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Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United – Blue Moon Rising

Manchester City 1 (Kompany 45’+1) – Manchester United 0

Man of the Match – Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

It was billed as the ‘derby game of all derby games’, the ‘unmissable’ match. And, it did live up to its billing.

In the biggest game of the English domestic season, a game that would almost decide who would win the coveted Premier League trophy, on a cold night in Manchester, Manchester City finally seem to be emerging from the shadow of their much celebrated cross town rivals, Manchester United.

A packed Etihad crowd, and over 650 million viewers worldwide watched on, as the rising blue wave of Manchester took on its blood red counterpart. The prize was massive. Watching from the stands was Diego Maradona, probably the greatest footballer to have lived, and Noel Gallagher, the Oasis musician and a lifelong City fan.

Surprisingly, or rather disappointingly, Sir Alex named what seemed a defensive unit, to counter Manchester City’s talented attackers. The usual names such as Danny Wellbeck, and Antonio Valencia were named on the bench, as Fergie decided to stick to his old guard, comprising Paul Scholes, Welsh wing wizard Ryan Giggs and South Korean Park Ji-Sung. In defence, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling started. This probably indicated Fergie’s intent to break up play and not allow a repeat of October’s 6-1 humbling at Old Trafford.

There were no surprises from Roberto Mancini. His 4-2-2-2 formation has served his side well as of late. With Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero scoring goals for fun, it was all but procedural to name them on the team sheet.

Despite starting with a defensive looking unit, it was United who seemed to be making early inroads into Manchester City, with some neat passing. Wayne Rooney, playing as the lone striker, stuck to his task of frustrating City captain Vincent Kompany. Michael Carrick had a shot blocked by the Belgian, after Joe Hart could only punch the ball away.

Manchester City made their first real foray on 15 minutes, when some delightful footwork from Samir Nasri saw him beat 3 United defenders, and set up Tevez, whose low cross was cleared by Phil Jones.

Vincent Kompany got the first of many yellow cards on the evening for a nudge on Wayne Rooney, as things started to get more feisty on the pitch. Sergio Aguero made a complete hash of a volley, though he had more time to control it than he thought. Pablo Zabaleta too missed a smiliar opportunity.

Then, came the decisive moment of the match. David Silva’s corner was headed in thumpingly by Vincent Kompany, in first half stoppage time. Jolean Lescott, Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure had positioned themselves perfectly for the corner. While Lescott drew in the attentions of Ferdinand, and to some extent Smalling, Tevez gave de Gea barely an inch of space. Kompany’s header was powerful and decisive, as he rose above Smalling, to head home, and send the crowd into raptures.

The second half started at almost similar pace as the first, and Fergie decided to twitch it, as he bought on striker Danny Wellbeck to replace Park Ji-Sung. City, turned rather negative from that point on as Carlos Tevez made way for Dutch defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong.

United, despite keeping possession for large periods, barely threatened City keeper Joe Hart. The introduction of Valencia in place of Scholes in the 78th minute did little to alter the direction of play. The tireless Yaya Toure had a shot on goal, but it went wide, as City looked to shut down the game.

Nigel de Jong then mistimed a tackle on Danny Wellbeck, which got him a yellow card and also sparked a touchline spat between Ferguson and Mancini. The furious Scot lay vent to his feelings, as the immense passion looked to have surged through the coaching staff as well. Mancini responded with words and hand gestures of his own, and it took City’s assistant manager David Platt and fourth official Mike Jones to seperate the two managers.

Ashley Young was introduced, but it was City who had more chances to seal the game, as Toure narrowly missed, while Clichy forced a save from de Gea and Nasri missed a sitter.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Manchester City secured a famous win over their rivals, which saw them move to the top of the Barclays Premier League table, on goal difference. The title may not be won, but the Citizens can almost smell it. Two more wins, against Newcastle and QPR, and they will reach the promised land.

The parting shot of the day was captain Vincent Kompany applauding the vociferous City support, who went into a chorus of ‘Blue Moon’.

Match Ratings (Manchester City)

Hart (7.5) – Don’t remember seeing him make a single save last night.

Zabaleta (8) –  A good defensive and offensive display.

Kompany (9) – A rock at the back, all season, and yesterday. Scored the goal that could change the club’s fortunes.

Lescott (8.5) – Partnered Kompany effectively.

Clichy (8) – A good matured display. Rarely allowed Nani to run at him.

Toure (8.5) – A tireless display in the centre of midfield.

Barry (8) – Kept a tight leash on City’s midfield. Never allowed them to settle down, breaking their passing rhythm far too often.

Silva (7.5) – Creative, but not incisive.

Nasri (8) – Created several opportunites for his team yesterday

Aguero (7) – Not his best game. Missed a good number of chances

Tevez (7.5) – Never got going, but he did his part in the end.

Subs:

de Jong (7) – Helped pack the midfield, and close down the game. Made a silly foul here and there, though.

Richards and Milner – Came on too late to get a rating.

Match Ratings (Manchester United)

de Gea (7.5) – Should have dealt with the goal much better, but made a few saves that kept United in the game.

Jones (7.5) – Struggled a bit, but the best among United’s defenders.

Ferdinand (7) – Is his best past him?

Smalling (7) – Partly at fault for the goal, but a decent display after his return from injury.

Evra (6.5) –  A poor display. Allowed far too many crosses from his flank.

Carrick (7.5) – Slowed down the pace a bit, but was United’s best player last night.

