brunt is out for the Baggies.

West Brom play with a pretty straight-foward 4-4-2 formation, and the injuries to Brunt, Thomas and Odemwingie means starts for Andrews, Scharner and Marc Antoine-Fortune respectively. Without Thomas, I can see them playing a very narrow games, with minimal wing-play. This will also be Paul Scharner’s last game, and incidentally, for him, being an Arsenal fan, it is against the Gunners themselves. Shane Long can be a pretty useful forward, but he also has the tendency to be lacklustre. Fortune is a skilfull player, and Arsenal will have to be at their very best defensively, or we could be slaughtered, like last week against Norwich.

I was impressed by Gervinho last week. He played very well. His dribbling seemed much better, and there was also more pace, and more penetration, and we will require all of that. Benayoun, too, could turn out one last time in Arsenal colors, and, I hope, it’s not the same case for a certain Dutchman. In midfield, there will be an attacking battle between Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Youseff Mulumbu, Keith Andrews. Though the criticism of Ramsey has been a bit harsh, he will look to sign off the season on a positive note.

Last time these two sides met at the Hawthorns, Arsenal fought back from 2-0 down to 2-2, to keep their faint title chances alive. Some calamitous defending was on display last time, and surely, there won’t be any of that tomorrow. There ain’t any room for errors, this time round.

Meanwhile, Keep the Faith.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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Posted by on May 12, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Podolski, Vertonghen, M’Vila, Belhanda, Giroud, Norwich preview + Lineups

Arsenal vs Norwich City, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 12:45 GMT (17:15 IST), 5th May 2012

Hello Gooners. We enter what we can describe as ‘cup football’ mode of the league campaign. The last 2 league games of the campaign remain, and there’s still everything to fight for. Relegation is yet to be sorted out, and so is the title race, and something we are in the middle of, i.e the battle for Champions League spots.

The fixtures in the middle of the week have affected the outcome at the end of the season quite a bit. Manchester City’s win over rivals Manchester United puts them in pole position to win their first league title since 1967/68, while Newcastle and Sp*rs moved to within a point of us. Tottenham won 4-1 at the Reebok, a game which was preceded by the miraculous return of Fabrice Muamba, and Newcastle beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, thanks to 2 world class strikes from their Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cisse.

Looks like Chelsea are almost out of it, and they may just switch off in the final two league games they face against Liverpool at Anfield and Blackburn at home, and concentrate rather on tomorrow’s FA Cup final against Liverpool and the Champions League final against Bayern Munich on the 19th. Chelsea have entered their second European final in 4 seasons, and should they win it, it would mean that they will fill the final Champions League spot, that the English teams are offered. It would, of course, however hurt me to see Chelsea be the first London club to win it, before the Gunners.

Newcastle’s win over Chelsea has given them much needed confidence ahead of the visit of title favorites Manchester City. Papiss Demba Cisse is really off to a flyer in the Premier League, with 13 goals already in just 12 outings. City, of course are no pushovers, and with the title on the line, plus a week’s rest, one should expect them to battle it out and win at St. James. Newcastle’s final game is at Goodison Park, against Everton, which is a hard game too. But, the manner this season has gone, you wouldn’t want to write them off.

Sp*rs, on the back of their morale boosting wins over Blackburn and Bolton, will travel to Birmingham to play Aston Villa, who could be sucked into the relegation mire. This will be an interesting clash, and with the Villa faithful getting on the back of Alex McLeish, you can expect a feisty game. Sp*rs will end their season at home to Fulham.

Thje major news for Arsenal this week, ahead of their league game against Norwich City, is of course the signing of German striker Lukas Podolski from Cologne. The fact that the club has signed a player even before the transfer window opens, and an experienced international at that, is a massive signal of intent to the rest of the league. The German striker, who was a club legend at his childhood club, revealed recently that Arsenal was the only club he had in mind.

I’ve long thought about how we go from here,and the question was only a top club like Arsenal. I’m ready to take this step and I am convinced that it is the right thing. I’ll find my place at Arsenal.The goal is to win titles.I’m more experienced and mature than in Munich.

The man he will be partnering in attack, (hopefully, Gulp!), next season, will be Robin van Persie, who was quick to praise ‘Poldi’.

He is a really good player, an experienced player and he has been in the game at the highest level for more than eight years,I know that he has played 91, 92 times games for Germany, which says it all. He had a little trip to Munich a couple of years ago and then came back to Cologne.He is a great player and a great character to have around because he’s a winner. When we played against Cologne in pre-season you could see that he’s a winner.Even though it was a friendly he was doing absolutely everything to win and we are very happy that he’s coming to Arsenal.

I ask a certain standard of my game, that’s not something new. I always ask myself to provide assists, to score goals and help my team-mates out.This year and the second part of last season has gone really well. I always ask those standards of my game.

According to me the main focus of the transfer window should be retaining the best player we have, while getting rid of the so called ‘deadwood’. The recent speculation of the future of van Persie is particularly disturbing. After collecting his Football Writers’ Association award, van Persie told this.

If you ask the likes of Robert Pires how he feels, what he feels like he will say ‘I feel like a Gunner’ – and whatever happens with me I will always be a Gunner.

It is like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas all over again. It is like a girl telling you that ‘We can only be friends’, and I have got a lot of that, and the feeling sucks. Hopefully, the signing of Podolski, and a couple of others will convince the Dutchman of the club’s ambition.

Speaking of which, there have been alot of rumours regarding the transfer of Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen to North London. And, I say North London, because the players’ agent recently revealed that Sp*rs have made the first approach. Vertonghen, himself, is rather keen on a transfer to Arsenal, and I hope we sign him, should Wenger feel the need to sign a defender. We don’t need another Juan Mata like situation. Whether we would actually sign the lad, I am not too sure. We already have a good partnership at the back with Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny. Per Mertesacker, when fit is a real asset. Johan Djourou, brother of calamity, is prone to the odd error, or should we say comedy of errors, but with him signing the new contract, I find it hard to see him leaving. Rather, I find it hard to see anyone buying him. Anyways, just a thought, he is not a bad option to have at all for 4th choice centre back. He has ammased nearly 150 appearances at the club, over 7 seasons, and is a Swiss international as well. While I can clearly see Sebastien Squillaci being shown the door, Ignasi Miquel is a good young budding defender as well.

Yaan M’Villa, the Rennes midfielder, is another player heavily linked with a move to the Gunners. Again, I doubt this happening. Though I haven’t seen him play much, the boy does have some disciplinary issues to sort out. Plus, we already have Alex Song, who has made the central defensive midfielder position his own. While Wenger may run out of patience on Abou Diaby, we can still blood in players like Francis Coquelin, Emmanuel Frimpong and Henri Lansbury, who will return from his loan at West Ham.

Other players linked are the duo from French champions Montpellier, young Moroccan midfielder Younes Belhanda, and France striker Olivier Giroud. Belhanda has already been marked down with a possible move to Spanish champions Real Madrid, with the director of football, Zinedine Zidane himself hailing Belhanda as a ‘special talent’. With our ‘new signing’, Jack Wilshere, returning next season, and an existing array of options such as Arteta, Rosicky and Ramsey I do not see this happening. Moreover, the crazy price that Montpellier are bound to demand will be a turn-off anyways.

