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

Arsenal vs Norwich City, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea – Blues scrape their way past Barca to final

Barcelona 2 (Busquets 35, Iniesta 43)- Chelsea 2 (Ramires 45, Torres 90) (Agg. Barcelona 2-3 Chelsea)

Man of the Match – Petr Cech (Chelsea)

Chelsea finally have their revenge over the Catalan giants. In what can be described as a classic European game, Chelsea absorbed all of Barcelona’s pressure, and took their chances as well to book a date with destiny, on the 19th of May, in Munich.

Leading 1-0 from the first leg, and having rested most of their players in the important league clash at Arsenal, Chelsea named the same team, that managed to topple over Barcelona 6 days previously. Didier Drogba had recovered from a strain in time, to torment Barca’s shaky defence.

Barcelona, on the other hand, on the bounce of 2 defeats in a week, the second of which cost them the Spanish league title, in another absorbing encounter against arch rivals Real Madrid, made a few changes to their lineup. Gerard Pique returned in the centre of defence, to partner Carles Puyol, probably to counter the physical threat of Drogba. In what was to be a 3-4-3 formation, Javier Mascherano completed the defence. Young winder Isaac Cuenca too got a start, so did Alexis Sanchez, who scored, what is now a consolation game, as a substitute over the weekend.

Barcelona needed to attack from the word go, and they did. Chelsea seemed a bit short at coping with Barcelona’s possession. And, the first blow was struck, when Gary Cahill limped off, with just 12 minutes gone. In came, Portugal international Jose Bosingwa. This meant, Branislav Ivanovic moved back to the centre of defence.

Barcelona continued their relentless pressure on the Blues. Chelsea, had to rely on long ball tactics and used the physicality of Drogba up front. A long ball played, saw Pique, Drogba and Valdes contest for the same ball. In the process, a clash of bodies, saw Pique taking a bad hit on the head, and having to be taken off, to be replaced by Daniel Alves.

Barcelona’s pressure finally paid off, after some good work by Cuenca on the left. Busquets finished in front of an empty net, as the Catalans were clearly in the ascendancy. 2 minutes later, it seemed Chelsea had pressed the self-destruct button, as John Terry’s off the ball knee challenge on Alexis Sanchez, coupled with a bit of playacting from the Chilean, saw the Chelsea skipper being sent off. The sending off did seem a bit harsh. Chelsea now had to do it with 10 men against the best team in the world, over the last 2-3 seasons.

It seemed all over, and Barcelona were set for a rout, when Iniesta collected a Messi pass, and expertly finished past Cech to put Barca in a 2-1 lead on aggregate. Then, completely against the run of play, Frank Lampard, played a brilliant throughball to the tireless Ramires, who chipped Valdes, to give the Blues a lifeline, going into half-time. At this stage, it was Chelsea who would go through.

Barcelona began the second half with the same attacking intent as the first, and were immediately rewarded with a penalty when Drogba was rightly adjudged to have bought down Cesc Fabregas in the penalty box. Up came Lionel Messi, the best player on the planet. With 63 goals to his name, and 14 already in this season’s Champions League, he lost the battle of nerves with Petr Cech, who did his best to unsettle the Argentine. Messi’s penalty struck the post.

Chelsea defended astutely for the remainder of the half. Barcelona applied relentless pressure, with their pressing game, but they could hardly penetrate the Blue brick wall. Barca did get the occasional opportunity. Isaac Cuenca’s shot was well saved by Cech, and Messi struck the post again, from outside the penalty box. Cech, did manage to get a finger on it though.

With the Blaugrana having put all 11 men in attack, it was infact Chelsea who struck the decisive goal. Fernando Torres, much maligned this season, came on for Didier Drogba, and raced clear of Puyol, rounded Valdes, and scored to level the match 2-2, and win the tie for Chelsea 3-2 on aggregate.

Despite having only 28% possession of the ball in both ties, Chelsea managed to score 3 goals, all in injury times of halves, which proved to be the difference at the end.

However, they will be without key players such as John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles for the final, against Bayern Munich, in their own backyard, the Allianz Arena.

Match Ratings (Barcelona) – 

Valdes (7) – Should have stuck to his line for Ramires’s shot, rather than making a wild gash. Didn’t get too many chances to make saves, though.

Pique (No Rating)

Puyol (7.5) – Struggled against Drogba all night.

Mascherano (7.5) – He too, couldn’t get the better of the Ivorian.

Xavi (7.5) –  A taxing season has taken its toll, it seems.

Iniesta (7.5) – Like the last two games, never got into his comfort level at all.

Fabregas (7) – Struggled to make the incisive passes, he is renowned for.

Busquets (8) – The best player on the night for the Catalans. Scored a vital goal, and a polished display in midfield.

Sanchez (7) – Never looked to threaten Chelsea’s makeshift defence.

Cuenca (7.5) – Occasional flashes of brilliance from the youngster. Still has a lot to learn.

Messi (7.5) – Seems like the burden of expectation and fatigue has gotten into him, too. 63 goals, he has done his part. Needed some support. Mentally, too, he looked completely exhausted.

Subs – 

Alves (7) – Always up attacking, and didn’t help out Puyol and Mascherano.

Keita (7) – Coming on as a sub, looked to give that extra bit in midfield. But, dissapointed.

Tello (7) – Injected some freshness, but only momentarily.

Match Ratings (Chelsea) – 

Cech (9) – A brilliant display from the Czech.

Ivanovic (9) – In the absence of a recognized centre-half, played with great determination.

Cahill (No Rating)

Terry (5) – Poor on his part, to get a cheap red card.

Cole (8.5) – A fine performance at left-back.

Mikel (8) – Was given a hard time, but played a vital role, in manning the midfield.

Ramires (8) – Tireless, unsettling Barca’s defence, and scored the most vital of goals.

Meireles (7.5) – Hardly got a sniff of the ball, but off the ball movement was top notch.