Park (6.5) – Playing a high intensity game after a long time. Looked a bit jaded.

Scholes (7) – A good director of play yesterday, but not his best game.

Giggs (6.5) – Out of sorts yesterday.

Nani (7) –  Well marked by Clichy.

Rooney (7) – Never got going. Was kept under wraps by City’s defence.

Subs:

Wellbeck (6.5) – Did little to change the course of the game.

Valencia and Young – Came on too late to get a rating.

Team Ratings

Manchester City – 7.87

Manchester United – 6.95

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in General, Match Reports

 

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Battle of Manchester – A preview

Manchester City vs Manchester United, Etihad Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (00:30 IST), 30th April 2012

So, it has all boiled down to this. The largest game of the season is upon us. A city waits with bated breath with the world watching on as Manchester City host Manchester United, in the title decider.

This season, has been one of the best I have witnessed. There has been so much pace, so much passion, so much craziness, so many incidents, so many unexpected results and a horde of drama. And, there’s still more drama. What better can it be than the title clash, between the long standing rivals in Manchester.

By December, Manchester City were literally steamrollering their way in the Premier League. They just had to turn up and demolish teams it seemed. And why not. Bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi group, and armed with some of the most fearsome attacking talents on display in the league, everyone’s favorites to win the title, was Manchester City. In the summer, Mancini used all the cash reserves at his disposal, to prise Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy from Arsenal, to already add to the impressive array of players such as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure. The power battle in Manchester seemed to have completely swayed, towards the rising blue tide, when in one destructive balmy afternoon in October, City managed to put 6 past a hapless United, to record their biggest win at Old Trafford in nearly 56 years.

However, the story has not been all smiles. Cue the culprits. Messrs Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. With big names come big egos they say. And it was inevitable. Carlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini had a public outburst in a Champions League group game against eventual finalists Bayern Munich, a game which they went on to lose 2-0. Supposedly, the Italian manager asked the Argentine hotshot to get ready for warmups. Tevez refused to oblige and faced the wrath of the Italian. Tevez posted a completely different version. According to him, Mancini took out his frustration on the striker, and hence his revolt. Yes, revolt. A revolt, which saw him jetting off to his native, without serving a notice to his employer. For months, Manchester City remained clueless to the whereabouts of Tevez, until he posted a picture of him on the internet, visibly fattened, enjoying a round of golf with his buddies.

If that was not it, City had internal squabbles to deal with. First, there were players who were publicly remonstrating against the manager, on being subbed, more so out-of-favour Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko. While he scored two late on at Old Trafford, in the 6-1 hammering, his form of late has waned, and he has had the temerity to display audacity, on being replaced. Another example is that of Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov, who has never been able to hold on to his place in the squad. While this was going on, Mancini had to deal with another man with a light fuse, Mario Balotelli. While his fight with Jerome Boateng last season, was quite widely publicized, it did little to change the attitude of the enigmatic striker. He has had constant duels on the training ground, with right-back Micah Richards, captain Vincent Komapny, and with Aleksandr Kolarov, in a league game against Sunderland, and Yaya Toure, thereafter.

This has seen the title almost fall out of grasp from the Sky Blues, into the hands of the opportunistic Red Devils. While Carlos Tevez has returned and lost quite a bit of his belly, there were still problems with City, as they went on a poor run. They lost at Swansea, 1-0, and quickly made a comeback, in the next game, to rally and beat Chelsea 2-1. After that, they were held to a draw by Stoke City, thanks to a wonderful goal from Peter Crouch. In their next game against Sunderland, they looked like they were down and out, trailing 3-1, with barely 10 minutes to go. After the Balotelli-Kolarov push-and-shove, City managed to eke out a point, before completely being outplayed by Arsenal in their next game, and losing 1-0 thanks to a late Mikel Arteta goal. To compound their woes, Balotelli got a red card. They have, however pulled themselves back into contention, with a 4-0 thumping of West Brom, a 6-1 away win at Norwich, and a 2-0 win at Wolves.

While the ‘noisy neighbours’ have been, well, noisy, Manchester United went about quietly picking up the pieces since the 6-1 home humiliation. Having started the season, in a more emphatic fashion than their cross town rivals, early games indicated United’s dominance. They first brushed City 3-2 in a thriller at Wembley in the Community Shield, before garnishing it with results like the 3-0 beating of Spurs, the 8-2 crushing of Arsenal, a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton at the Reebok and a 3-1 win over Chelsea, before it all came crashing down to earth in the Manchester derby.

Like I said, they slowly picked up, eking out results. They edged Everton, Sunderland, Swansea and Aston Villa, all 1-0, before coming into their stride, come December. Consecutive 5-0 wins over Fulham and Wigan were sealed, but then it seemed to go horribly wrong. United, who had earlier crashed out of Europe, finishing 3rd in what seemed to be a straightforward group, suffered two losses, at the hands of lowly Blackburn at home 3-2, and a 3-0 loss, away to Newcastle.

When doubts were raised if Fergie and his men were up for it, they responded in typical fashion. First they knocked out Manchester City from the FA Cup, 3-2 at the Etihad, in a controversial game. Then, they went on a fine run in the league, winning 11 of their next 12 games. This included 2-1 wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, and a comeback at Stamford Bridge, after going 3-0 down, to secure a point. This has seen them overturn in what was once termed an unassailable lead, to a 8 point advantage of their own.