We could, though, do with another option in attack. We may have signed Podolski, but it still feels a slightly empty department. I can already see Chamakh in a Fiorentina jersey, and Park in a military uniform, though he has delayed his army service. The point is, they clearly haven’t proven themselves in training to the manager, which has lead them to be given very little time to prove themselves on the pitch. Gervinho, was one player, I did expect a lot from, and he clearly hasn’t delivered. He was decent before the Cup of Nations. After that, he has been woeful. Theo Walcott can look like Maradona at times, and rest of the time, he just looks like the bloke from the park, who just interested in football. As I had predicted earlier, I expect Niklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela in different clubs next season. The only other striker who will be coming in, apart from Podolski of course, is Costa Rican Joel Campbell, if he can get his visa sorted out, that is. That is pretty much the situation of our strikers. Olivier Giroud is an out and out scorer, and he would be a valuable addition, I feel. But, there’s still time for that though.

Arsene Wenger was quick to point out that further signings will be affected by the Premier League’s 25 man squad rule.

That is a big problem for every club,and before you go out on the transfer market you have to see how you cope with the 25 players.I don’t exclude it but we have to respect that number.We wanted at least one target to be sorted out early. Now we are in a position where the second part of our signings will be to take care of the players who are injured and to get them back for the start of next season.I think of course about Jack Wilshere, and about Abou Diaby.  Then, if you look at our squad, we have quite a big one and before we buy again we have to look at how many players we will have.

Team news, then. Abou Diaby, as expected, has suffered a minor strain, which means he is out for the Norwich game. I am really starting to feel for the guy. He is talented, but just can’t seem to get the better of those nagging injuries. If he does, he is a good player to have in the team. Apart from that, Arteta, Mertesacker, Wilshere and Walcott are all ruled out for the remaining two games. Not many changes for Norwich. Their only casualty is left-back Adam Drury, while dangerous forward Grant Holt is back in the lineup.

Both, us and Norwich seem to have taken their minds of the season, if recent results are anything to go by. While Arsenal are still in the fight for the 3rd spot, Norwich will be pretty pleased with the way the season has panned out for them. They are a good solid unit, and Paul Lambert’s side can spring a surprise on their day.

Arsenal have let the steam go off lately. They won 7 on the trot, before losing at Loftus Road. They were soon up again, beating Manchester City and Wolves, and after that they have been disappointing. A home loss to Wigan, a home draw to Chelsea, and an away draw to Stoke, means only 2 points out of a possible 9. This has blown the 3rd spot fight wide open. 6 points in the last two games, would seal 3rd spot, and that should be the aim. No more slip ups can be accepted.

Norwich, will hopefully be in holiday mood, tomorrow. They will be just waiting for 13th May, after which they can take a well deserved break in the sun. After beating Sp*rs at White Hart Lane last month, they already look like they are on holiday. They got crushed 6-1 at home by Manchester City, 2-0 to struggling Blackburn, and 3-0 at home to an inspired Liverpool.

Arsenal slaved to a 2-1 win the last time these sides met, at Carrow Road, with Robin van Persie, scoring two, one of which was a delicious chip. The goal which Norwich scored was a defensive error by Mertesacker, and we will have to avoid any of those, for now, atleast.

There is no more need to emphasize on the importance of the points tomorrow. The game will be the only league fixture for the day. Of course, there is the small matter of the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool later in the day. The remaining round of fixtures will be on Sunday, which is always good for us. Should we win tomorrow, and Sp*rs and Newcastle lose, we ourselves can go on holiday before 13th.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Torres, Guardiola, van Persie, Stoke Preview + Lineups

Stoke City vs Arsenal, Britannia Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 15:00 GMT (19:30 IST), 28th April 2012

Hello Gooners. It has been an eventful week. The Champions League has kept us involved, despite our own shortages. Bayern Munich and Chelsea dispatched Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona in two exciting contests to book their place for the final in Bayern’s own Allianz Arena on May 19th.

Fernando Torres has to be one of the most talked about footballers this season after the likes of Ronaldo, Messi and probably van Persie. From being one of the outstanding players in Liverpool, he has become a topic of jokes, after his move to Chelsea, where he has struggled, big time, to find the back of the net. That was not the case at Nou Camp, though, as Torres kept his calm, to round off Valdes and settle the tie once and for all. Most neutrals who have watched Torres, would love to see the Spaniard back to his old nick.

The other big news this week has been the exit of Pep Guardiola. He is still a very young manager, and has probably achieved so much in such a short span of time, that it has taken out the energy, motivation and passion out of him. Or, rather it was a move from Barcelona’s board, who just couldn’t accept failure. If it is the second case, then it goes to show how diluted and results-oriented the game has become. It is rather an unfortunate incident. No one knew the players and the system more than Guardiola himself, and to see him leave in such a fashion, does raise some doubts. He has however created a lasting legacy at the club.

Things closer to our heart then. Let’s start off by first congratulating Robin van Persie, on winning bith the PFA (Proffesional Footballer’s Association), and FWA (Football Writer’s Association) Player of the Year Awards. van Persie’s form of late can be forgiven, for his form throughout this campaign has been nothing short of marvelous. He has carried the team from some dark days early on in the season, to a final flourish, which can see us finish in the top 3, to ensure Champions League football next season. His 27 goals, have been delightful, as well as important. With winners against Sunderland, Stoke, Chelsea, Norwich, Everton, QPR and Liverpool, and other equally important strikes against the likes of Newcastle and Sp*rs, he has deserved all the plaudits he has received.

While there has been enough talk about van Persie moving away from the Emirates, after 7 trophy barren seasons, and with suitors like Juventus, Manchester City and AC Milan, willing to bulge his pay packets, it is of utmost priority, that Arsenal sit down with the player and convince him to sign a new contract at the club, as well as splashing the cash, in order to place down a marker on the club’s ambition. Arsenal fans will certainly hope, the club won’t lose another of their star players, having seen out most of the players’ development, akin to Fabregas, Nasri, you know the lot.

Arsene Wenger was quick to praise the Dutchman.

I believe he was consistent, he had an exceptional year because he scored goals but he was as well a provider,I think that’s what people admired with him this season, the fact he was not only a goalscorer but also a guy who provided assists. But something that was maybe questioned about him in the past is that he was a fighter. I think he added that combative side to his game, as a leader and a captain in the team, and that’s what certainly convinced everybody.He has grown mentally and you see it better when you look back with a distance. The young player who arrived here and the man he is today, I believe he has grown a lot and made a big, big, massive improvement on that front. He has grown into a leader and he is a great captain now, on and off the pitch.

Not much of news from the Arsenal end over this frenzied week of Champions League football. While the drab stalemate against Chelsea, got us a point, it has also fortified our position in the league. Newcastle, however, are close on our heels, just 3 points behind, and with a game in hand. The Geordies, do face some massive games though, against relegation threatened Wigan (A), fellow rivals for Champions League qualification, Chelsea (H), title chasing Manchester City (H), and a final day away trip to Everton. Sp*rs, too have a game in hand, and find themselves 6 points behind the Gunners. It is all in our hands to secure that 3rd spot. Now, with Chelsea, in the Champions League final, and 50-50 chance of them winning it, it means that finishing 3rd is an absolute must.