Mata (6.5) – Dissapointing over the last two legs, but played his part, in the end.

Lampard (8) – Massive figure for Chelsea, in the absence of Terry. Rallied his troops, and did his bit to frustrate the opposition.

Drogba (8) – Hassled and harried the Barca defence, all night.

Subs – 

Bosingwa (8.5) – A big display from him.

Kalou (7.5) – Seemed to do better than Mata, in going forward, and stifling.

Torres (7) – The goal must’ve done him wonders.

Team Ratings

Barcelona – 7.30

Chelsea – 7.73

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in General, Match Reports

 

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All the reaction, Wigan preview + Lineups

Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Emirates Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

AW on the run-in

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

AW on the team this season

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

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

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

AW on Yossi Benayoun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AW on the penalty

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

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

AW on Van Persie’s finish

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

AW on ending his four-game goal draught

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

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

AW on the Wigan game

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

AW on FA decision not to extend Balotelli ban

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

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

 

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Complete Post-Milan, Podolski usuals, Newcastle lineups + Preview

Arsenal vs Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (01:30 IST), 12th March 2012

Hello Gooners out there. It has been quite an uneventful weekend. Oh wait! Spurs just got mugged, and it seems there will be St. Totteringham’s day after all!

Niklas Bendtner did us a favour again, by extinguishing the dying embers of Liverpool’s challenge for the 4th spot. Chelsea struggled against 10 man Stoke City, who lost Ricardo Fuller, after his rugby style challenge on Anna, I mean Branislav Ivanovic. And, a well taken strike from Nevica..Nikita..Namibia..Everton’s costliest signing, means Arsenal can cut the gap to Sp*rs to just 1 point.

The match also marked the 10th anniversary of the reign of David Moyes. Everton is everyone’s second favourite club, except the Liverpudlians. They generate a cracking atmosphere, and at times can play some real good football. Arsene Wenger was full of praise for David Moyes.

My compliments, he has done a massive job there,For knowing how much effort you put in on a daily basis, when a guy lasts 10 years somewhere you have to give him credit. “We suffer a lot and he has put a lot of effort and dedication in. Our job is a real sacrifice of your life, so when a guy makes that at a club for 10 years and gets the results that Moyes has made, he deserves a huge credit.

David Moyes has done a fantastic job at Everton. He even finished 4th once at the expense of arch rivals Liverpool in the 2004-2005 season, and has consistently finished in the top 10, which is no mean feat, considering how competitive the Premier League has become these days.

Complete Milan Post-match Reaction

Arsene Wenger

We put in a performance in with fantastic spirit and restored some pride after the first leg. Unfortunately we are out but we had the chances. Overall we keep our winning run going, which is important, but unfortunately we paid the price for a bad first game.Overall we have given everything, after you can accept the result even if it is disappointing.

We were a bit short with no midfielders at all on the bench, we suffered a little bit when we got tired in the second half, as I hoped to keep the ball better and get them more fatigued.We knew we had given a lot and had players not used to that level in midfield, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Some players had knocks, I knew it would be difficult. Chamberlain was sick last night, so we were not sure if he could play, as he had flu. We checked him in the warm-up, but he was outstanding. Of course to last at that level for 90 minutes is a different game.

You need to score goals and not concede against a team like that. Our defenders were absolutely outstanding today and we have given everything, that is all you can do.

I felt he (van Persie) wanted to chip the keeper because he was down, but Abbiati got up very quickly and unfortunately we couldn’t score. I hoped in the last 15 minutes we could create some dangerous situations in front of goal, unfortunately it didn’t happen, as we didn’t have enough drive anymore.

Robin van Persie, too spoke, telling that there is still room of improvement in his game.

I don’t really sit down and reflect on the figures,There’s too much else to do, and you can’t dwell on things because there is always room for improvement.I lost a couple of balls in the midfield area on Saturday that I shouldn’t have, so I’m more interested in focusing on how to avoid that next time.

You always want to get the maximum out of your game – to make assists, to score goals, to be strong on the ball, to combine well with your team-mates and bring all these things together.It’s rare that you can achieve it, but it has to be what you aim for and it’s more important than pursuing one target.

Robin van Persie, Wojciech Szczesny, and former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, meanwhile were all praise for Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who has hit top form of late.

RVP on Rosicky

I just love playing with him,because he’s so quick in his mind, so clever in the way he sees passes and so adept at completing them.He’s just football-clever, and that’s something you can’t pick up later in your career. You either have it or you don’t.

Szcz on Rosicky

He has been fantastic for the last few weeks now, scored a great goal against T*ttenham and was my man of the match in that game,He was great again here and hopefully he can keep going because when he plays like that he is a fantastic player.He can take people on in the middle of the park too. I think we dominated the midfield in the first half and he made the difference. He is fantastic.

Cesc on Rosicky

I have spent a lot of time with him and I know how he feels,I know what he wants and I have never seen a guy being so committed, so professional and never giving up. If this happened to me I probably wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, I would be always down and angry.But he’s unbelievable. He’s the type of player you enjoy playing alongside and as a guy he’s amazing. He has been through a lot. I told him to be strong and to keep believing in himself and that he could play football again.

It is not just a mere coincidence that Arsenal are hitting top gear, with Rosicky being instrumental. He has shown bags of energy in midfield, throughout the course of games, often picking up balls in the deep, and spraying them about. He may have been stolen of his best years of his career, but he still has enough in him to be an influential player for Arsenal for the next 2-3 seasons. He was proud of the way the team performed against Milan.

Tomas Rosicky

We’re very disappointed,ometimes miracles happen and you could see we came very close today. Weknew that we had nothing to lose so we just said to each other: ‘Let’s go for it, let’s give our best and we’ll see what happens.’We said [at half-time] to keep playing the same way, You could see in the second half there was a drop because we had given so much in the first half but all the same we had a chance to score the fourth one.It’s difficult, though; you can’t blame anyone after tonight’s performance. I’m very proud of my team and what we produced today. We’ve beaten AC Milan 3-0 and we’re going home disappointed. It’s a bit funny. But we blew it in Milan.

