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Swansea aftermath, Transfer Rumblings, PLS, the best team in Europe and new Twitter terms!

So, here we are. Another miserable start to the week. A Monday, which could have been so cheerfully different, had the referee yellow-carded Nathan Dyer for simulation, instead of awarding Swansea a penalty; and more importantly, had Arsenal emerged out of Southern Wales with 3 points.

But, this is football. It goes on, so does life. Yes, I may be being a bit pragmatic or philosophical here, but as a football fan, you always have to be that. Every game cannot be won, you lose some, you win some. All that matters is your love for the club you chose to support, even in the worst of runs.

Fans can be so feeble. I go through loads of Arsenal forums on Facebook, and everyone’s suggesting sacking Arsene Wenger. The man, who has transformed the club from being one of the most underachieving clubs, to one of the best teams in the league. Yes, he may have gone 6 seasons without a trophy, and it might be 7 come the end of the year. But, sacking him will completely undermine his fantastic work over the course of 16 years. The 97/98 and 01/02 doubles, and just the way he challenged the authority of Manchester United, who at the time were treble champions, and were signing the best players from all over the world, the likes of Veron, Stam, Ferdinand etc. The 03/04 team that went unbeaten to complete one of the major achievements in English football. And, we have been unlucky in this barren run. Injuries have ruined our season, and we have lost 3 finals on the way. Say, we beat Manchester United next week, the same fans who want him out, will be posting comments like ‘Arsene Forever’ and ‘In Arsene we Believe’. So, do you think sacking the Frenchman is the solution. I leave that to you.

Henry has his word!

Speaking about fans’ frustrations, some did vent it out at the Liberty Stadium. Henry lead the team in applauding the fans at the end of the game.  One fan was particularly vocal. “Where’s the heart, character and the Fight?”, to which Henry angrily retorted “Get behind the Team support the Players and dont be Negative”. Hmm, now there’s something to think about. Yes, the fan was right. Arshavin and Walcott were disappointing yesterday. Actually ‘disappointing’  is an understatement. They were outright pathetic. Over that, Walcott wants 85 quid a week. Bollocks. Anyways, it took our club legend to sort out matters a bit in the middle. All I have to say is, be positive Gooners and get behind your team.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger was critical of the penalty that was awarded. At first, it seemed like a foul and that a penalty was the right decision. TV replays in the morning proved otherwise. Actually, Dyer had fouled Ramsey and took a tumble, a-la-Barca. Would the game have been any different, had that penalty not been awarded. I am afraid not.

You got that all wrong, ref!

Lot of talk then, about Arsene Wenger making some signings in the window to bolster his squad. Or, will it take another mauling at the hands of Manchester United to evoke that kind of urge in the Frenchman. Only time will tell. He has urged the team, though, or whatever is left of it, to wake up and focus for Sunday’s game.

With Gary Cahill, completing his move to Chelsea, there have been loads of rumours doing the rounds. Christopher Samba has supposedly handed his transfer request. QPR seem to be leading the race, but he would be a great signing for Arsenal, with his physical presence. He is an improved version of Mertesacker. But, it seems Wenger is not interested. Wayne Bridge and Aly Cissokho rumours are now getting boring, with some tweets claiming they have signed for us. There was a rumour that Wenger has been given £25 million to splash the cash on Belgian winger Eden Hazard from Lille. But, now Chelsea want to hijack the deal, just like they hijacked the Juan Mata-Arsenal deal. Another name linked is Schalke’s Julian Draxler (never heard much about him), to replace Arshavin. How hard would it be to replace him anyway. Sebastien Squillaci and Marrouane Chamakh have both been offered escape routes by Monaco and Fiorentina respectively, while Salomon Kalou could move to Everton, after Arsenal retracted their interest.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vermaelen could start against Manchester United. Considering how unlucky we have been with injuries, its a huge bonus to have him back. He typifies what Arsenal require at the back now – some steel and guts. Laurent Koscielny has shown much of that this season, but he has lacked a partner to share it with.

I was having a look at the injury list, and the ones who are away for the African Cup of Nations. We could make a decent team there, which would probably end up mid-table, but nonetheless a team. Fabianski would keep goal, behind a backline of Sagna, Jenkinson, Vermaelen and Santos. That’s a pretty solid defense. In midfield we could have the very talented, but eternally injured Abou Diaby, pulling strings, with Mikel Arteta, Arsenal’s most important player this season, linking up with legen-in-the-making Jack Wilshere. There would also be a place in the lineup for the impressive Francis Coquelin, who would partner Diaby. Gervinho would prevent some pace up front, with Chamakh firing away blanks. Pretty decent, eh! And yes, we still have a surplus left-back in Kieran Gibbs!