Arsenal start with the first of their last 3 games, today, with an away trip to problematic side, Stoke City Rugby FC. The Potters have been known to cause the Gunners problems, physically. Last season, Arsenal were beaten 3-1 in a largely lacklustre display, and 2 seasons previously, we all know about Aaron Ramsey’s horrific injury, after he came at the end of a Ryan Shawcross challenge. Stoke City’s long ball tactics and throw-in abilities, have been less talked about this season, and they have added a little more football to their style of play, in a way of telling.

Arsene Wenger spoke after the Chelsea game, explaining why the players never really got into top gear. Both teams were cagey throughout the game, and it was quite strange according to him. Even I felt the same. Both teams never carved out any open chances. One positive was the return of Abou Diaby, after he suffered another injury setback. Both, Arsene Wenger and Thomas Vermaelen spoke how important Diaby can be in the run-in with important players like Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott facing an end to their seasons, because of injury.

Another positive point, to be taken from the Chelsea game is how well the central defensive partnership between Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny is gelling. The Belgian spoke how well Koscielny completes him as a defensive team. With the return of Per Mertesacker from injury, I think Arsene Wenger will be pleased to have 3 world class centre-backs at his disposal. Vermaelen also shared his views on the defensive shield of Alex Song.

Tomas Rosicky, who was Arsenal’s best player on the disappointing afternoon, also revealed he has found his place in the team, finally. After being moved around from left midfield to central midfield, in his early seasons, he has now held on to his favoured central position, rather a more free role, which allows him to go forward, at will. This position also allows him to track back, and help out Song, and this feature of his game has been quite a revelation for the Gunners. The Czech, who has been out injured for the best part of 2 seasons, during his time here, feels that his football age is only 29, rather than 31, which is his actual age.

The numbers are very similar. There’s no difference between what I’m doing now and, let’s say, five years ago,You know, my normal age is 31 but in football years I’m 29 – I lost two years because of injury so let’s just talk about my football age.I still believe I have plenty in me – we’ll see how it all goes, but right now I feel great and want to continue this way.I can say that I feel very well and I hope I have many years to come.You see players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes – what they are producing at their age for Manchester United is great and that’s a real inspiration for me.Everything is possible, but of course it will depend on my health.

Another player, who feels that he still has many years to the club is Wojciech Szczesny. He will have to be at  his best, to deal with Stoke’s crosses. According to Opta, the centre for football stats, the Pole is the best keeper when it comes to dealing with crosses, with a success rate of 98%.

It’s always satisfying to hear people praising you,But I’m at the beginning of my career with a long way to go.  I’m looking forward to playing for this Club for a long, long time.At this age, it’s very important for a player to play regularly and I’m very happy that I was given the chance. I’m just trying to do my best for the Club.

When you play for this Club you want to win trophies,This Club deserves trophies and we didn’t get any this year so it’s always disappointing.I think the quality is there. We all know it – we have the quality to fight for trophies in Europe and this country. It’s just consistency that has been a bit of a problem for us this year.But the team’s getting more experienced and hopefully we’ve got the experience to win trophies next year.I think if you look over the last couple of months we’re probably one of the best teams in the Premier League. So we’ve got three games to go and we need to win all three and we’ll finish third.

Brazil left-back Andre Santos, too shared the same view.

When it comes to a derby I think it was a good result – Chelsea are not an easy team to beat, they have excellent players,I congratulate our squad for their fight and now we need to work hard to carry on winning.We need to qualify for next year’s Champions League. We need to finish well and carry on next year to compete for the title.This is a big club and deserves better. All we want are trophies.

Moving on, Le Prof had something very interesting to say, regarding suspensions, and a new idea of sin-bins. I think this is a really great idea, but it would be years before any drastic changes are made to the game, as it has become quite a spectacle now, as it is.

On to the Stoke game then. Here are all the pre-match interviews.

Arsene Wenger

That’s what we want to show,I believe that Stoke is always a difficult opponent for us and everybody. Every big team who goes to Stoke knows they get a game. From our side we are in a position where we want to win our remaining games. That is the only chance to master our future. We have our future in our own hands but only if we win the three games. That starts with Stoke so we are completely focused on cancelling their strong points but as well we want to score goals because that is what you need to win the games.They have played many games as well. They played in the Europa League and in the FA Cup so they have played many games this season. So that will not be an excuse from our side.

Tomas Rosicky

We have to find the balance again, even without Mikel because the midfield is the heart of the team,There is no doubt that Mikel is a very important part of this team because he is very experienced, always wants the ball and wants to play. But we have to cope without him. It is the last three games of the season and we want to stay in third place. I have absolutely no idea [about whether I will play deeper], it is a question for the boss. As I have said many times before, I can play this role too. I can drop a bit deeper too but let’s see what the boss wants.I think we have to be confident because we are there and it is in our own hands,The battle is on, no doubt about that, and it shows you how strong this league is. It will be to fight right until the end. It is difficult to say [why we struggled in our last two games]. Against Wigan we had a bad day and we never really got it going. Against Chelsea there was maybe a little thought that we could not lose that game and had it in our heads a little bit. We hit the post twice and if you saw the game, Chelsea just tried to defend. There is another game right now at Stoke where we want to get back on track again and win the game.

Thomas Vermaelen

It is always a hard game when we go there, you know it is going to be a battle, If there is a battle, sometimes you have to fight back. But the main thing is to play our own game, with quick passing. That is the way to score. Of course we must fight for every ball but the main thing is to keep to our own game and score a lot of goals.We always want to defend well as a team, we have to do that on Saturday,It won’t be easy, and we have to be focused on set pieces.

Carl Jenkinson

I think it is fair to say that most teams struggle with the physical side that Stoke have,It is something we have to be aware of and it is no surprise anymore, everybody knows how Stoke play. They are a big, strong and physical side but we are prepared for that, know what is coming and just have to deal with it as best as we can.We are very excited but we know it will be a tough game. Stoke away is never an easy place to go and we have to be prepared for the sort of game we know they are going to throw at us. But we are looking forward to going up there and getting a win.Of course they can win it, they wouldn’t have got this far if they didn’t have it in them to win,But it is in our hands now, we are in third place and we can’t be relying on other things for us to be in the Champions League now. We need to make sure of it ourselves and the only way to do that is finish in third place. We just have to do everything we can to win our next three games and make that place ours.

Team news, then. Stoke’s recent form has been poor. They were trounced last weekend at Newcastle 3-0. Before that, they earned a point at Aston Villa, scraped past Wolves 2-1, and lost at Wigan 2-0. Tony Pulis has blamed this on Stoke’s poor finishing. Of course, their defensive side needs some look into, but Stoke do create a good amount of opportunities, especially at home. They have had a long hard season, one which earned them a European tie with Valencia. And, this seems to be taking a bit of a toll on the Potters. Andy Wilkinson and former Arsenal winger, Jermaine Pennant, who scored a goal last time these two met, have been ruled out.

Arsenal are without Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott. Yossi Benayoun will return after missing the Chelsea game, due to ineligibility. Abou Diaby had a recent illness, and hence may not play, though he may feature in the squad. Also emerging, is news that Jack Wilshere may not even return for the start of next season.