Staying with the Champions League, Kieran Gibbs thanked the Arsenal fans for creating a crackling atmosphere at the Emirates. Often branded, as a poor atmospheric stadium, this season, Arsenal fans have created a fantastic atmosphere, in all games, probably justifying the ‘Arsenalisation’ of the stadium, which was undertaken to give the Emirates the same character as Arsenal’s old ground, Highbury.

Kieran Gibbs

We gave everything in the first half and if anything we ran out of legs a bit in the second,We couldn’t give as much as we wanted to and maybe we ran out of steam.We had a point to prove. We were hurt by the result in Milan and we wanted to show who we are and restore some pride.They defended better in the second half but we had our chances, but in the end they did their job and they’re the ones who will go home happy. It’s probably worse to come so close and not go through. It hurts, but we did ourselves proud.

When the stadium is like this, teams struggle against us because it lifts everyone,The place was electric tonight. After the first one went in we could sense that we could get back into it. We have to thank the fans for that because they helped us get our goals. Unfortunately, though, we just fell short.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger had accused the referee of handing Milan too many free-kicks in the middle of the park. Wenger said that the Milan players would fall over at the slightest of touches, fully knowing that the referee would oblige. UEFA has charged Wenger over his comments. Supposedly, Arsene had followed the ref down the tunnel, in a way to speak to him, but the referee Damir Skomina refused to speak. In the post-match conference, Wenger had this to say.

I was not happy with the referee tonight because I felt he gave many free kicks in the middle of the park. Every time [Milan’s players] went down a free kick was given to them, and they sensed that very quickly and used it very well.

Arsenal have every season to feel hard done by. Last season, at this same stage, Robin van Persie was sent off in the 55th minute against Barcelona, at the Nou Camp, for almost no reason at all. And to add insult to injury, Wenger was handed a touchline ban. Fucking cunts, released this statement after the Milan post-match conference.

UEFA has opened a disciplinary case against Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger for improper conduct in relation to last night’s UEFA Champions League round of 16 second-leg match against AC Milan in London.Arsenal won the match 3-0, but Milan progressed to the quarter-finals on a 4-3 aggregate scoreline.The case will be dealt with by UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body on 29 March.

Bacary Sagna

We are fourth now and we have a bit of an advance on Chelsea,We want to put Arsenal back [in the Champions League] and we are only four points behind Tottenham now. We know we can do it and now we have to win the next game against Newcastle, which is as important as the one against Milan. If we want to qualify for the Champions League we cannot let it go now.[The second leg against Milan] can be a reference game. It was not easy because AC Milan are a good team. We lost 4-0 away and we managed to beat them 3-0 here. That is football, we have to take it as it is and we have to learn as well. We did well from the front to defence, the goalkeeper too. We have to keep on fighting until the end as a team and show the same performance again.

Thomas Vermaelen

It’s really important because Arsenal is a team that belongs in the Champions League,We will try to achieve that in the next games and get into the top four. At the moment, after the way we played in the first half against Milan, I am really confident.It’s hard to be consistent in top-level football. The team that is the most consistent will win prizes, I believe in that. But we have to be confident that we have the quality in the team and that is what we showed against Milan. The way we played in the first half, if we can do that consistently all season I am not worried because we will be in the top four.Of course we are disappointed because we are out of the Champions League but we need to take the great feeling out of this game, and take that into the next game [against Newcastle].

Laurent Koscielny

It was difficult because we were tired after 45 minutes,We gave everything on the pitch and that is that. We learn and it is the first game that killed us. Every player fought together to help his team-mates. It is good for the team and now we must do that in the championship too. We want to play in the Champions League next year so we have to finish in third or fourth place.It was important to score quickly in the first half. I scored and I was happy because my family were here. For the team it was good because soon after the second goal came. It was good but now we turn to the championship where we want to win the next game. When you play a game like that you just want to play another and it is exciting. Every player is focused on the next game against Newcastle and we want to win and finish in at least fourth place.

Carl Jenkinson

In the Liverpool game we pulled off a fantastic result and Milan speaks for itself,It was a very proud day for everyone, whether you are part of the Club or a fan. Even though the end result was not what we wanted there was a definite sense of pride.It was strange afterwards; the disappointment was etched on everyone’s faces. We all believed we could do it. To come so close was hard but the performance the lads put in was amazing – I was incredibly proud of all of my team-mates for the way they battled.A lesser team would have thought, ‘we are four goals down against AC Milan, it’s not going to happen,’ but we went out there and gave everything.

We have really found our feet in the past few games and had some tremendous results,From the Spurs game to Liverpool to Milan, the momentum has been building and building. It is fantastic the way we have been playing, but we need to keep that going. Newcastle are a good side so we need to take what we have been doing well into that game and go from there.

Wojciech Szczesny

I think we have sent a message to all the other teams that when we play at our best we can beat anyone in Europe,I think teams will struggle against us if we keep playing like that. Hopefully next season in the Champions League we can achieve a little bit more than we did this time. It has been a great experience for many of us. For some of us it is our first season in the Champions League and I am sure we will use that next year to get a little bit further. For the players our ambition makes us really want to be there. This club deserves to be in the Champions League and we showed here that with performances like that we should be here every single season. I am confident we will get there in the end. The aim is to win every single game and if we can do that then good things will come for us.Our momentum keeps going,We have won a couple of good games in the Premier League recently against Tottenham and Liverpool and we got a great win here.It wasn’t enough but we still have the momentum and believe that we can play really well for the rest of the season.

Moving on, Pat Rice, is slated to retire as assistant manager at the end of this season. A host of names have been linked to the job, including legends Dennis Bergkamp, and present youth team coach Steve Bould. However, Bould was quick to dismiss the idea of him as Arsene’s right-hand man.