Further news, then. Arsenal have confirmed a pre-season tour to Africa, Nigeria in particular. That is because, the usual curtain-raiser, the Emirates Cup has been cancelled owing to the London Olympics. Arsenal has a pretty large fan following in the country, mainly because of former Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu, who won 2 league titles with the club. But, there’s one Nigerian we all hate, Obafemi Martins.

Closer to home, an IPL-styled football tournament has been launched, which goes by the name of Premier League Soccer. It will be held between February 25 and April 8. It is a lucrative proposition in a cricket-crazy country. However, I sincerely hope it brings about a change in the perception of the game. All teams are from West Bengal, and they can sign 4 foreign players, and should also have a minimum of 6 under-21 Indian players. Also, they can sign any of the ‘icon players’ on offer. The list includes names to have graced the beautiful game for the last 20 years. They are Hernan Crespo, Fabio Cannavaro, Fernando Morientes, Maniche, Robbie Fowler, Jay-Jay Okocha and last, but not the least, our very own Robert Pires. Already looking forward.

Never thought I would see him playing in India! 🙂

Back to Swansea then. According to statistics, Arsenal lost to one of the best teams in Europe this season, in terms of passing. Also, they boast two of the best passing midfielders in the continent, Leon Bitton and Joe Allen, as a report in the Telegraph shows. Here are some interesting statistics.

Here’s a table, showing the passing statistics of midfielders across the continent.

Player Team Passing Accuracy % Passes
Leon Britton  Swansea City  93.3  1127 
Xavi Barcelona 93.0 1830
John Terry Chelsea 91.6 1209
Sergio Busquets Barcelona 91.3 1086
Thiago Silva AC Milan 91.1 1068
Joe Allen Swansea City 90.3 1075
Mikel Arteta Arsenal 90.3 1318
Yaya Toure Manchester City 90.0 1552
Scott Parker Tottenham Hotspur 89.8 1035

He's the best there is!

Here’s a table, showing passing accuracies of teams across the continent.

Team Passing Accuracy %
Barcelona 89.2
Bayern Munich 87.0
Manchester City 86.2
Real Madrid 85.5
Chelsea 85.5
Swansea City  85.2
AC Milan 85.1
AS Roma 84.9
Tottenham Hotspur 84.7
Arsenal  84.6 

And, finally this table shows how good Swansea have been domestically, in terms of passing, bettering Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Team Passes
Arsenal  11188 
Manchester City 11088
Swansea City  11065
Chelsea 10742
Tottenham Hotspur 10590
Liverpool 10302
Manchester United 10242
Fulham 9330
West Bromwich Albion 8185
Everton 8158

So, there’s no shame in losing to the Swans afterall.

I will end on a cheerful note. In the Premier League match between Tottenham and Wolves, Emmanuel Frimpong, on loan from Arsenal, might have just added a new term to the dictionary ‘Frimponged’, after his powerful clearance smashed straight into the face of Spuds midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, flooring the Dutchman! LEGEND-ARY!

You've been 'Frimpong'ed!

More coming up soon.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in General

 

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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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2010-2011 Season Review – Heartbreakingly Close

Well, here’s my last season review. The 2010-2011 season, another topsy-turvy season, full of memories, both good, bad and the ugly.

Arsene Wenger was, again, characteristically quiet in the transfer market. The only signings were the prolific Moroccan striker Marrouane Chamakh on a free transfer and French defenders Laurent Koscielny from Lorient and Sebastien Squillaci from Sevilla for a combined fee of £12 million. Koscielny had seen a meteoric rise through French football, having played for Guingamp in Ligue 3 and Tours FC in Ligue 2, very recently.

Arsenal’s 3 most experienced defenders had left the club. William Gallas made a switch down North London with rivals Cunty Spuds, Sol Campbell moved to Newcastle and Mikael Silvestre joined German side Werder Bremen. Phillipe Senderos too made a cross-London switch to Fulham. Striker Eduardo left for Shakhthar Donetsk to play more frequent first-team football. Highly talented, but struck with a fatal injury in 2008, Eduardo was never able to reach his previous heights nor regain his old touch.