However, the unpredictability of results this season has been such, that nothing can be taken for granted. Wigan Athletic outplayed and deservedly beat Manchester United, and then, Manchester United gave away a 4-2 lead, with minutes to go against Everton, to draw 4-4, and tip the scales somewhat equally in favour of both Manchester clubs.

3 points is the difference. The permutations are massive. If Manchester City win, they will go on level with points with United, and ahead on goal difference With games against a topsy turvy Newcastle and relegation threatened QPR, you can almost see them through with winning the title should they win tomorrow.

However, anything but a City win, and one can be sure of the Red Devils coasting towards a 20th league title. They face Swansea at home and Sunderland away on the last day of the season, and with both of them in holiday mood, it could be rollover.

Let’s have a look at the teams then. While Roberto Mancini says, he could play Mario Balotelli, to induce that surprise factor, I feel he will stay on the safer side and play the Argentine duo of Aguero and Tevez, who have 9 goals between them in the last 3 games. What has been a feature to City’s game is the way they have played their midfield of late. Having played James Milner and Adam Johnson on the wings, for most of the campaign, they have narrowed down their play in the last 3 wins. Now, they play a rather more central 4-2-2-2 formation, with Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure/Nigel de Jong in defensive midfield, David Silva and Samir Nasri in attacking midfield, and of course Tevez and Aguero in attack. While this system is quite open for Manchester United to attack on the wings, City’s defensive midfield will hold the key, to help out Richards and Clichy. Vincent Kompany has been majestic this season, and so has Joe Hart. They will have big roles to play tomorrow.

Manchester United, on the other hand, will look to the brilliance of Wayne Rooney, the astuteness of Scholes, and the pace of Valencia and Nani to counter City’s threat. Defence is a major worry for the Red Devils, having leaked 4 against Everton, all of them being the result of poor defending. Rafael looks a major liability, and Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans are yet to convince everyone that they are a good defensive team. David de Gea seems to have overcome all the early criticism of him, to become a fine shot stopper as of late. It will be interesting to see if Fergie goes with two upfront in Rooney and Welbeck, or he aims to win the battle in midfield.

It is going to be much more than a game tomorrow. It could be the turning point in City’s history. A moment for them to finally emerge out of United’s shadow. Their turn to have bragging rights in the city. Or will a certain Scot again brand his iron fist and paint the town red.

It is going to be a treat and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss it.

Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in General

 

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Why always Mario?

Love him. Hate him. You just can’t ignore him. Yes, we all know, who I am talking about. It’s Super Mario, Mario Balotelli, the madcap maverick who plays as striker for Manchester City.

Let’s face it, the world would be a duller place without such characters in football. Mario Balotelli offers something fresh. Yes, he may be completely out of order, a maniac even, but c’mon, he is more entertaining than all those ‘holier-than-thou’ footballers we are prone to witness these days.

Let us cast our minds back to 2009, when a young, or rather younger Balotelli made his mark in the Coppa Italia clash, against arch rivals Juventus, scoring twice. With the Turin faithful, chanting rather abusively towards the young striker “There’s no black Italian’s.” Balotelli seemed unfazed at the time, with all the media attention in Italy on him, as he began to brush shoulders with the likes of Dejan Stankovic, Ivan Cordobo, Luis Figo and Javier Zanetti in Inter’s training ground.

Then Inter boss Jose Mourinho accused the young Italian striker of shunning his training schedules, and being a lazy footballer, who left the ground earlier than his more accomplished colleagues. Mourinho, at one stage had enough, and he excluded Balotelli from attending Inter’s training sessions.

His off the pitch antics made news, too. He had to pay nearly £10,000 in parking fines, along with 27 impoundings on his Maserati. If that was not enough, he left his car unattended, with £25,000 in cash just lying on the passenger’s seat. When enquired by police, he said ‘Because I can’.

Another story revolves around Balotelli’s fascination with prison women. Yes, once he and his brother trespassed into a female prison, before they were held by police.

After a league game, against AS Roma, which Inter drew 1-1, Mourinho claimed in the press, that Balotelli’s performance deserved a zero rating. He faced the wrath of the Juventus faithful again, later that year, as he made a complete meal of a Felipe Melo elbow, and went down to the ground theatrically, clutching his face. While Melo was sent off, the game drew bad blood between the sides, a game which Inter eventually lost 2-1. The relation between player and manager soured more, as Balotelli was a late surprise exclusion from Inter’s Champions League squad to face Chelsea, after an altercation. However, it didn’t stop there, as Balotelli was heavily criticized by Inter stalwarts Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi. Then, Mario went on to do something unthinkable, for Inter fans, as he appeared on national television, wearing Inter’s crosstown rivals’ AC Milan’s jersey.

This kept him out of the team for a while, and on his return he was in the headlines again, as he threw the Inter jersey on to the pitch, in a Champions League clash, against Barcelona, in retaliation against fans, who had booed him through the game. He was even at the end of an attempted attack from angry Inter fans. His behaviour was increasingly getting out of hand, and this seemed the last straw for Inter, as they put Balotelli on the market.

The suitors. Well, Manchester City, of course, and their new oil-bankrolled business tycoons, managed by a former Inter manager, himself, Roberto Mancini, who were looking to take the English league by storm, by signing the best players in the world, at outrageous prices.

Despite a slow start to life in the Premier League, Balotelli was back in the thick of things, as he turned hero to villain in a league match against West Brom. He crashed home his first two league goals, in England, and then got himself a red card for an altercation with Baggies midfielder Yussef Mulumbu.