I think when I was asked back then [in the late nineties] I didn’t even contemplate going into coaching, so you never say never, but I feel management is not for me,It’s just too intrusive on all aspects of your life.I enjoy what I do. I get a massive satisfaction from seeing my players improve and make careers out of the game. The ultimate is seeing players we have worked for running out of the tunnel playing for our first team.I honestly feel I have the best job in the world. Doing what I love, with the facilities and footballing philosophy we have at this club, I have a fantastic job.You could not step up with your arm out and scream offside like we used to. That is not an area you can really coach any more. Also, you cannot get away with going to ground or any real aggressive tackling the way we used to nowadays.So, while there are some principles that persist, passing on what I used to do as a player has to be adapted.

Transfer news, then. Of course, the biggest news of the week was that Lukas Podolski has signed a pre-contract agreement with Arsenal for a reported £10.9 million. Though all three parties, Cologne, Podolski and Arsenal have denied it, the news spread all through the internet, including one of the most trusted sources, the BBC. According to an interview which Podolski gave to German tabloid Bild, the German scuffed a big money offer from rich Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala.

Money is not the most important thing for me,What is crucial is the development of my game.

If it is to be believed, then Podolski adds more firepower to our front line. At the moment, we are over reliant on Robin van Persie to score the goals. The addition of Podolski will reduce the pressure on the captain, and he also provides a great backup for van Persie. Podolski has 43 goals in 95 games for Germany, which means he has bags and bags of experience, at the age of just 26. He is also teh top scorer for Cologne this season, with 16.

Other players linked to Arsenal are Ajax cntre-back Jan Vertongen, an international teammate of Thomas Vermaelen, with Belgium, and, yet again, Borussia Dortmund hotshot Mario Gotze. If the Daily Mail is to be believed, Arsenal will ship out Squillaci, Chamakh, Park and Arshavin to secure the services of Gotze. Anyways, I don’t believe in rumours, because they are meaningless. None of this news is true, unless its on the Arsenal website!

Arsene Wenger was quick to point out that, the arrival of Podolski wouldn’t necessarily spark a transfer away from the club for Robin van Persie. Roberto Mancini, who has spent billions of cash on players, who just can’t seem to win a trophy, says he wants to add to the list by adding Robin van Persie. Wenger reacted to this by saying,

Our plan is to keep Robin van Persie even if we buy any player.What is said of you by other clubs is part of the job.What is important is how much you want to win the next game. All the rest is basically not important.Robin is the leader of our club. He is under contract until 2013. You do your job, which he does very well, and enjoy your games.

I don’t have a lot to say about that because, if we sign a player, we will inform you. At the moment we have not signed anybody.There is still no agreement. Podolski is a good player. I wouldn’t deny that.

On being asked if van Persie is disturbed by these rumors, Wenger said,

At our level we are professional people,I believe if you are to have one quality it is not to be unsettled because what is said of you by other clubs is part of the job. What is important is how much you want to win the next game and all the rest is basically not important.”I cannot stop that [others talking about Van Persie]. In an ideal world maybe, but it doesn’t bother me too much.Robin is the leader of our club and I would just like to specify that he is not at the end of his contract. He is under contract until 2013. So do your job, focus on your job which he does very well and enjoy your games.

In other news, Abou Diaby told in an interview with the club website, that he is not a fragile player, as he is usually quoted in the media as. According to me, he is a highly talented player, who has not fully recovered from that horrific Dan Smith tackle in 2006. Diaby, who played 30 minutes at Anfield, and looked lively, was subbed again before the end of the game. In a candid interview, the French midfielder had this to say.

A lot of things have been said and written about me and I wanted to tell the truth about my situation,People say that I’m fragile and although I understand why, I am not fragile.

I have had three operations on my ankle, all for different problems but the result of that was that my body is unbalanced, especially in my legs. 
I have overused one over the other and to put everything back in place is not easy.

I get injured,It’s a fact but when people tell you you’re fragile, it hurts. Today my ankle is twice as big because of the surgery. My problem is a biomechanical problem. I need to work daily on how to
 rebalance my body.

I am not scared for the rest of my career,I still have a big future. 
Physically, I really feel very good, like a beast. Unfortunately, I had that little problem at Liverpool but it’s nothing serious and I will start running again at the end of the week.There have been times where I thought about stopping my career. You always
 ask yourself a lot of questions in those moments. It’s hard mentally and I had to be strong. But quickly, I went back to a very positive attitude. I know I am going to be fine. I am not a cheat. I have always worked very hard to come back.

I have never had any apprehension playing football but I have to say that last season I feared a bit to play. It was so important for me to come back to my best level and to avoid getting injured again that I had this little apprehension.For me, my injuries are a task sent by God,I need to go through them to achieve the goals and the dreams that I have in my career. It’s my destiny. I am privileged. Some people have worse problems than me so I cannot complain.

I am hungry and strong mentally. All those hard times have strengthened me. I know there is a lot of expectation around me and some pressure but it’s a challenge for me to come back to my best level.I have never been as motivated as I am now. I want to prove to everybody, and especially to myself, that I can do it. I have faith in what I am doing. I will never give up and I know that I will come out of this tunnel.

Moving on to the Newcastle game then, Wenger was quick to praise the rise of Newcastle this season. Just a year after returning from the Championship, the Magpies have defied all odds and remain in the hunt for a Champions League place. They have a top striker in Demba Ba, while the performances of Cabaye and Tiote in midfield have been impressive. Tim Krul looks like a top class goalkeeper, too.