I think we can expect a very open game here. With Etherington and Palacios on the wings, there is always a threat of quick counters. Arsenal could be stifled, and I hope Chamberlain isn’t kicked out of the game. The role of Ramsey, Song and Rosicky becomes vital here in central midfield. Arsenal will have to keep balance, going forward and tracking back, because Stoke can create opportunities. It should be an entertaining battle.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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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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All the reaction, Wigan preview + Lineups

Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Emirates Stadium

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (00:30 IST), Monday, 16th April 2011

Hello Gooners. It has been another good few days. With 6 points from 6 in the last two games, with vital wins over Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, there’s not much we can complain for.

Well, the title race has been blown wide open, thanks to a stunning strike from Scotland international Shaun Maloney, for Wigan Athletic against Manchester City. The gap was cut down back to 5 points, and despite Roberto Mancini saying that he expects Manchester United to go on and win the title, deep down he knows that Wigan threw him a lifeline, which they have to hold on to dearly now. Earlier today, Manchester City thrashed a hapless Norwich City 6-1, quite an ironic scoreline, at Carrow Road, 24 hours ahead of Manchester United’s clash with Aston Villa at Old Trafford. With the gap down to 2, pressure will be on Fergie’s men, to make it 5, as they play a team, who could get sucked into the basement battle, in no time.

The FA Cup semi-final, meanwhile pitted the two Merseyside clubs against each other, as Everton took on Liverpool. It was quite an exciting game, and the Wembley pitch just seems to getting poorer and poorer. Nikica Jelavic’s 24th minute strike, was rather harshly cancelled out by a mistake off his own teammate Sylain Distin, whose attempted backpass, was finished off by Luis Suarez. Andy Carroll seems to be back to his goalscoring nick, despite missing howlers through the game, he managed to pounce home the winner in the 87th minute.

Coming back to Arsenal, then. Here’s all the reaction from Arsene Wenger, post the win over Manchester City.

AW on the run-in

For some people these predictions are their job,Believe me, they don’t know much better than you or me and the result of every game is just a consequence of your performance on the day. Nobody can really predict that because your performance on the day depends on you, but also depends on the other team as well. To predict both is nearly impossible. You can have an idea but football has surprised us so many times, especially recently in the last two or three months. We have all been surprised by many results and predictions. What would be interesting is to make a championship of the predictors and see who comes out on top at the end.Let’s not anticipate, that is something else that is important. When it gets to the last sprint, the focus on the next game becomes the most important part because you are always tempted to anticipate. We have the experience to know just to deal with the next one and that is the only important thing.

AW on the team this season

It [a top-four finish] is very important to us,It has a big meaning for us because we want to play at the top but also because of where we came from, that would be a great achievement for us. This team has gone through difficult times but we know that we belong with the best and we have shown that again on Sunday. That is why it is important that we continue to go in a strong way.It is very intense. The closer you get to the end and you go for something important, the more the pressure is there. So to keep your nerve is vital.

AW on Bacary Sagna being the best right-back in the Premier League

I think so, personally, and I believe that everybody at the Club would share this opinion,Many people outside the Club have this opinion as well.I must say with the right back position I have been quite lucky because we had Lee Dixon when I arrived, then Lauren, and Sagna afterwards. They have all been real winners and extremely consistent. On that front we were very lucky.They are all real battlers, they are ready to die to win. All these players have been inspirational for everybody because their physical level, commitment, intelligence and desire to win is all there.

AW on Yossi Benayoun

First of all he knows the job in this [wide] position,He is highly focused in the big games, that is a massive part, because you cannot switch off.So we have a good balance in the team with him and a good focus. And of course he has quality. We have to say that in the games he has started he did extremely well and the team did extremely well as well. That is never a coincidence.No, not yet [I have not made a decision],That will happen at the end of the season. We have to look at the situation in a global way because we have many players out on loan so we need to deal with these situations.

Moving on, Mikel Arteta, has been massive this season. He has blended in seamlessly in the midfield, and now is one of Arsenal’s most vital players. He scored a fine winner against Manchester City.

We need to finish the season really strong,We’ve shown we have a lot of fighters here. We have missed big players this season; Abou DiabyJack Wilshere, and they haven’t played at all and are massive players.We know we have really good players and maybe, just maybe, we can do even better than what we have done this year.I’m trying to contribute the best way to the team that I can,Scoring goals is not one of my most important jobs because we have better players in the team to do that. But it’s always nice to help.Robin [van Persie] has been creating goals for other players. As long as we keep winning, that’s the most important thing. We are also keeping clean sheets as well which is important from now until the end of the season.Everybody likes to score a goal and I’m no different. When Robin scores three then I’m happy as well because we win the game. But this goal [against Man City] was special and it won the game.

Third place gives you direct access to the Champions League,It’s really important. It’s been a big fight; we have come all the way through from the back.We’ve put in a big effort, we are in a strong position now and we don’t want to waste it. We had a setback at QPR and it says a lot for our spirit that we came straight back.Everyone was saying we were in trouble again because Newcastle look really strong, Chelsea have been winning and I’m sure they’ll be there until the end.It will be a big fight and I think it will go right until the end. There are some big games ahead. Everyone must play each other; we’ve got Chelsea here and have got to go to Stoke so it can change again.I don’t think it will be easy, We have some good examples this year when we have dropped points against teams near the bottom.We have to go there with the right mentality and the right approach and sense of pride. When you’re playing away from home there are no easy games in the Premier League.

Robin van Persie, without a shadow of a doubt has been Arsenal’s talisman this season. Taking over the reins from Cesc Fabregas, and after the stuttering start to the campaign, the Dutchman has led the team by example.

I don’t think it changed me a lot in the way I am because I believe you should always stay the same,I think the only thing that has changed for me is that it has been made official. Before that I was always helping people out where I could because we all help each other out, it’s not only me. This is the way our club is.I do realise that some stuff starts with me but that counts for every single person for themselves as well. Good behaviour starts from yourself. If you expect that from other people, you should start by yourself and be helpful to everyone else. That has nothing to do with the captaincy, it is the way you should be. Everybody should try to be positive and try to help each other out. I don’t think I am the main starter in all of that.I was very proud [to be made captain], obviously,If you look at the history of Arsenal captains, being part of that is a very special feeling. It makes me proud because Arsenal is a massive club. You look at Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas – those guys were proper captains. I like it, it feels comfortable and not weird.

Meanwhile, after the relatively easy win over Wolves, and Spurs’ shock loss to Norwich at home, Arsenal moved 5 points clear of their rivals, and are now in pole position to seal 3rd spot. Here’s the manager’s complete post match interview.

AW on the result
We started well and then had a situation where we could control the game. Did we push on or not? After that we played a bit with the handbrake on, they played deeper and defended like mad with a great spirit until the end of the game. If they keep that spirit then they still have a chance of staying in the league. On our part we controlled the game, although they actually had a spell in the second half where they created chances. Szczesny made a good save but after that it was a comfortable win.

AW on top-three situation
I am very happy that we are in this position but I am also very cautious because some teams have been in that position before. We want to win our next game because where we have come from this season we must be focused. We have come from very deep and to stay in this position we have to focus on our next game.

AW on the penalty

It looked to me [like a penalty] but I have not seen it again. You could argue that he is the last man as well. The referee had no choice but I think the punishment is harsh because you give away a penalty and you lose a man as well.