He was once fined, for throwing darts at Manchester City youth players, hitting one in the eye, and was immediately fined by the club. On being asked why he did it, his response was brutally honest. He was bored. Another story says, Balotelli, after winning £25,000 in a night club, splashed the cash on a few lucky homeless in Manchester.

While his talent was obvious, so was his cockiness. As he held aloft the Golden Boy award in December 2010, he exclaimed that there was only one player in the world better than him, and that was Lionel Messi. When asked about runner up to the award, Jack Wilshere, Balotelli claimed he had never heard of him, and told the next time Manchester City meet Arsenal, he would show his award to Wilshere. Funnily, he was spotted using his iPad, when on the bench for Italy in a game against Faroe Islands.

He went on to score a fine hattrick against Aston Villa, later that month. Couple of months later, Balotelli headlines resurfaced English tabloids. He left the first leg of the Europa League match with Dynamo Kiev, after strangely claiming to have an allergy with grass. Weird, a footballer having an allergy with grass. If that wasn’t enough, Balotelli did a Jackie Chan style freekick, in the second leg, on a Dynamo player, and received his marching orders. Manchester City lost and were knocked out of Europe. He, however, put in a man-of-the-match performance in the FA Cup final win over Stoke, City’s first major piece of silverware, in over 3 decades. Previously, after the semi-final win over rivals Manchester United, he provoked United defender Rio Ferdinand, which led to a mass brawl between both sets of players.

In pre-season, Balotelli completely outraged his manager and fans, in a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Put through, and clear of the defence, Balotelli attempted a backheel, and the ball rolled wide of the post. It was a show of utter disrespect towards the opponents, and minutes later, James Milner replaced him.

That, however, did little to affect his form, as he began the 2011-2012 campaign in fine goalscoring knick, with goals against Birmingham, in the Carling Cup, and in the league against Everton and Blackburn. Mario’s next moment of madness came on the eve of the Manchester derby, against Manchester United. Balotelli lit fire to his own home, as he played with firecrackers indoors, and narrowly escaped the fire. He stayed in a posh hotel, till he found himself a new home. The match, itself was Balotelli’s headline moment. He scored the opening two goals, as Manchester City humiliated Manchester United 6-1, with Balotelli revealing the message “Why always me?”, after scoring the first. He was then involved in an incident, early in the second half, which led to the dismissal of Manchester United centre-back Johnny Evans.

A month later, at Anfield, in a pulsating 1-1 draw with Liverpool, Balotelli came on as a sub. But, in no time, he was back in the dressing room, after receiving two red cards, the second of which was for a stupid foul. He stayed on the pitch for sometime, trying to explain to Mancini, a moment captured by the video cameras, but the manager was having none of it, as he ordered his fellow Italian off the field. Then, prior to a league game against Chelsea, Balotelli broke curfew times, to go to a local restaurant, where he was involved in a mock sword-fight, with rolling pins.

On the field, however, Balotelli was scoring goals. He used, his right, shoulder, yes, you heard right, his right shoulder, to score in a 5-1 win over Norwich City. He then scored in a 2-1 loss to Chelsea, a game remembered for Balotelli being called offside numerous times.

Super Mario faced the same disciplinary issues, he had faced when he was at Inter, as he involved in training ground bust ups with teammates Vincent Kompany, Jerome Boateng and Carlos Tevez. One highly publicized bust up was that between him and Micah Richards, who the maverick Italian accused of ‘not running hard enough’. In the meanwhile, he even managed to ram his Audi R8 supercar. Sigh!

Another incident involves Balotelli and a high school kid, who came to the Manchester City training ground to take his autograph. On being asked, why he wasn’t at school, the kid replied, he was getting bullied. Balotelli summoned the kids mother, and along with them confronted the bully, in the presence of the principal, and resolved the matter. Manchester City, a little embarassed, released a statement, saying Balotelli feels strongly against such issues, and had no qualms in standing up for the bullied party.

If that was not enough, he was summoned for a high profile Mafia court in Italy. During his time with Inter, Balotelli was constantly spotted with drug cartels in Naples.

On the field, Balotelli was involved in an incident with Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker, whom he stamped, but escaped the attention of referee Howard Webb. The match, itself was decided by Balotelli’s injury time penalty, as Manchester City won 3-2. After the match, he was given a 4-match ban. After his return, he scored goals against Blackburn and Bolton. He also scored 2 goals in the 3-3 draw at home to Sunderland, a game which probably cost City the title. With Sunderland leading 3-1, and 16 minutes left, City managed to win a freekick, in a decent position, at the edge of the penalty area. Then, ensued an on field fracas between, Balotelli and left-back Aleksandr Kolarov, as to who would take the free kick. It took Vincent Kompany, the captain, to seperate his bickering players. The subsequent look on Mancini’s face was that of helplessness, as he saw his team fall from being title favorites, to being behind Manchester United.

Amidst this, Balotelli even found time to interrupt an Inter press conference, to congratulate new manager Andrea Stramaccioni.

Finally, as recently as Sunday, Balotelli unleashed his leg on Alex Song’s knee, which had it struck slightly below, would have been a career threatening injury. Luckily, for the Italian, the referee missed the incident, and he stayed on the pitch. He, however, did see red late on, after receiving two yellows, both for poor fouls on Bacary Sagna. Mancini, after the match described Balotelli as chaotic, dangerous and a birdbrain, while also stating that he absolutely loves Mario as his own son, despite all his shortcomings. He also suggested that he might not play a further part that season, and might be transfer listed at the end of the season.