You could say that [I am surprised] if you look purely at the number of points they have. They were not expected there,They have bought very well in a very efficient way. Some players have made a name now who were completely unknown at the start of the season. Therefore when you look at their quality it is not surprising they are where they are.We knew them of course but you know you only have the right to have 25 players in your squad in England,You cannot go for all the players who are good that are on the market.Newcastle lost Andy Carroll last year and they were searching for a striker, so credit to them [for signing Ba and Cisse]. Also Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa are good business for them. That’s why they are where they are.They are a team everyone knows will give you a big game, but what is important is our own performance,We cannot be obsessed by Newcastle. If we turn up with a good performance we will win the game. That is what is at stake: to keep up our run and keep our focus.

The last time, these two teams faced off was the opening day of the season, where Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw at St. James Park. Arsenal were reduced to 10 men, after Gervinho was sent off for slapping that twat, Joey Barton.

Thomas Vermaelen, who was brilliant in the last 3 games, says he is confident Arsenal will land silverware soon, if they keep up the same levels of play.

We had some good results against Tottenham and Liverpool and if we can play the way we did against AC Milan then I am not worried if we will be top four or not,If we play that way then we can beat any team. The thing is you have to be consistent and that is not easy in football. Newcastle are close behind us of course, but we have a few contenders there. Chelsea are still there, Newcastle and Liverpool. They [Liverpool] are 10 points behind now with a game in hand but they are all there and we have to be on the top of our game to fight for fourth and maybe third place, you never know. We can have a lot of confidence after this week with a lot of victories. Of course, a club like Arsenal belongs in the Champions League and we will try to achieve that for the Club, for the fans, for ourselves, for everybody. If we play the way we did in that first half on Tuesday then I am not worried about it at all.

You can see that if we fight hard then we have a lot of qualities,If we put the effort in then you can see what we are capable of. Milan are top of Serie A and we beat them 3-0 at home, so that is not bad. I believe in this team even though we are missing Jack Wilshere, who I believe is a world-class player, and Per Mertesacker – another great player. We have been missing a lot of players throughout the whole season through all sorts of injuries, so if we can keep the team fit you can see what we are capable of. I am really confident that we can do something in the following years.It is hard to say what has changed. What is important is to not look too far forward, to just take it game by game. If we are going to finish third or fourth you just have to focus on the game ahead of you. The most important thing now is Newcastle and to try and win that game.We are together, we are in the dressing room every day and we talk to each other every day. We talk about situations, we talk about what we can do better of course. Otherwise we would not be professional.

Team news, then. Arsenal will welcome back Andre Santos, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta from injuries. Andre Santos has been out for nearly 4 months, since his injury in the meaningless game against Olympiakos. He will be a vital addition at left-back. Yossi Benayoun, still recovering from illness, which resulted him in missing the Champions League game, is slated for a return next week against Everton.

Newcastle, who looked a formidable contender for the fourth spot, have struggled in the last 3 games, picking up just 2 points. They were smashed for 5, against Sp*rs, before struggling to 2-2 and 1-1 draws against Wolves and Sunderland respectively. They don’t have any new injury concerns as of now.

Arsenal will have to keep close tabs on the strike partnership of Papis Demba Cisse and Demba Ba. Both have a formidable shot on them, and are known for the unexpected. Cisse announced himself in the Premier League with a sublime effort against Aston Villa. Demba Ba, has been banging goals all season, though he did miss a penalty last week against Sunderland in the heated Tyne-Wear derby. Steven Taylor is still injured, which means Mike Williamson continues in the centre of defence with highly improved and a far-relative of Carles Puyol and David Luiz, i.e Fabricio Collocini, who has shown massive improvement in defending this season. Arsenal fans will remember Cheik Tiote as the player who scored the 4th goal in Newcastle’s impressive 4-4 comeback against the Gunners last season. He will play as defensive midfielder. Ryan Taylor, a right-back at trade, with a vicious shot, will take his place on the right of midfield, while French midfielder, formerly of Lille, plays in the centre, with Argentina international Jonas Gutierrez on the left.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will start with Arteta and Rosicky in midfield. The experience that Arteta brings with him, was the difference between Arsenal and Milan, and his presence, could have helped us shape up better in the second half. I expect to see Chamberlain to start, ahead of Gervinho, who didn’t look the sharpest against Milan. The defence picks itself.

One thing, that can be expected, is a tough game. Arsenal will have to play with the same clinical fashion that they demonstrated against Milan and Tottenham, while also keeping the defensive discipline. Arsenal will have to win the midfield, and it will be a closely contested game. Newcastle will be looking to arrest the slide they are in, while Mikel Arteta’s retuen will bolster the Arsenal team. All in all, we can expect a fantastic game.

Enjoy it wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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The rebirth of Tomas Rosicky

The date was 23rd May 2006. A little Czech had temporarily left his country’s World Cup training camp, to fly across to North London to seal a permanent transfer to Arsenal. He was dubbed ‘Little Mozart’, for his neat passing play, and his creativity in the middle of the park.

He seemed a like for like replacement for French midfielder Robert Pires, who left for Villarreal after scoring 84 goals in 284 appearances for the club. Rosicky, though did take some time to adapt to the pace of the English game. He scored his first goal for the club, a screamer against Hamburg, in Germany in a Champions League game. It seemed very similar to a goal he had scored for Czech Republic against USA in the World Cup. Rosicky seemed a perfect fit in a very creative midfield, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb.

Alexander Hleb, the captain of Belarus, and Tomas Rosicky were both deployed on the flanks, to good effect. Both were similar sort of players, exported from the Bundesliga. Despite, predominantly playing as a central attacking midfielder for Dortmund, Rosicky slided in well on the left flank. His next goals, came after 4 months, at Anfield.

Arsenal were drawn to play Liverpool twice in a week, at Anfield, once in the FA Cup, and once in the Carling Cup. The FA Cup win was sealed 3-1, with two goals from Rosicky, one of which was a peach.

Rosicky had another fairly quiet second season in 2007-2008. Arsenal finally emerged from the shadow of Thierry Henry, and took the Premier League by storm, as a young side played some brilliant attacking football. Niggling injury problems meant he constantly frequented the physio’s room, and ended up making only 18 appearances, in a season, which unraveled towards the end, after a promising few months.