AW on spoiling the game
It spoils the game for the supporters because they know they have little chance to come back after. I never forget that we lost Robin van Persie in Barcelona last season when he got a second yellow card for kicking the ball away. It was just strict application of the rules. Today I think the referee had no choice because it is the rule.

AW on Van Persie’s finish

It was a surprise to me because I have never seen him doing that. It was just what came into his mind at the last second he said.

AW on ending his four-game goal draught

It is not easy for a striker like Van Persie who is not used to not scoring. I think he equalled the record of Ian Wright by scoring against 17 different teams in the Premier League out of 20. That is absolutely remarkable in the modern game so I would like to congratulate him because that has never been done before. When your striker scores against 17 different teams, that is sensational.

AW on possibility to improve on record
He could have beaten it if he had scored against Manchester City. The last two chances he had were Man City and tonight. He hit the post twice and Vermaelen saved one on the line against City.

AW on the Wigan game

Wigan did not deserve to lose at Chelsea and they got a great result tonight. It is a good warning for us to prepare well in that game.

AW on FA decision not to extend Balotelli ban

I still don’t understand. If you look at the case of Balotelli you get an explanation and you have to accept it. Then you look at the case of Derry, you get an explanation and you can accept it. But if you put the two together it looks absolutely unbelievable. When the referee has seen something nobody can get over the rule.We need an exceptional committee of ethics who can get over that. The global situation does not make common sense. For people who love football you cannot accept that one is punished and the other is not. But I am not keen to get Balotelli suspended because I have no interest at all in that.