Arsenal’s first game was Liverpool at Anfield in the league, and not a Champions League qualifier, as they had finished 3rd the previous season. Chamakh and Koscielny both debuted for Arsenal and so did Joe Cole, all three of them making the headlines, the next day. While Cole got sent off for a tackle on Koscielny, Koscielny himself was on the receiving end of the ref’s marching orders. The 10 men battled and took the lead through David N’gog, and Arsenal’s patience finally paid off as Chamakh’s diverted shot was bundled home by Pepe Reina.

It’s a howler!! 

Arsenal’s intentions were clearly there to be seen as they thrashed newcomers Blackpool 6-0, Theo Walcott claiming a hat-trick. Chamakh was impressive in the opening games, creating space for midfielders to spray in balls, with his hold-up play. He scored against Blackpool as well as against Bolton in a 4-1 win.

Baptism of fire for the new boys!

Braga, like Blackpool too were hit for a 6 as a rampant Arsenal started their Champions League campaign in ruthless fashion. Fabregas and Carlos Vela both bagged a brace apiece, while Chamakh and Arshavin added to the goals.

After Blackpool, it’s Braga’s turn! 

The winning start was halted at the Stadium of Light, against Sunderland. Fabregas had scored the luckiest of goals as his shot deflected off Anton Ferdinand to lob over Mignolet. Arsenal should have won this game, but Tomas Rosicky blazed his penalty over. Darren Bent made the Gunners pay with a 95th minute equaliser.

And the following Tuesday, Cunty Spuds hosted Arsenal in the League Cup. Henri Lansbury had scored the opener in the 15th minute. Spuds fought back hard to equalise in the 49th minute, but Arsenal took stranglehold of the game as Samir Nasri converted two penalties in extra-time, and Andrey Arshavin rounded off the scoring in the 105th minute, for yet another win at Shit Fart Lane.

The local boys Lansbury, Gibbs and Wilshere! 

Days later, Arsenal were bought back down to earth by West Bromwich Albion. West Brom were clinical, while Arsenal were wasteful, as they took a 3-0 lead by 73 minutes. Two goals by Samir Nasri weren”t enough to prevent a 2-3 home loss. A 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge, against Chelsea followed, with Alex scoring a scorcher. (Why does everyone reserve their best against us?)

Birmingham were beaten 2-1 at the Emirates, with goals from Chamakh and Nasri, and big-spending Manchester City were beaten in their own backyard 3-0, despite playing a makeshift defence of Squillaci and Johann Djourou, against the likes of Carlos Tevez and David Silva. Nasri and Fabregas were brilliant throughout. Shakhthar were thrashed 5-1 at the Emirates, as the Gunners made it 14 goals in just 3 Champions League games.

Newcastle were eliminated 4-0 in the League Cup, Walcott helping himself to two more. Arsenal battled hard against West Ham, before Alex Song popped up with a 88th minute winner.

1-0 to the Arsenal!!And that’s how we like it!! 

But Arsenal’s form graph had more curves than Jennifer Lopez. They lost 2-1 in Ukraine to Shakhthar Donetsk, old boy Eduardo scoring the winner, but not celebrating. And Newcastle piled misery, escaping with a 1-0 win, the was-to-be £35 million man Andy Carroll scoring the winner.

Chamakh built on his impressive form, scoring 2 against Wolves at the Molineux, one in the first minute, and the next in the very last. And more away points were secured at the Goodison in a 2-1 win.It was around this time the blasted cable operator decided to remove ESPN-Star Sports and replace it with the greatest Ranji Trophy matches between Baroda and Mumbai, with the introduction of Neo Cricket and Neo Sports. Boy, the only spectators for these games were the batting team, the TV umpires and the ground staff. What a goofball.

I was so desperate for watching the North London derby, I dialled up half the people in my contacts to find out who was getting ESPN or anyone who would be streaming the game. Finally, Prajwal Pai responded positively. After lots of waiting, I finally got to his house to discover his cable operator, too, had just removed the channels.This was turning into a nightmare. We followed the game via BBC live text. Soon, Arsenal were 2-0 up by 28 minutes and in total control. I could never imagine what was to transpire in the second half. Gareth Bale scored one in the 50th minute, before Rafael van der Vaart equalised in the 67th minute through a penalty. And we decided to stream the last 5 minutes. The first thing we saw was Younes Kaboul heading Cunty Spuds into the lead in the 86th minute. We had lost a home North London derby after ages.