Rosicky was hit hard when he missed the entirety of the 2008-2009 campaign, as his hamstring tendon injury problem recurred. Rumours were strife that Arsene Wenger would let go of this obviously talented, but injury prone player. However, Wenger kept faith in the player, as he returned to team action in the 2009-2010 season. After 18 months, he returned to full first team training with the team.

He signed a new two and half year deal in January 2010, stating that he wanted to repay the faith the club had shown in him, despite his injury issues. Rosicky had 5 assists till then and the end of the season. The 2010-2011 campaign was disappointing for Rosicky, as he managed a solitary goal, against Leyton Orient in a FA Cup game. By now, he had fallen behind in the pecking order of Wilshere, Fabregas and Nasri. His injury problems returned and he missed the rear end of the season. This season started off in the same fashion as Arsenal were humiliatingly crushed 8-2 at Old Trafford, a game which Rosicky started.

As of late, Rosicky has made a mockery of his past problems, and reminded Gunner fans, why he was signed in the first place. His burst of pace in the centre of midfield, helps the team switch from defence to attack in a matter of seconds. He has also improved his passing, which he was criticized in the past, for being too slow, to compliment Arsenal’s style of play.

One important aspect of Rosicky’s game is switching play, and tempo. Though Arteta, is the best man for the job, Rosicky can be instrumental in forward surges. He can involve in quick interplay with wide players, while also drifting wide occasionally to bring in wide players into the centre. He has been quick to form a bit of chemistry with Robin van Persie. van Persie, who has been the best player for Arsenal this season, can be often seen, coming back in midfield. This allows Rosicky enough time, to create space and make inroads into the opposition.

Another feature of Rosicky’s game, of late has been his pressing. He can be instantly seen barracking the opposition’s midfield. This has allowed the defence to move deep, while also allowing the midfield, to brace itself for an attack. As was clear in the game against Spurs, when Arsenal completely dominated midfield. Rosicky was in the thick of action, as he quickly won back the ball from Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart in key areas.

Rosicky brings with him passion. His body language is anything but negative. His celebration against Spurs was that of a passionate footballer. Against Milan, Rosicky was outstanding, in midfield, as he played alongside the prodigious Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Mark van Bommel just couldn’t get a grip on them, as Arsenal raced to a 3-0 half-time lead. Arsenal may have lost 4-3 on aggregate, but the performance of the team as a whole, and Rosicky in particular was promising. His dejection at the end of it all was for all to see.

He is finally coming to the player Arsenal have lacked in midfield in recent times. A player with a bit of bite. His recent performances have been resurgent. Arsenal fans can now hope for much better things to come from him. ‘Little Mozart’ is reborn.

Tomas celebrates against Milan!

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in General

 

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A Lookback at the last 10 Liverpool vs Arsenal clashes at Anfield

Arsenal and Liverpool have produced some exciting encounters in the past. From the last gasp title win an Anfield in 1989, to Andrei Arshavin’s 4 goals, this fixture never dissapoints. Ahead of Arsenal’s visit to Anfield on Saturday, take a lookback at the last 10 encounters between these two teams at the famous stadium.

10. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal, 28th November 2004, Premier League

(Liverpool– Alonso 41, Mellor 90; ArsenalVieira 57)

Liverpool made most of Arsenal’s frailty with a last-gasp win at Anfield. Arsenal were still stuttering from their defeat at Old Trafford in October, and had since drawn lowly Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool dominated most of the game, and took the lead through Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso. However, Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira scored the equalizer on the hour mark. However, when it seemed the game was set for a draw, Neil Mellor scored a screamer from 25 yards to beat Jens Lehmann.

9. Liverpool 1-0 Arsenal, 14th February 2006, Premier League

(Liverpool-Garcia 87)

Liverpool dealt another injury time defeat for Arsenal on Valentine’s Day in 2006. Liverpool dominated most of the game against an injury-ravaged Arsenal side, but were single-handedly kept out for most of the game by German keeper Jens Lehmann. Liverpool had a penalty on the half hour mark, which Gerrard took and was brilliantly kept out by Lehmann. However, in the 87th minute Luis Garcia scored the winner for the Reds after Lehmann was unable to hold on to compatriot Dietmaar Hamaan’s powerful shot.

8. Liverpool 1-3 Arsenal, 6th January 2007, FA Cup 3rd Round

(Liverpool-Kuyt 71, Arsenal-Rosicky 37,45, Henry 84)

FA Cup holders Liverpool were dumped from the FA Cup in stylish fashion by a lethal Arsenal. The game was overall evenly contested, but Liverpool were undone on the break. Tomas Rosicky first curled in a fine effort to give the Gunners the lead, before doubling it at the stroke of half-time, from the edge of the box. Liverpool responded in the 71st minute with a Dirk Kuyt header. But, it was Thierry Henry who added the finishing touches to the game. Henry played a throughball, for, well, himself, as he jinxed Jamie Carragher, to score Arsenal’s winner.

7. Liverpool 3-6 Arsenal, 9th January 2007, League Cup Quarter-Finals

(Liverpool-Fowler 33, Gerrard 68, Hyypia 80; Arsenal- Aliadierie 27, Baptista 40,45,60,84, Song 45)

Arsenal knocked the wind out of Liverpool for the second time in 4 days, as they dumped the Reds out of the second cup competition, at Anfield. In a thrilling game, it was young French striker Jeremie Aliadierie who gave the Gunners the lead, before Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler drew level. However, Arsenal soon led after a Julio Baptista free-kick, and a chancy Alex Song finish from close range. Arsenal went into half-time with a resounding 4-1 lead, after Baptista scored from a tap-in. Baptista remarkably even missed a penalty, before scoring the Gunners’ 5th on the night. Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia scored to ensure a thrilling finish, making the score 3-5, but Baptista was not done yet, as he scored Arsenal’s 6th in the 84th minute.