The man who was responsible for both the early goals was Theo Walcott, as he won the penalty and then played a fine one-two with Robin van Persie, before finishing off, to put the game to bed.
I’m 23 now and I am still growing. I am not afraid of getting hurt,A few years ago I had shoulder injuries, ankle problems and back problems and that was just me learning the other side of the game.Now I am just going into games and enjoying myself, not being scared of anything. The manager always tells me not to be afraid going into tackles. I am a totally different Theo Walcott now.We are playing great football and it’s nice to be part of that and not on the treatment table.
 Moving on, Le Prof spoke on a host of issues ahead of the Wigan clash.
AW on the Ladies
Arsenal Ladies are always doing well,I am a big supporter and admirer and I wish them well against Frankfurt and I am sure they will surprise us as always in a positive way. The German teams are always very strong. Their national side didn’t do well in the last World Cup at home but usually they are always there in the top two or three in the world.
 AW on Benayoun
He has been very patient and very professional,He came here with a lack of [playing time] and it took him a while to become really sharp. He kept working and waited for his place.We kept faith in him and put him in for big games because he is an intelligent and talented player. He has a good team attitude.The problem with Yossi was more physical because he is a guy who plays on his sharpness and quick movement. He had a big injury don’t forget and it took him some time to come back.After that, when you do not play big games it takes you time to find the confidence again. Now he is there.
AW on Wilshere’s return
I will not take any risks with him,He is making slow progress so we still have to monitor the situation a little bit at the moment. As I told you last week, the next three weeks would be decisive and now we have two weeks in front of us. I cannot tell you more.
AW on how the league’s dynamics have changed
We are in a different situation because we are on the way up, and last year we were on the way down,The dynamic is completely different. We are on a very strong run, but last year we were on a strong run downwards. Where we finish we will see at the end of the season but at the moment our focus is to maintain our momentum and finish in a stronger position than last year. It is possible if we maintain our results, [like we are] at the moment.Champions League football is still our main target of the season. For a while it was very difficult, for some people [they thought] it was impossible, but now it is feasible. Considering where we came from, we want to take our chance now.
AW on transfers
What has not changed at all is our policy that we will be as ambitious as ever and spend the money we have available, if possible in an intelligent and wise way,We have always spent money because we are ambitious for top-class players and if you look at the history of our last 15 years, we have always had top-class players. Sol Campbell is one of them.It does not mean you cannot win the title,There are two basic trophies for me that are the sign of the quality of a team; they are the Premier League and the Champions League.The Champions League is prestigious and it is half league and half cup. That means that at the end, the teams who wins must show real quality.All the rest, they are trophies of course and they are important, but they do not really reflect the deep quality of a team. The championship does, and we want to win it.Our ambition is intact, to win the championship. It depends on how we finish the season to decide how much we need to buy to have a chance to win the championship next season.
AW on van Persie
It does not look like he is worrying but you know that a striker who has scored in every single game but then has a period he does not like it,But I am convinced that he thought about it. I didn’t worry at all, but the guys who score goals like to continue to score.What you can do one day, you can do the next. We are on a strong run and if you look at our last 10 games, we are defensively more stable because we have kept a few clean sheets.We can score goals and Robin van Persie comes out of a period when he scored a bit less. We still managed to win the games, that is positive.
Yes [he has exceeded my expectations], not on the quality of his games though because I expect a lot from him,The way it goes beyond my level of expectation is the number of goals he has scored, that is for sure. Where he is sensational as well is as a captain. He has done extremely well on and off the field.
AW on video replays
I would like to assess the situation as a whole at the end of the season,Last weekend was a very bad weekend, but we need to assess the global situation.I think the football authorities need to sit together and see how we can improve it. It is time for us to help the referees and not be so conservative and finally opt for video. Video will help the referees, not question their authority. It will give them more credit, more authority and [produce] fewer mistakes.We need instant video replays on the demand of the referee. It would not stop the game, it would sometimes given an even bigger flow to the game. Why? If I am a linesman and the offside situation is a 50:50, I am tempted to stop the game. If I know I have video behind me I am tempted to let it go. You could improve the flow of the game and then check after. I believe that football is the [No 1] sport in the whole world but we have to accept that we have a more conservative approach than any other sport. It can be a strength but on the refereeing side I think it is a weakness.If the referee thinks there is an obvious situation he has not seen well, let’s go and check. You could still be wrong but in fewer cases. I don’t think that the referees are bad, I just think that there are so many situations and they cannot see everything in the game. It is impossible for a human being, no matter how good you are. Out of 100 situations [if you used video replays] you would be less wrong than you are today because you could have help.I believe that maybe we need to promote young talents who come to the game,” he said. “The bigger the basis is quantity-wise, the more chance you have to produce top-level referees. We need to think about how we can promote young talents because it is a difficult job.
AW on Szczesny
He has improved in his focus, the consistency of it,The talent was always there but he is maturing quickly.You can’t be completely on the inside or completely on the outside. I like that he is a good communicator. You have to adjust, it’s important to find a balance.The mental part of a keeper is vital. Look at Joe Hart, who is a fantastic goalkeeper for England. For me he shows that strength.I wouldn’t like to say publicly what he [Szczesny] needs to do to improve, I’d rather tell him myself. Overall he has the basic talent to be a top-class keeper, how far he goes will depend on how much he wants to improve.
AW on diving
We should have a superior committee of ethics that could still punish a player [after a match] and if this committee could punish an obvious dive with a three-match ban, the players would not do it anymore.I would support that for obvious diving. A guy who trips himself with his other leg, no.Everybody wants to win football games and when you have played football, you always try to be on the fringe if you want to win. For example, you touch the ball and it goes out you shout ‘throw in for us’, things like that. But a dive in the box? I think sometimes you can only get it out after the game.I think that the foreign players have brought good and bad things, In England you respected that you got well kicked but on the other side players did not go down for nothing. The second thing I admired here in England is that players never surrounded the referees to demand a yellow card for somebody else, they let the referee make a decision. But that has gone as well. Not everywhere but there is a trend now to surround the referee and [demand] a yellow card and that never happened when I arrived.Yes [that has come from foreign players],” added Wenger. “But I must say the English players learn quickly.
AW on the defence
It is getting there, because everyone does their job well. What we used to think is that clean sheets are only linked to defenders but it is not like that. It is more a team effort and on that front I believe we have improved. Of course our overall defensive record is still not good, but if you take into consideration that we conceded eight at Manchester United and four at Blackburn at the start of the season, our record since that period is quite good defensively.
AW on Ramsey
It is his first full season in the Premier League and he worked very hard [at Wolves] on Wednesday night again,He always looks like he will score but doesn’t score at the moment. Once that will be done I think he will be more relaxed in front of goal and score more. He has played many games this year and for a first season that is tremendous. I am quite happy I can give him a breather sometimes now. Aaron has played many games but he did absorb them well. He was tired two or three weeks ago, and it allowed me to give a breather [on Wednesday] to Tomas Rosicky who has played many games recently.I don’t think it is a long-term option for him because he is more a central player in the way I see him developing,Sometimes to balance the team, especially considering on the other side we have a real winger, I put a midfielder in there. That’s why in some games like at Everton I played him on the left. It worked then but at QPR we lost and it didn’t work. It is not linked with one position, it is to balance the team. I think in the education of a player it is important that he plays in different positions.
Arsenal’s renaissance of late, can be hugely attributed the form of one man, Tomas Rosicky. The sight of Rosicky bombing down the midfield, is a joy. He spoke about how the team has got help from the fans and the importance of finishing 3rd.
Recently the atmosphere at our home games has been absolutely amazing – the team can feel it and it is a big help for us,It is a great feeling to have the supporters so passionately behind you for the whole 90 minutes. The supporters really do make a difference at Emirates Stadium and we’re hoping that we can keep that connection by winning more games.
Wigan beat Manchester United on Wednesday, so that’s an indication that it will be a tough test for us,We’ll have to be on top of our game to win, no doubt about it. Wigan have some very good players and a good young manager, so this will be a very tough match for us.We have a great chance to stay in [third] position, but now we have to make sure of it. That starts against Wigan on Monday – and make no mistake, it’s a very big game for us. People might not usually regard a match against Wigan as such a big one, but they are still battling relegation, so there is a lot at stake for both of us.We saw what can happen against a team fighting for its life when we played away at QPR, and we expect the same kind of performance from Wigan on Monday. We have to give 100 per cent to get the result.
Robin van Persie rose out of his rather uncharacteristic patch of not scoring with a cheeky penalty against Wigan. He spoke about Arsenal’s mental strength.
As you have seen, Mikel has been showcasing his right foot recently,What a great weapon it is, and things are going really well for him. Looking around the team now, we have lots of different things like that in our armoury – everyone has qualities and they are all coming together to create a big threat. It is a good sign that a lot of these weapons are coming alive now and you are seeing a number of players prove decisive for us. I see it as real proof that this team is growing. Mikel’s goal last week was a great example of all that we have been about recently – first he was defending to get the ball from Pizarro, then he brought it forward and had the shot. It was a transition from effort to quality in a few seconds and the outcome was perfect.Effort and quality will both be needed again against a good Wigan side,” he said. “I like their manager, Roberto Martinez, a lot – he likes his side to play football from the back and wants to achieve things by playing the right way. They are having a really good period, being very unlucky at Chelsea and then winning in very confident fashion against Manchester United. In the last five or six weeks they have done really well so we have a very tough task on our hands to beat them and know they won’t surrender easily. I am confident, though, that if we play well and work hard for each other we will create the chances to win and keep our hands on third place.
 Prior to the Wolves game I’d gone four games without a goal, but I didn’t really let it bother me,I could have scored in each of those four games – and when that’s the case it’s not a big problem, because the chances are still coming to you. Against Manchester City I could have scored twice, one going off the line and the other hitting the post. Against Villa I had another cleared off the line, I hit the post again against Everton and had a one-on-one well saved against QPR. As long as I’m taking my opportunities with confidence and 100 per cent sharpness I accept that it won’t always come off, because that is part of football. We won all of those games apart from one, so it wasn’t as if things went badly for us.
Team news, then. Gervinho is fit again after completing the training session ahead of the game, while Gibbs has  half a chance of playing. However, Santos is expected to start. Wigan’s only casualty is striker Hugo Rodallega, who will be given a late fitness test.
There’s no way this fixture can be taken lightly, especially after what Wigan did to Manchester United in midweek, and Liverpool a few weeks earlier. They played a high pressing game, and never allowed their opposition to settle. They slogged it out in the centre of midfield, as they completely shut down supply lines in midfield. Midfield, again will be vital, and Arsene Wenger will be hoping, the trio of Rosicky, Arteta and Benayoun can overrun Wigan’s raw, but exciting midfield. Arsenal defenders will have to be wary of the pace and skill of Wigan’s wingers Jean Beausejour and Victor Moses, especially the latter, who has been in fine form of late. Brother of calamity put in a good performance against Wolves, as well as Aston Villa few weeks back, and should build upon these.
3 points is vital to maintain pressure on our rivals, as we face a crunch game at the weekend against Chelsea, which makes today’s game all the more important.
I end on a rather poignant note. Football witnessed a tragedy, as a young Italian footballer Piermario Morosini, lost his life after a cardiac arrest on the field. This is just one in a recent list of events that have shook the football world, and emphasis will be now on better monitoring of players.
Football’s ugly head was also revealed over the weekend, as a section of the Chelsea fans booed during the minute’s silence to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Such people should be banned from attending football games, henceforth. But then, I am a mere mortal. The FA takes such decisions, and also whether the diver par excellence Ashley Young is to be banned.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
 
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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Wolves Preview + Lineups

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Arsenal, Molineux, Premier League

Kickoff – 19:45 GMT (00:15 IST), 11th April 2012

Hello Gooners. It has been a good week, this. Watching Manchester City falter in their title race is quite pleasing. Even though I am sickened by the fact that it is going to be Manchester United again to win the Premier League, just the sight of Samir Nasri kicking his heels, is worth it.

Much has been spoken of Manchester City’s loss, but very little about Arsenal’s performance that evening. I think we were simply brilliant. Why we don’t do it, week in and week out, completely outfoxes me. We saw this kind of pressing game, and players giving it their all in the Sp*rs game, as well, which was a tremendous result, and has probably turned around our season, for good. We now lie, a good 2 points ahead of our rivals, who like Manchester City, have faltered at the most crucial of times, as they succumbed to a 2-1 home loss to Norwich City, who one can agree, were stupendous. Chelsea, too, were held back in their traps, by a late Clint Dempsey goal at Fulham, a player who incidentally is being linked with a move to Arsenal. Newcastle, on the other hand seem to be getting better and better. After winning 2-0 in Swansea, they repeated the feat again at home against Bolton.