Despite rare occurances, this should be made illegal!

If that was not enough, Arsenal were beaten 2-0 in Portugal by Braga, the same team that we had decimated 6-0 few days earlier, which meant a win was necessary to book progress to the next round. On this form, I would have expected Arsenal to capitulate at Villa Park, but a brilliant and much-sought win was secured. Arsenal won 4-2 and Arshavin scored a peach.

Villa dispatched! 

Jack Wilshere was brilliant all season for Arsenal Though short and lightly built, he was a wonderful schemer and acute in midfield. It was just like watching Andres Iniesta in action. How Arsenal needed a pass master. And what’s more, he was just 19. He was not one to be daunted to make or take a tackle. A legend in the making, and something that Arsenal were looking for a long time.

3 important points were chalked up Fulham were beaten  2-1 at home, which was won all thanks to the brilliance of Samir Nasri. He scored the first, dancing past Fulham’s defence. Diomansy Kamara equalised, but a flash of genius from Nasri in the 75th minute won the game. He dinked the ball past a crowded defence to slot home the winner. Partizan Belgrade, too, were beaten 3-1, as van Persie announced his return from injury by scoring a penalty.

Samir puts his dancing boots on! 

Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford for their next fixture, and third-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was called into action. The game was quite a rash affair, and Park Ji-Sung scored the only goal of the game in the 41st minute. Szczesny was called into action quite a number of times and the Pole made a good account of himself. Arsenal were now 2 points behind Manure, having played a game more.

The form graph saw an upward curve as Arsenal hosted Chelsea. The cable operator, thankfully, decided to  put ESPN for some time, and I got to watch this game. Arsenal were all over Chelsea, just like the home fans were over Cashley Cole. The Gunners dominated and were 3-0 up in 54 minutes; Song, Fabregas and Walcott helping themselves to goals. The game ended 3-1, and it seemed Arsenal were there or thereabouts in the title race.

Destroyers-in-chief! 

Sebastien Squillaci seemed to be putting himself in a long line of legendary Arsenal defenders such as Ian Ure, Gus Caesar, Igor Stepanovs, Nelson Vivas and Pascal ‘Zinedine’ Cygan as his own goal against Wigan Athletic would prove. Arsenal’s bogey team, Birmingham were beaten 3-0, with a great free-kick from Robin van Persie. I despised Birmingham City. They played crappy football and one of them injured one of us so badly, it almost ruined a promising career.  Not only did they derail us that campaign, they played a big part in this season as well.

January bought in some much needed Cup respite, as well as uneeded Cup replays. Leeds United were held to a draw by a 90th minute Fabregas penalty. It would have been a shock result, had Leeds held on, exactly a year after Leeds had ousted Manure at the same stage. Ipswich Town beat Arsenal 1-0 in a terrible game in the League Cup semi-final.

In the league, Robin van Persie was just starting a phenomenal year by warming up against West Ham, where he scored a brace and Wigan, where he hit a hat-trick. He also scored at Elland Road, in a 3-1 win, to secure passage to the next round, while Ipswich too were duly rounded 3-0 at the Emirates. Arsenal were in contention for all 4 trophies, at this stage, or were they?

Robin scores a hat-trick! 

Fabregas scored another face-saving penalty against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup, to help the Gunners avoid another replay in an already piling fixture list, while Koscielny headed in a priceless 75th minute header against Everton to secure 3 points for the Gunners.

Another one of those penalties! 

The game of the season, the game of the century. Call it what you may, for me it was the most dreadful match any Gunner could have endured. Arsenal were rampant in the first half, and raced to a 4-0 lead in the 26th minute, van Persie scoring 2. It looked like Arsenal could run a cricket score here. Then, everything started going haywire. Abou Diaby and Joey Barton got involced in a scuffle, for which the former was sent off for lashing out at latter. The latter then scored a penalty some time later. It was 4-1. Surely, 3 goals were too much to ask for a team who had sold off their prized asset. Two minutes later, Kevin Nolan scored, and Leon Best’s goal made it 4-3 with 15 minutes to go. Just when it seemed Arsenal would see off all this Newcastle pressure, some bloke called Cheik Tiote fired in the ball from planet Pluto, and BAM, it was 4-4 in no time. Arsenal had missed a glorious opportunity to go 2 points behind leaders Manure. (Seriously, why do they reserve their best for Arsenal?)