6. Liverpool 4-1 Arsenal, 31st March 2007, Premier League

(Liverpool- Crouch 4, 35, 81, Agger 60; Arsenal- Gallas 73)

Peter Crouch scored a remarkable hat-trick as Liverpool avenged their earlier cup exits, to beat the Gunners 4-1 at Anfield. Crouch opened the scoring after just 4 minutes. He then scored a superb header to take Liverpool into half-time with a 2-0 lead. Daniel Agger made it 3-0 as he glanced Lehmann. Gallas’ goal proved to be the only consolation for Arsenal as Crouch completed his ‘left-foot, right-foot, header’ hat-trick with 10 minutes to go.

5. Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal, 28th October 2007, Premier League

(Liverpool-Gerrard 7, Arsenal-Fabregas 80)

Arsenal required a late equalizer from Cesc Fabregas to go to top of the table, in an absorbing game at Anfield. In a game dominated by both teams in periods, it was Steven Gerrard who scored the opening goal in the 7th minute with a fine effort. Arsenal responded well with some brilliant passing between Rosicky, Hleb, Fabregas and Adebayor and got the reward for their efforts, when Fabregas toe-poked Hleb’s through ball.

4. Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal, 8th April 2008, Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg

(Liverpool-Hyypia 30, Torres 69, Gerrard 86 (pen), Babel 90; Arsenal-Diaby 13, Adebayor 84)

Arsenal suffered heartbreak at the hands of Liverpool as they were knocked out of the Champions League in dramatic fashion. Having drawn 1-1 in the first leg at the Emirates, it was Arsenal who took the lead through Abou Diaby, who scored after a well-worked move. Finnish defender Sami Hyypia soon drew level and Liverpool led the tie through a fine Fernando Torres effort in the 69th minute. Arsenal thought they had won it in the 84th minute, after Theo Walcott sprinted the entire length of Anfield, to set up Emmanuel Adebayor. However, 2 minutes  later, Ryan Babel went down off the slightest of touches from Kolo Toure and won a penalty. Arsenal felt hard done by as they had been denied a clear penalty a week earlier. Gerrard scored, and Babel finished it off 6 minutes later, after the Gunners threw everyone forward.

3. Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal, 21st April 2009. Premier League

(Liverpool-Torres 49, 72, Benayoun 56, 90+4′; Arsenal-Arshavin 39,67,70,90)

Andrei Arshavin had the match of his life as he scored 4 goals in an enthralling encounter at Anfield, which dented Liverpool’s title hopes. In a game which had 8 goals, it is surprising that the half-time score was 1-0, with Arshavin scoring after fine work by Samir Nasri and Fabregas. Fernando Torres equalized minutes after half-time, and some bloke called Yossi Benayoun handed Liverpool the advantage. However, Arsenal were rewarded for some fine play, as Arshavin scored a scorcher, after an error from Alvaro Arbeloa. 3 minutes later, the Russian scored again from close range. Liverpool fought hard to save their title ambitions, as Torres leveled things again. In the dying moments, Walcott surged foward, and Arshavin finished finely off his left foot. Liverpool gathered all energy that was left in them, as Benayoun prodded a late equalizer.

2. Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal, 13th December 2009, Premier League

(Liverpool-Kuyt 41; Arsenal-Johnson (O.G)-50, Arshavin 58)

Andrei Arshavin cam back to haunt Liverpool as he scored Arsenal’s winner in a Premier League clash. Liverpool dominated the first half in its entirity, and should have had a penalty when Gallas felled Gerrard. They got their reward, minutes before half-time, as Dirk Kuyt opened the scoring after Manuel Almunia failed to latch on to an Aurelio free-kick. Glen Johnson, who had a poor game, scored an own goal, when he turned in Nasri’s cross. Minutes later, Russia captain Arshavin, controlled the ball brilliantly and shot past Reina. From there on, Arsenal closed out with ease, to secure 3 points.

1. Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal, 15th August 2010, Premier League

(Liverpool –N’Gog 46, Arsenal-Reina (O.G)-90+1′)

Arsenal escaped with a draw from Anfield, after being second-best against Liverpool. Both teams ended the game with 10 men. Debutants Joe Cole and Laurent Koscielny were sent off for Liverpool and Arsenal respectively. Joe Cole saw red for a poor tackle on Koscielny. Liverpool, despite being down to 10 men, took the lead through David N’Gog who scored from a narrow angle. Liverpool managed to frustrate the Gunners’ for long periods, but Arsenal managed to equalize at the death after Reina failed to hold on to Rosicky’s cross, and bundled it into his own net.

Arsenal’s record in the last 10 games against Liverpool at Anfield is P10 W3 D3 L4.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Best of the Best

 

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Milan Preview + Lots of Stats + Lots of News + More..

AC Milan vs Arsenal, San Siro, Champions League

Kickoff – 19:45 GMT (01:15 IST), 15th February 2012

The earth has done a full 70 rotations, and here we are, again, the Champions League. The best football competition in the world is back, and the wait has been too long, and everyone’s waiting for the action to get started.

Arsenal face their biggest test of the season, as they head to Italy to face the Italian champions, and 7 time European Cup winner AC Milan, in their formidable and hostile home, the San Siro. A tie, which Arsenal would have liked to avoid, but then again, as Arsene Wenger says, you can’t avoid anybody at this stage.

I say it’s a conspiracy. If we do beat Milan, it will be to face either a Barcelona or a Real Madrid.

Both teams go into this game, on the bounce of 2-1 away wins against dodgy opposition. While Arsenal required a 34 year old legend to strike a last gasp winner on a potholed pitch in Sunderland, it took a 19 year old hotshot to win the game for Milan at the Stadio Friuli in Udinese. Both games were mirrors of each other, as Arsenal and Milan were down 1-0 with 15 minutes to go.