Getting back to Manchester City, rather than Manchester United’s good form and experience in such crucial stages, it can all be attributed the man-management, or the lack of it at Manchester City. Far too often, we have heard stories of Manchester City players this season. First, there was Edin Dzeko going out in the media, and criticizing Mancini for not giving the Bosnian enough game time. When he did get game time, against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, he played poorly and reacted angrily when being subbed. And in the same game, happened the Carlos Tevez saga, who according to Mancini, refused to warm up. We all know how it ended. Tevez jetted off to Argentina without informing his employers, and returned months later, in no condition to play in the first team. We move on to, of course, the enigmatic Mario Balotelli, who just can’t stay away from the headlines. From his firecracker story, to him interrupting a media meet at Inter Milan, to throwing a dart at a youth team player, to his bust ups with teammates Micah Richards and Yaya Toure, he has just taken away the spotlight. Add to that, his on field bust up’s with Aleksandr Kolarov and captain Vincent Kompany, and his red cards this season, have just added up to City not being good enough to be champions.

Anyways, that’s their problem. Our participation in next year’s Champions League is still far from confirmation, though we have a great chance to go 5 points clear of 4th place, if we beat bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers today. Arsenal are without Laurent Koscielny, whose yellow card against Manchester City means he will miss the games against Wolves and Wigan on Monday. In comes, brother of calamity, Johan Djourou. Left back Kieran Gibbs faces a late assessment, though I have a hunch, Arsene Wenger will play Andre Santos at left-back anyway. In midfield, the question still remains if Yossi Benayoun has done enough to hold on to his place in the starting lineup, or whether Aaron Ramsey gets another chance.

Wolves, have been poor this season. Their inability to defend has seen them concede 70 goals, joint highest with fellow relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers, who lost 3-2 to Liverpool last night. Injuries and suspensions along the way haven’t helped either. The sacking of Mick McCarthy was shambolic, and while Terry Connor is trying his best to save Wolves from relegation, it is a near impossible task now. Wolves lie 6 points behind 19th place Wigan, with just 6 games left in the season. They require nothing short of a miracle.

Earlier in the week, Jamie O’Hara was ruled out for the rest of the season, and he joins Stephen Hunt and Jody Craddock. Apart from that, Wolves have no injury concerns. With an extra day of rest, Wolves’ fans will expect their players to give it all. Last time these two teams met, Wolves escaped Emirates with a 1-1 draw, in which Wayne Hennessey pulled off a horde of fantastic saves. Arsenal will look to Robin van Persie to shrug off his mini drought, and bang in some goals for fun. It is not going to be so easy, however. Last time we played a relegation battling team away from home, was as recent as QPR, when we lost 2-1. On a positive note, Wolves haven’t beaten the Gunners since 1978. That’s nearly 34 years now.

Wolves are heavily short on resources in midfield. With key players O’Hara and Hunt out, and Arsenal loanee Frimpong too injured, they rely on a makeshift midfield of Karl Henry, Michael Kightly and Matt Jarvis. Options on the bench include the obviously talented, but inconsistent Serbian Nenad Milijas, and also Kevin Doyle, but apart from that Wolves have a weak bench. At the back, Sebastian Bassong and Roger Johnson look formidable, but are prone to errors far too often.

I expect Arsene Wenger to stick with Yossi Benayoun as he gives the team something extra in midfield, in comparison to Aaron Ramsey. Pressing will be the key again, and Arsenal simply cannot afford to take their opponents lightly tonight.

Enjoy the game, wherever you are!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Load of Wenger, QPR Preview + Lineups

Queen’s Park Rangers vs Arsenal, Loftus Road, Premier League

Kickoff – 15:00 GMT (19:30 IST), 31st March 2012

Good day, fellas. Good day indeed. I was hoping for another dour evening, with no telecast of the Arsenal game,  but ESPN Star India has heeded to our twittion’s again, and decided to telecast the QPR vs Arsenal game, in the process sacrificing the Manchester City vs Sunderland kickoff.

The week has been fairly quiet. Yes, there was the Champions League, but the interest of following it goes away once your beloved team is knocked out. Real Madrid had a routine 3-0 win over Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia, who have done fantastically well to come so far. I think they will go the Santiago Bernabeu and have a good day out, and tell their grandchildren about the day the played Real Madrid. Barcelona and AC Milan provided quite a dull affair, a world away from those hugely entertaining group games. The pitch, surprisingly, was much better than the cabbage field, which the Arsenal players ploughed on. Chelsea have made a decent head start as they look to reach the semi finals of the Champions League, which I think they will, with a 1-0 win in Benfica. I, however, do not expect them to go any further. Bayern Munich, too had it easy against the completely out of sorts Marseille team. A Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid semi-final is on the card. The other semi-final is still far away from being decided.

Matters closer to our hearts then. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spoke about his teammates very recently, and they are Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Robin van Persie.

Chambo on Song

I can’t remember the last game he didn’t play – he is always there. Sometimes you don’t notice the stuff he does, the defensive side of the game, but he is always there cleaning up,Obviously he has been bringing assists to the team as well. Some of the passes he has been putting in, like for two of the unbelievable volleys Robin has scored, reminds me technically of watching Fabregas put those balls through.For a holding midfielder to do that, as well as the defensive side of the game, is brilliant. You can’t ask for anything more.He has been brilliant for us all season and he is a really good guy to have in the dressing room as well. He is always happy and putting smiles on everyone’s faces – he is a massive part of the squad.

Chambo on Arteta

I watch them every week in training,I look at the movement they have off the ball, and when they have the ball they are always positive and looking to find Robin or a winger. I can take that into my own game.You always try to learn off anyone in the team, especially top players like Alex Song and Mikel, as well as Aaron and also Jack when he is back.

Chambo on van Persie

Robin has been the main man for goals this season, he is a fantastic player and we see it week in, week out,But the fact that we can bring goals from other areas of the pitch and from different boys does help to take the pressure of him. That will in turn help him relax and play the way he wants to play, and he will end up scoring anyway. It has been good, especially with people like Thomas [Vermaelen] scoring from the back. It always helps to score from other areas of the pitch so long may it continue.

Moving on, Arsene Wenger had a lengthy interview on a host of issues, ahead of the clash with QPR. Before the interview, news as out that UEFA had banned Wenger for 3 games, and handed him a hefty fine. It seems one of the most stupidest decisions made by UEFA. Arsenal had to contend playing on a joke of a pitch, and then given a below par referee in the second leg, and the manager is handed a ban because he touched the referee after the match, while trying to speak to him. Last time round, Wenger was banned for his comments over the most horrendous decision’s in football history, when van Persie was sent off for no reason at all, at the Nou Camp. And, UEFA showed they are muppets when they launched an internal investigation immediately, after Barcelona complained about the substandard San Siro pitch, but no action was taken, when Arsenal played on an even worser pitch, last month.

AW on the captains

I don’t believe in coincidences,Certainly it is impossible to measure but they have certainly been an influential part in that with many other players who have a good spirit as well. The captain is the leader of the team and of course they have played a vital part in that.I believe that the whole team dynamic was very strong, very positive and that had a massive impact. We were going through difficult periods and we recovered because the players never gave up in the dressing room and that was a vital part. I feel overall this has been one of the best seasons in the dressing room. We will see where we finish but I am sure of one thing; we will give our best until the end of the season.They know how difficult it is to be successful and how difficult it is to be consistent,We forget players like Sagna, Walcott is maturing now and they have all played a big part. I must say that the spirit has always been good but the results have not always been as good as expected, especially at the start of the season. The spirit was never in doubt for me. What could be questioned was how good we could be and what was the quality of the team. I am happy now that we have answered this question in a positive way.