That goal! 😦

The game of the season was actually played 11 days later at the Emirates. Arsenal had again drawn Barcelona, this time in the knockout stage. Barcelona were reigning supreme in the world of football. None of the games they played, they had less than 70% possession. In Lionel Messi, they had the world’s best player, in Xavi and Iniesta, two gnome-sized superhumans, and in David Villa, one of the most lethal strikers in Europe. In defence, they boasted the likes of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, who were the World-Cup winning defence, and a steady goalkeeper in Victor Valdes. All in all, they had the team that Planet Earth would put out, would there be an intergalactic football tournament. Moreover, they were bristling with confidence. They had won 16 games on the bounce in La Liga, and 4 days before the Arsenal tie, they had shockingly drawn Sporting Gijon.

And Arsenal?Well, they were the only team on the planet that would throw away leads of 4-0 and end up drawing the match. They were without their best defender Thomas Vermaelen. But there was more to it. Arsenal had guts. They were never fazed by better opposition, like the 05-06 European run would show, where a second string side beat the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal. Were Barcelona next in line?

They may be good, they may be great; but they can never beat our strongest, 11 on 11!

I had been waiting for the game in excitement ever since the draw was made. It was a very tense affair from the start as both teams were trying to get the better of the other. Both had very similar styles of play, trying to keep maximum possession of the ball. One certain man who stood out, was Arsenal’s own gnome-sized midfielder, the immensely talented Jack Wilshere. Up against a formidable midfield of Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets, Arsenal’s trio of Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere were holding their own in an enthralling combat. Both teams created a flurry of chances. Arsenal’s fantastic start in the opening minutes was soon countered by Barca’s ability to keep the ball. Messi sent Villa through and he obliged with the opening goal of the match. I am sure all Gooners around the world were thinking ‘Here we go again’. But there was no stopping Arsenal. They kept probing Barca’s defence, even as Messi was guilty of closing out the tie. When it seemed it would end 1-0, Robin van Persie found himself facing Valdes in the narrowest of angles, and he let in a shot past him, that Valdes would have rued missing. The stadium erupted as the scoreboard read Arsenal 1 Barcelona 1. And 7 minutes later, Nasri was through on the right flank. He waited as van Persie and Arshavin entered play. Nasri sent the ball through to Arshavin, who precisely slotted home the goal of his life. Arsenal had just done the impossible, beating FC Barcelona fair and square. Absolute pandemonium erupted around the Emirates. Dani Alves had a chance later on, but somehow was kept out. As the final whistle blew, there was unparalleled joy. I was jumping around the living room. That was one unforgettable game of football.

Yes, that was cheeky Robin 

It’s that Russian again!!! 

Barca f*cked! 

From the heights of beating Barcelona in the biggest stage of all, Arsenal travelled down London, to Brisbane Road, to play lower league Leyton Orient in the 4th Round of the FA Cup. Tomas Rosicky’s strike seemed to have settled matters, before Orient equalized in the dying moments of the game, to force another replay. Beating Barcelona one moment and drawing Leyton Orient the next. Being an Arsenal fan is not for the faint-hearted.

Having gone 6 seasons without a trophy, the Carling Cup final against Birmingham at Wembley seemed the perfect setting to win silverware. Arsenal were without Fabregas and Walcott, who had been injured in a 1-0 win over Stoke Rugby team 3 days prior. I was with great expectation, to see Arsenal finally get their hands of the cup. Nikola Zigic, a giant of a striker headed Birmingham into the lead. But, Arsenal’s pressure finally told as Robin van Persie equalized, injuring him in the process, though he continued to play. Ben Foster became the  goalkeeper for ‘Team Earth’ for a day as he kept out all of Arsenal’s shots, from Nasri, Arshavin, van Persie and Bendtner. In the 89th minute, calamity. Szczesny seemed to be taking control of the ball, as Koscielny waited for him to retrieve it. But, for some reason, he didn’t. The ball rolled to Obafemi Martins, in front of an empty net. He obliged and tapped home the winner. It was too late for the Gunners to muster a response and Birmingham had snatched the cup from Arsenal. I just couldn’t speak after the game, I was so distraught. As Wilshere and Co. climbed the steps to take their runners-up medals, I just wondered what would have been.