He has turned his garden into a racetrack for quadbikes. He has slept with the same prostitute, Wayne Rooney once used to cheat his girlfriend. He has dated some of the hottest models in the world, in Kelly Espinoza (10 years older than him), Betty Kourakou, Melissa Castagnoli (whom Balotelli dumped via a text message), Sophie Reade (Supposedly, he slept with Reade’s best friend, and on being caught, he kicked Reade out of his house barefoot) and finally Italian supermodel, Rafaella Fico, once girlfriend of Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. He has scored some fine goals, (remember that freekick against Rubin Kazan, whilst playing for Inter), and he has some chants to his name by the City fans.

He is enigmatic, he is crazy, he is random, and that’s what makes Balotelli the personality, or rather the phenomenon, that he is today. Without him, the Premier League would be a little duller. Everyone wants him to leave Manchester City, but then, why always Mario? 🙂

We have no idea ourselves, Mario!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in General

 

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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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How It Could All End up this season? (Alternate Version)

Yes, the alternate version of my predictions are here. I had earlier predicted Manchester City to win the league, pipping their neighboring rivals Manchester United by 2 points. Tottenham finally managed to finish above Arsenal, for once, in their glorious history. Arsenal managed to ward off Chelsea and Liverpool to secure 4th place.

Enough of that serious jibber-jabber now. Let’s see how the alternate version of my predictions pan out. Instead of week-by-week predictions, I present some crazy scenarios that will surely make you smile, if not roll on the floor and laugh!

20) Wigan are Champions.

Yes, have a look at the Premier League table. Wigan win their remaining 14 games, will obtain 42 points, which will make their grand total 58. Wigan Athletic are crowned champions of England. Roberto Martinez is now Sir Roberto Martinez. In a year’s time, he leads Wigan to a crushing victory over Barcelona in the Champions League Final 2013.

19) It’s raining chickens.

We have all read about raining frogs and fishes. The town of Blackburn is now witness to a very bizarre form downpour. The Venky’s are drained out and now chickens fall from the skies. Steve Kean is still manager of Blackburn, and the fans, unpreturbed, continue their protests.

18) Owen Coyle turns God.

Bolton are relegated after Owen Coyle reveals he is God. And, God not only to Bolton fans. He goes about his task of saving the world. And Bolton, despite the best efforts of star striker David N’Gog are relegated.

17) Wolves are ‘Frimponged’.

Emmanuel Frimpong is actually on a mission. A mission to ‘Frimpong’ every other player in every other team in the league. Starting off with Wolves. After Rafael van der Vaart felt the full force of ‘Dench’, Kevin Doyle better watch out. Stephen Hunt, though, is least concerned after his version of the Frimpong, nearly ended the career of Petr Cech.

16) QPR take up English classes.

Yes. How the hell can a club from the country where English originated screw up their own language? The English alphabet clearly says P-Q-R. What the hell is QPR supposed to mean. No wonder Anton Ferdinand heard gibberish off John Terry’s mouth, and interpreted it to be racism. Tch Tch! What’s more, they will be taught by Harry Redknapp, who recently admitted he is bad at writing and reading! Sad days for England, who just can’t seem to get hold of a proper English manager.

That's my English teacher! 😀

15) East meets West.

West Brom agree in principle with East Bengal for a player exchange. While East Bengal go on to win the I-League, West Brom are left ruing their decision, as they are relegated by a record goal difference of -100. Roy Hodgson goes into hiding in the icy waters of Finland.

14) Fulham conquer London.

Fulham, yes, Fulham, that crappy club, by the river, takes over the city of London, thanks to Harrod’s superstore. First, they kick West Ham/Tottenham/Leyton Orient or whoever it is from the Olympic stadium, and play their home matches there. Fulham are now the bosses of the FA, and come to a conclusion that their away games should be played at Wembley.

13) The akward moment when Heskey joins Barcelona.

It’s true. Barcelona finally end their search of finding an absolute world class striker. A path which has seen them pursue the likes of Aguero, Forlan, van Persie, Torres (gulp!) ends with the bulky England forward Emile Heskey. Villa’s fortunes take a hit, only for a striker worse than Redknapp’s wife (Darren Bent) to rescue them.

Akward!

12) Stoke join the Rugby Union.

After much soul-searching and conscience-digging , Tony Pulis finally reveals Stoke City FC are actually a professional rugby side, in disguise. Further inquiries confirm the fact, and Stoke City now ply their trade in the Aviva Rugby Premiership. Ryan Shawcross is infact from the Maori tribe in New Zealand, and has a ancestral history of rugby.

When they weren't impostors..Stoke Rugby Club

11) Nikica Jalevic is better than Lionel Messi.

If Lionel Messi is great, Nikica Jalevic is greater. Period. He beats Dixie Dean’s (a fomer Everton player) long standing record of 60 goals in a season. And what’s more he does it in half a campaign. Pele is removed from the list of FIFA’s 100 greatest players. Damn, he’s so good, they even remove Maradona, so Jalevic is named twice. Here’s to Everton’s priciest signing!

10) Swansea are second best.

Despite Wigan winning the league, Swansea attract lot of eyes and fans, as they finish second. Brendan Rodgers’ faith in his side’s passing ability sees them complete more passes than Barcelona can muster over in the La Liga. Xavi and Iniesta are no more Europe’s star midfielders. It is Joe Allen and Leon Britton. Infact, they are so good, there is a change in names. Swansea is now Swansealona and Barcelona is now Barsea.

9) Norwich join the Cooking Union.