AW on the goalscorers

I don’t deny that we rely a lot on Robin van Persie but it is good to see [that we have contributions from elsewhere],It shows you that when the confidence of the team is a little bit higher, suddenly the goals can come from different people. There is more initiative and that is very positive for us because for long parts of the season it is true that we were too dependent on Robin’s goals. The fact that goals now come from everywhere is certainly just a result of a bigger confidence level in the team.

AW on overtaking Manchester City

We will try to give our best,What we can hope for is to be third. We can be fourth, we can be fifth, we can be sixth – we want to be as high as possible and that depends on our consistency now.We are in a position that nobody expected us to be in and we want to strengthen that position from now on. That depends on our performances.I see us fighting like mad on Saturday to win the game. That’s all I see, I don’t see further.We are focused on QPR, believe me. We know that is always a tricky game for everybody and that is what is important to us. After that we focus on the next one and our capability to finish the season in a strong way depends on just how much we focus on every game.Things can change very quickly. Our sport is fragile and we have learned something this season from a very difficult period. Urgency and focus are vital to keep your level up.

AW on new deals

[We will try to arrange new contracts] very early,” he said. “Yes I am [confident that these players will commit]. To say that I am always confident, yes I am. Of course we want to keep our best players.These players want to win things and they want to be in a team that has a chance. Our end of season will help that to help me convince them that they can [here]. It depends now how well we finish.Newspapers open talks now. They should inform me how much they offer and for how long because I would like to know!We are in the situation [with him] as we are in with Van Persie – it will be sorted out at the end of the season,He is playing very well. I think he has improved his technical level a lot, his links with other players and his calmness in front of goal. For me he is developing very well.

AW on favouritism

On the evidence of the numbers, at least you can say that Arsenal doesn’t get any advantage from anybody because we have zero penalties,That is what comes clearly out – on our side, not only do we not get penalties but we get penalties against us that are not penalties – this season – so that at least keeps us out of that fight.Man United have got seven penalties at home, Man City got seven penalties at home and Arsenal got zero [at home in the Premier League]. So we come out of that with no advantage from anybody, so we are very happy.He [Vieira] spoke with his heart,It was after the decision on Monday night where Fulham didn’t get the penalty and in fairness it was a penalty. It just shows one more thing – that the referees need help, video assistance, and then they will gain credibility and there will be no suspicion. If the referee has a difficult decision to make, if he has any assistance from video he would have given a penalty or not a penalty but it would have been a decision that would have had no suspicion. The referee is certainly honest but you expect him to make a decision in a fraction of a second. You can understand it is difficult. He has not time to check if it is right or wrong. That is why, for years, I have been for video assistance.

AW on his ban

If I am [suspended] then it is not justified and I will appeal straight away,I believe that when you have 25 years [experience] in Europe you can still ask the referee that you can have some discussion with him. It is very difficult to understand.At the moment I have difficulties with UEFA and I can take what is wrong on my side but in these different situations I think they go a little bit overboard if they suspend me.

AW on Manchester City

It is not easy, it is demanding,You always go through a period where you are a bit hand-braked, then when you feel you can do it and suddenly it goes [well] again. Man City have gone through a little bit that moment for the first time this season. What will be vital in the title race is the game they play at home against Man United.[They could slip] if they technically lose the championship but that’s not decided yet. They play Man United at home, the goal difference is very similar and Man United don’t look untouchable at the moment. You cannot say Man City are on the way down. It is a little bit uncertain. If they lose the championship it can happen but it’s still 50-50 at the moment.

AW on Milan

We would have gone through against Milan had we played them now because Milan are not better than us,When we played the home leg, if we had more players available I still think we could have qualified.I think that in the first leg we were very bad. On top of that we lost our defenders and conceded a third goal at the start of the second half which placed us in a very difficult position.They had the perfect game on the day, in return we had no game and in the home leg we were different. We have more confidence today.

AW on the summer

A big part of our starting [business] will be done inside,We will do the job we have to before the Euros, for sure.We need to get Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby back and then look at the number of players we have. Then we have Chamberlain, Diaby, Wilshere, Song, Rosicky, Coquelin, Arteta, Gervinho, Walcott, plenty of players. The most important part is to get our players fit and back and then hope in the Euros we have a positive experience with our players.

AW on Mark Hughes

We have a rivalry. But in fact I discover I have this kind of rivalry with many managers,Maybe it’s me, that’s exactly the conclusion I have come to!I respect every manager because I know they all suffer. That’s part of the job. He was a passionate player, he didn’t give anything away and that comes across in his management.We know QPR are a side with quality players and are in a difficult situation,I expect them to fight not to go down.However the key will be on our side, no matter what QPR’s quality or problem is. It will be important for us to go out and show how much we want another win.

That’s a piece of Wenger, there. Team news, then. Laurent Koscielny is expected to return to first team action after he suffered tendinitis, minutes before the Aston Villa game, which means brother of calamity, Johan Djourou is back heating the bench. Apart from the squad is fully fit. Abou Diaby, apparently, had a bit of pain in training, and could be expected to be on the bench, next week, against Manchester City.

QPR, on the other hand, have a host of injuries, and suspensions to deal with. Strikers DJ Campbell and Heidar Helguson are doubts and so is defender Fitz Hall. Former Arsenal left-back Armand Traore, midfielder Kieron Dyer and Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin are all long term absentees. January marquee signing Djibril Cisse will start his 4 match suspension after his crazy tackle at the Stadium of Misery. QPR have picked up 6 red cards this season, which is the highest for any team this season.

What we can expect, for sure, is a really tough and physical encounter. QPR will look to contain Arsenal rather than be adventurous. They do not have too many players who are great going forward. They do have the Algerian Adel Taraabt, and former Manchester City and Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips, but both have been largely inconsistent this season. I expect QPR to be looking to win the battle in midfield, by deploying the hard-tackling trio of Joey Barton, Samba Diakite and Shaun Derry. At the back, they have a decent defence. Former Aston Villa captain Luke Young, and on loan AC Milan left back Taye Taiwo will take their places on the flanks, while they have the young, but experienced Anton Ferdinand former Manchester City defender Nedum Onouha. Up front, of course, is Arsenal’s nemesis, Bobby Zamora, who has netted winners against the Gunners, whilst playing for other London clubs, West Ham and Fulham.

Arsenal might have to work the flanks a lot more, to get away with 3 points. QPR play a very narrow game, and cannot be taken lightly. They may be in a real slump, and played poorly against Liverpool, but they took their chances, and beat the Reds, right at the death, with Jamie Mackie scoring in injury time to make it 3-2.

Let’s end on a poignant note. March 31st marks the 11th death anniversary of David Rocastle, that supremely talented Arsenal midfielder, of the late 80’s and early 90’s. News came out today, that Aston Villa midfielder Stilian Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, which goes to show, footballers aren’t superhumans. Good news, then. Fabrice Muamba was able to sit, and even posted a picture of himself in the hospital on Twitter. Let’s  hope both Petrov and Muamba are back where they belong, on the football pitch.

Enjoy the game, wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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