More cup-final heatbreak! 😦

Days later, Arsenal responded with a 5-0 thrashing of Leyton Orient. Bendtner got a hat-trick. But the biggest test was to hold on to a 2-1 lead against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Arsenal defended resolutely throughout the first half, but all hard work was undone as Lionel Messi made most of a Fabregas mistake to slot past Almunia. The score was 2-2 on aggregate, but the Catalans would go though on away goals. Barca were rampant in the first half, creating chance after chance. Arsenal could hardly get the ball past the halfway line. But, Samir Nasri’s corner was deflected in by Sergio Busquets for an own goal, and it seemed Arsenal would wriggle through somehow. It was completely against the run of play and undeserved. But no Gunner cared. But, from there, it all spiraled down. One of the most horrendous decisions by a ref, saw Robin van Persie being sent off. He was in an offside position when the referee blew, and kicked the ball 0.95 seconds after the whistle. Plus, the noise of over 90,000 fans in the stadium. The referee sent him off. It seemed like Barca had the ref’s favoring them again. There was no stopping them after that. Xavi scored soon after that and Messi converted a spot-kick to send Barca through. Jack Wilshere sent Niklas Bendtner through, in the dying moments, and had he scored, Arsenal would have gone through. But, I am pretty sure, every Arsenal fan in the world knew he wouldn’t. He didn’t. It ended Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal.

The worst decision in the history of the sport! 😦

It’s over, at the Nou Camp, again! 😦

4 days later, Arsenal faced another mountain to climb. Manchester United away in the 6th round of the FA Cup. Arsenal enjoyed lion’s share of the possession, but Fabio’s goal in the 28th and Rooney’s in the 49th meant Arsenal were knocked out of their third competition in 2 weeks. The season was deteriorating and fast.

More misery in the cup! 😦

And again, the Premier League was the last frontier of possible silverware. West Brom, who had already beaten the Gunners were 2-0 up at the Hawthorns, and an exit from a 4th competition in the space of 25 days seemed imminent. Andrey Arshavin rose to the occasion and let in a brilliant goal, before van Persie wriggled the ball past the goal-line. Blackburn held the Gunners to a goalless draw at the Emirates, to leave Arsenal 7 points off the pace, with a game in hand.

Jens Lehmann was the answer to Arsenal’s goalkeeping injury woes, as he made a return against Blackpool in the league. Arsenal won 3-1 to keep the gap the same, with a game against United still to come. The game in hand was against Liverpool, who visited the Emirates next. There was talk about Liverpool letting the Gunners win, as that was the only way they could prevent United from reaching the 19th title, and breaking Liverpool’s record of 18. Jamie Carragher suffered an injury, and it resulted in treatment on the pitch for nearly 8 minutes. I was on a return journey from Bangalore and was depending on my friends’ text updates for live scores. When the 90th minute came, with the game still goalless, I knew it was all over. But then, I got the news that van Persie had converted a 98th minute penalty to hand Arsenal the lead in a must-win game. I didn’t bother touching my cell for the next 10 minutes or so. I was so confident that there was no coming back for Liverpool after this. The next thing I saw on my cell was Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool. Dirk Kuyt had scored a penalty in the 102nd minute. It struck me, Arsenal had no luck.

Kuyt strikes home Manure’s 19th title!

An exciting North London derby was up next. Both teams were treating it like a dead rubber and a fun tie. But, it was end-to-end stuff, with the game ending 3-3. Tottenham could have added to Arsenal’s misery, but Szczesny’s safe pair of hands denied them the chance. Instead, it went to Bolton Wanderers. Tamir Cohen’s 90th minute header effectively ended the title challenge. Arsenal were now 9 points off the pace, with 4 games to go.

That’s that..

Aaron Ramsey scored the only goal against Manchester United, as Arsenal closed the gap for Chelsea to 3 points, giving them hope, if not us, to win the league. Alas, for Liverpool, Manchester United went on to win their 19th title as Arsenal’s fans endured 2 more defeats; away to Stoke and home to Aston Villa.

Finally something to smile about 

Only a 89th minute Walcott goal avoided a 3rd straight end of the season run of losses against Fulham. Arsenal slipped to 4th, below Manchester City.

From being genuine contenders in 4 competitions at one stage, to the agony of getting knocked out of all in quick succession was a bitter pill to follow.

But, our time will come. It has to. I believe in the Arsenal. C’Mon you Gooners!!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – 6th Round

Carling Cup – Runners-Up

Champions League – Round of 16

Top Scorer – Robin van Persie (22 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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