Delia Smith’s sinister master plan is finally bought to light. Norwich City’s players are actually chefs. She took over the club to find herself chefs. Infact, they are so pathetic at cooking, they were the reason Tottenham failed to qualify for the UCL in 2006.

8) Sunderland buy everything Manchester United.

Sunderland become a burial ground for everything remotely Manchester United. Already stuck with mediocrity named O’Shea, Richardson, Bardsley and Brown, soon they will be joined by Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov, Wellbeck and the lot. O’Neill now vies with Owen Coyle to take God’s throne.

7) ‘Kop Cat’ replaces Carroll.

Kenny Dalglish is frustrated by Andy Carroll and signs the cat that ran past more players than Stewart Downing has all season. The cat repays the manager’s faith by scoring a goal every time he plays. Andy Carroll, meanwhile, joins Bromley, where he will finish his career, missing sitters in the Conference South. Meanwhile, Suarez persuades ‘Kop Cat’ to join him in the Ku Klux Klan, and Liverpool’s new star is banned for 8 games, for racially abusing Barcelona’s own new signing ‘Catman’. (You can see how cleverly I have incorporated Catalan here). 😛

6) Arsene Wenger spends money.

The unthinkable happens. After years of exchanging peanuts for players, Wenger finally digs all the money he has been hiding under his bed and instead exchanges them with hospitals around the world to sign the most ‘technically sound’, ‘brings quality to the team’, ‘special talent’ kinda players to the club. Arsenal reign the world of football, along with Wigan, ofcourse.

5) Newcastle sign all the Demba’s of the world.

Alan Pardew soon realises the reason of Newcastle’s success so far. It is ‘cos of Demba Ba. And, now, Papis Demba Cisse. There is a mass exodus at the club, and anyone who’s name is not Demba, is shown the door. Newcastle sign everyone Senegalese and christened ‘Demba’. Infact, after the cats, the ‘Demba’s’ will be taking over the planet.

4) David Luiz turns out to be a voodoo expert.

Remember, Fernando Torres and David Luiz before the Manchester United game. Yeah, reports claim the Brazilian is a voodoo expert. He has already gotten John Terry under his grasp. No wonder his mouth and his pe*** just can’t stop. Petr Cech, meanwhile is another victim, as this picture of his suffering indicates!

3) Cunty Spuds suffer food poisoning.

It is 2006 all over again, as Spu*s players are secretly food poisoned ahead of their last game of the season. Their reserve team is sent out, and they end up losing. This leads to Hotshits finally accepting they are crap, and they deserve nothing more than to stop existing as a football club. Good Riddance!

2) Ferguson is assassinated by Chris Foy.

Chris Foy murders the most decorated manager in English football. Despite an incredible performance by Chris Foy in the Manchester City-Manchester United FA Cup game, Ferguson kept faith in Howard Webb in the Chelsea match. Webb did put in a brilliant performance, but that was no reason to drop Foy, who, earlier in the season was the target of Spurs fans after a marvelous guest performance for Stoke. Manchester United are now managerless. Malcolm Glazer takes over, and employs American Football tactics over the predominantly ‘soccer’ team. Manchester United lose their remaining games, and despite the best efforts of star Howard Webb, manage to get several red cards in every game. Ryan Giggs signs a contract that will keep him at the club till 2032. (Expected to be the year of his death.)

1) Manchester City go bankrupt.

Manchester City go bankrupt after hijacked Etihad planes crash into the City of Manchester Stadium, not only completely shutting down the airline, but also the club. The club’s owners seek asylum in the deserts of Arabia. Investigations lead the coordinator of this attack to be none other than Carlos Tevez. His statue is put up outside Old Trafford, and those of Dennis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton are felled. As for the City players, they can be seen begging on the streets of Manchester, as no other club was willing to pay their exorbitant wages. Samir Nasri, though still has his bench.

Aye!That's Ca$hri's!

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in No Offence!

 

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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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2009-2010 Season Review – More Unfinished Business

A long pre-season over, a fresh new challenge awaited the Gunners, as they embarked upon another roller coaster ride, in what was to be the 2009-2010 season. Coming close on many fronts over the last few seasons had left everyone frustrated and here was a chance for Arsenal to redeem themselves.

Surprisingly, the only major signing was the Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen. Emmanuel Adebayor had left for wads of cash. He was to later change his name to Emoneyuel Greedybayor. Kolo Toure left after examplary service to the club. Both had the same destination, Moneybags City.

The campaign started away to Everton. Arsenal had to endure a tough opening match of the season. Or was it?The Gunners completely dismantled the Toffees 6-1. The rout was started by Denilson in the 26th minute with a long-range screamer. And by half-time, 2 more goals were added as debutant defender Thomas Vermaelen headed in one and his defensive partner William Gallas also netted. And in the second half, Arsenal’s dream start continued as Fabregas netted a brace, celebrating the second by displaying a jersey with the name of his friend, and late Espanyol defender Daniel Jarque. Eduardo completed the rout before Louis Saha scored a consolation.

Big Belgian, Little Belgian!! 

Arsenal seemed to be on a goal-scoring spree as they qualified fir the Champions League group stages yet again, when they beat Scottish team Celtic 5-1 on aggregate, and Portsmouth 4-1 in the league.

However, that was that, as Arsenal faced a daunting trip to Eastlands to face both the Manchester clubs in the league. Old Trafford was the first stop, and Arsenal seemed to be on top of their rivals for most of the match, despite an early chance for Wayne Rooney. The young side created a flurry of chances, before Darren Fletcher bough down Andrei Arshavin for ‘what-should-have-been’ a penalty. But the referee didn’t oblige. Moments later, Arshavin found the ball in a perfect shooting position and let in a scorcher to hand the Gunners a 1-0 lead going into half-time. The second half started in the same frantic manner as the first had started. Wayne Rooney converted a penalty in the 59th and minutes later, Arsenal undid all their hard work as Abou Diaby headed in a disastrous own goal. A late deserved equaliser by Robin van Persie was denied by the referee.

Arshavin scores a belter!!

Manchester City were aiming to be the new force in the Premier League, with new investments coming in from the Abu Dhabi group. They had already priced away Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from the Emirates for a combined fee of £41 million. And other high-profile signings included strikers Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz, midfielder Gareth Barry and defender Jolean Lescott, all of whom were attracted by nothing but riches. The game, in itself was an enthralling affair, with van Persie’s fine strike levelling the scores at 1-1 in the 63rd minute. Moments later, Bellamy made it 2-1 to City before Emmanuel Adebayor made himself Arsenal’s public enemy No.1. He scored in the 80th minute and ran the length of the entire pitch and overcelebrated in front of the Arsenal faithful. He was also involved in a moment with van Persie, when he stamped the latter on purpose. However, it went unnoticed and Arsenal were beaten 4-2.

Days later, Arsenal found themselves 2-0 down in Belgium in less than 6 minutes and it seemed like Arsenal were disintegrating too early. However, Niklas Bendtner equalised on the stroke of half-time, and a 78th minute equaliser by Vermaelen in his homeland was soon added on to, by a 81st minute winner from Eduardo to complete a 3-2 turnaround.

The comeback is complete!! 

Vermaelen was proving to be somewhat of a hidden centre-forward as he crashed in 2 goals against Wigan in a 4-0 triumph, the second a belter from outside the box.Blackburn were given a sound 6-2 thrashing, in a game featuring another Vermaelen screamer, after being 2-1 down at one stage.

A centre forward in disguise!

Arsenal dropped 2 points away to West Ham with a late Allesandro Diamanti penalty and days later a youthful team eliminated Liverpool from the League Cup, young Spaniard Francisco Merida, scoring a wonderful goal.

The first North London derby turned out to be a mismatch, as Arsenal beat Cunty Spuds 3-0. Fabregas embarrassed the Spurs defence, in the 43rd minute, who were kicking off after van Persie had scored the first. He took the ball of them and ran half the pitch, beating everyone in his wake to score the 2nd goal of the evening.

Spuds drubbed again!! 

Meanwhile, Eduardo was in scintillating form as he forced two own goals at Wolves in a 4-1 win. However, the run ended there as the next two league games ended in defeats, first a 1-0 loss at Sunderland, and then a home loss to a marauding Didier Drogba-inspired Chelsea. More humiliation was heaped upon as a young team were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City in the League Cup.

Arshavin re-announced himself at Anfield, months after his 4-goal display, as he scored a brilliant goal in a 2-1 win. Dirk Kuyt had scored the first for Liverpool, before Glen Johnson deflected one into his own net for Arsenal’s equalizer. It saw a reverse in Arsenal’s league fortunes, as they picked up vital wins against Hull City, Aston Villa and Portsmouth. 2 late goals from Ramsey and Eduardo saw off West Ham in the FA Cup.

Gerrard-‘What have we ever done to you, you mean mean Russian?’ 

Arsenal hosted Everton in what was one of the few matches around the country that weekend, due to heavy snowfall. Most matches had been cancelled, and it seemed even this would have been. However, brilliant work from the groundsmen ensured the match would go ahead as scheduled. And it seemed Everton would make most of Arsenal’s defensive frailties when Steven Piennar handed them the lead in the 81st minute. But, Tomas Rosicky’s late goal secured a point. Bolton were then beaten 2-0 and 4-2 in successive games.

Arsenal welcomed back experienced defender Sol Campbell on a short deal to the Emirates. He had made 195 appearances in his first spell from 2001 to 2006, winning two league titles and the FA Cup thrice. He moved on to Portsmouth where he won another FA Cup winner’s medal in 2008. He made an unsuccessful move to lower league Notts County, breaking his contract after just 1 match. He returned to Arsenal’s training base to keep fit and was offered a short term deal. He made his debut in a 3-1 loss to Stoke City, which saw the Gunners exit the FA Cup.

31st January 2010 is a date I don’t remember fondly. It was the day before the new semester began in college, and I was in the hostel to watch Arsenal host Manchester United in the league. Giving me company were around 30 glory hunters. I am sure not even 5 of them could name Manure’s starting lineup. United were 1 point ahead of the Gunners coming into this one. Every Manure goal was cheered loudly by these chums, who didn’t know shit about the sport. Anyways, Arsenal disappointingly lost 3-1.

Even this goal was to no avail, in the worst match ever!

Arsenal were haunted again by an Ivorian demon called Didier Drogba, going down 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. By now, Arsenal had fallen well behind in the title race, 9 points adrift of their Chelsea neighbors.Abou Diaby bought back some cheer as he scored the only goal in the 71st minute in a game against Liverpool.

Sol Campbell scored his last goal in the Champions League in that fateful night in Paris against Barcelona. He scored again in the Champions League Knockout stage game against FC Porto of Portugal, with the scoreline reading a 2-1 loss to Arsenal. 10 days later Arsenal travelled to Stoke, only to face a team that had been trained to play in the Rugby league. Ryan Shawcross’ wild lunge broke young Aaron Ramsey’s tibula and fibia (in short, the leg). It was another horrific injury Arsenal had suffered. I can still remember that moment, when Ramsey lie there in dire pain, calling out for the physio for help. It was another Eduardo moment, and the Gunners covered their face with their hands, not able to comprehend the injury. But, it was not to be a Birmingham as Arsenal proved their mettle with two goals in stoppage time from Fabregas and Vermaelen to secure a 3-1 win.

Ramsey’s horrific injury..

The team celebrate a resurgent win!! 

In the home game against Burnley, posters in support of Aaron Ramsey adorned the stadium, with the Gunners emerging 3-1 winners. 3 days later, Arsenal turned on the style in Europe. Down 2-1 from the first leg, Arsenal saw themselves leading 2-0 after just 25 minutes, with both goals being scored by the heavily-criticized Dane Niklas Bendtner. The 63rd minute saw the lead being extended to 3 goals, as Samir Nasri beat a host of defenders, and proving he can step up to the role of Cesc Fabregas, to score a peach. Emmanuel Eboue scored in the 66th, before Bendtner completed his hat-trick with a stoppage time penalty.

Bendtner and Nasri, brilliant against Porto!! 

A trip to the KC Stadium proved to be fruitful, as Bendtner turned out to be the match-winner to secure a 2-1 win with a really late strike. This still kept Arsenal in the title hunt. Arsenal were 2nd, level on points with leaders Chelsea at 64 points, and a point ahead of United, having played a game more.

Bendtner’s 90th minute goal!! 

After beating West Ham 2-0 at home, Arsenal failed to go just 1 point behind leaders Chelsea after being denied a win at St. Andrews, thanks to a late Kevin Phillips equaliser. And, Arsenal were still going strong in Europe and had been drawn to a formidable Barcelona team. While Barcelona were near full-strength, Arsenal were still without first-choice striker Robin van Persie. A half-fit Fabregas led Arsenal into the match.

Barcelona were completely dominant in the first half, and only a resolute Manuel Almunia kept them at bay, as he pulled off a flurry of saves. To Arsenal’s misfortune, they suffered two more injuries as Gallas and Arshavin were substituted before half-time, with the lesser-experienced and lesser-talented Denilson and Eboue. Barca made most of it, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the first a minute after the second half started. He rocked Arsenal again 13 minutes later to double the advantage. It seemed all was over for Arsenal that season in Europe. Just then, Theo Walcott fired in Arsenal’s first in the 69th minute to provide a glimmer of hope. As Barca huffed and puffed to hold on to the precious lead, Carles Puyol bought down fellow Catalan Cesc Fabregas in the box and was sent off. Fabregas converted and made it 2-2, but by now he was limping in pain, and played the last 10 minutes without complaining. The match ended 2-2, leaving the Gunners a mountain to climb at the Nou Camp.

El Capitan wins and scores the equaliser! Legend!

Back in the league, Wolves provided stiff opposition, only for Bendtner to pop up with a valuable winner in the 94th minute, the very dying embers of the game. This win kept them 3 points behind the leaders Chelsea, with 5 games to go.

Bendtner to the rescue again!!

Camp Nou was the setting of the beginning of the end. A Messi masterclass. In the 18th minute, Walcott sent Bendtner through. The Dane missed, but scored off the rebound. I remember that goal. I was so mad at Bendtner, I would have killed him if he were next to me. But, he redeemed himself seconds later. Arsenal were 1-0 up at the Nou Camp. That joy was shortlived as 3 minutes later, Barca were level through that superhuman Lionel Messi. By half-time, it was all but over as Messi scored two more to hand the Catalans a 3-1 lead. The second half was more a regulation, and Messi rounded off with his 4th of the night in the 88th minute. A weak Arsenal had been thoroughly beaten.

A Messi masterclass! 😦

Arsenal’s last shot at silverware was the league, and nothing short of 15 points in the next 5 games would give the chance for Arsenal to life silverware. First stop, Shit Fart Lane, in a forgettable North London derby. It was the day when some cunt called Danny Rose decided to be Ronaldinho for a second. His blazing shot from planet Saturn was unstoppable. Soon enough, in the 47th minute, Spurs doubled their advantage through Welsh winger Gareth Bale. Robin van Persie made a comeback after a long injury layoff in the 68th minute, but was denied a goal on several ocassions by Gomes, who decided he would be Oliver Kahn for 25 minutes. Bendtner’s 85th minute goal was just a consolation, as Arsenal created a 6 points gap between them and the leaders.

Some pride was restored at the DW Stadium, as Arsenal took an unassailable 2-0 lead against Wigan. Or it was, I thought. Wigan heaped heartbreak over the Gunners, with 3 goals in the final 10 minutes, to snatch a 3-2 win. In this game, Charles N’Zogbia decided he had Roberto Carlos’ left foot. The title race was over for Arsenal.

Dejection! 😦

Another loss awaited at Ewood Park, before a final day home win over Fulham meant a 3rd place finish and no trophies to show for.

Chokers?Goners?’Throw away your chances’ team?Well, all of it were terms branded by the media over Arsenal, as the club completed their 5th season without a major trophy.

Well, my love for Arsenal?It was the same old, boundless.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 3rd place

FA Cup – 4th Round

Carling Cup – 5th Round

Champions League – Quarter Finals

Top Scorer – Cesc Fabregas (19 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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