Recent form for both sides have been topsy turvy. Arsenal recovered from losses to Fulham, Swansea and Manchester United, to secure progress in the FA Cup by beating Aston Villa, and then thumping Blackburn and narrowing past Sunderland. Milan on the other hand, lost to Lazio and Inter, but did win 3-0 against both Novara and Cagliari. However, they lost to Juventus at home in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final, as recently as last week.

Going by the history books, the Gunners have a formidable one against Italian sides. Here’s how Arsenal have fared against Italian opposition.

1970/71 – Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – Lazio (A) – D 2-2

1970/71 – Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – Lazio (H) – W 2-0

1979/80 – European Cup Winners Cup – Juventus (H) – D 1-1

1979/80 – European Cup Winners Cup – Juventus (A) – W 1-0

1993/94 – European Cup Winners Cup – Torino (A) – D 0-0

1993/94 – European Cup Winners Cup – Torino (H) – W 1-0

1993/94 – European Cup Winners Cup Final – Parma (N) – W 1-0

1995 – European Super Cup – AC Milan (H) – D 0-0

1995 – European Super Cup – AC Milan (A) – L 2-0

1994/95 – UEFA Cup Winners Cup – Sampdoria (H) -W 3-2

1994/95 – UEFA Cup Winners Cup – Sampdoria (A) -L 3-2 (Won 3-2 on penalties)

1999/00 – Champions League – Fiorentina (A) – D 0-0

1999/00 – Champions League – Fiorentina (H) – L 1-0

2000/01 – Champions League – Lazio (H) – W 2-0

2000/01 – Champions League – Lazio (A) – D 1-1

2001/02 – Champions League – Juventus (H) – W 3-1

2001/02 – Champions League – Juventus (A) – L 1-0

2002/03 – Champions League – Roma (A) – W 3-1

2002/03 – Champions League – Roma (H) – D 1-1

2003/04 – Champions League – Inter Milan (H) – L 3-0

2003/04 – Champions League – Inter Milan (A) – W 5-1

2005/06 – Champions League – Juventus (H) – W 2-0

2005/06 – Champions League – Juventus (A) – D 0-0

2007/08 – Champions League – AC Milan (H) D 0-0

2007/08 – Champions League – AC Milan (A) – W 2-0

2008/09 – Champions League – Roma (H) – W 1-0

2008/09 – Champions League – Roma (A) – L 1-0 (Won 7-6 on penalties)

2011/12 – Champions League – Udinese (H) – W 1-0

2011/12 – Champions League – Udinese (A) – W 2-1

So, it is quite evident that Arsenal have had the better of Italian opposition on many-an-occassion. The proud record stands at P 29 W 14 D 9 L 6.

Moreover, Arsenal’s record at the San Siro is admirable. They thrashed Inter 5-1 in 2003/04, thanks to a certain Thierry Henry, who is in the squad for tomorrow’s game, and beat AC Milan 2-0 in 07/08, when Cesc Fabregas bossed the Milan midfield.

Aaron Ramsey, who scored the equaliser against Sunderland, is optimistic about Arsenal’s chances, going into the game. He also weighed up Arsenal’s team talk in midweek.

We had a meeting last week about doing well for the rest of the season and one of the points that came to us was to never give up in the game,That was the case against Sunderland, and we showed it against Aston Villa too.We have good team spirit here and belief that we can still win the game. It was nice for me to get on the scoresheet as well as Thierry getting the winner.It’s been a fantastic period for him coming back to the Club he supports and has done so much for. It’s a great story for him so far.There was a great atmosphere in the dressing room after the game and everyone was enjoying it. We were 1-0 down with just over 10 minutes to go, so it was a great win for us.

Both, the Welsh captain and Arsene Wenger have reiterated the need to attack Milan from the word ‘go’. It is of paramount importance to get an away goal, which will ofcourse boost the Gunners’ chances of progression.

AC Milan also have had their mind-talks. Both Clarence Seedorf and Kevin Prince-Boateng are in confident mood ahead of the clash. The Dutch midfielder, who, is like a billion years old now, says he is also pleased for his compatriot Robin van Persie, who is on a hot streak this season for Arsenal.

They are a strong all-round side and they always play good football,Van Persie is finally exploding and I am very happy for him, but we know what we are going to have to deal with and we are ready. It is going to be a tough game – Arsenal have always changed important players a lot over the last six or seven years and have still managed to perform well. They haven’t won trophies but they are still a dangerous team.I don’t like to talk about fear in sport, in general. I think you need to respect your opponent but if you prepare the way you should so you can perform at your best then it is down to you.”

And former Spu*s midfielder, yes, you heard right, Spu*s midfielder Boateng, is quietly confident of sinking his former club’s arch-rivals. The Ghanian international, who was recently in the news, after his model girlfriend revealed that the reason of Boateng’s recent injuries are down to the fact that they have sex nearly 10 times a week, has returned to full training after recovering from an injury.

Also, returning for Milan, are the preciously talented 22 year old Brazil striker Alexandre Pato and the highly experienced Italian international Allesandro Nesta. Also, Cristian Abbiati, Milan’s first choice goalkeeper will return to take his place from Marco Amelia.

Arsenal will be without Per Mertesacker, who injured himself, while attempting to control the ball, on the potholed pitch at Sunderland. He recently tweeted an image of his swollen ankle, and the news seems to be ligament damage. He is surely out of this one. Some good news, then that Jack Wilshere could return earlier than was predicted, after he suffered ‘another setback in his recovery’ last month. The tentative dates are end of the month.

The Mertesacker injury could mean a defensive reshuffle. Thomas Vermaelen, was recently quoted in the Belgian media, as being fedup of playing at left-back. However, later reports say that his comments were skewed, by the English media, who are adept at making monster-trucks out of tricycles. Here’s a transcript of the interview, I have taken from Arseblog News, who in turn have taken it from Untold Arsenal.

You have been injured for a while last season and also this season. Are you back at your old level?

I feel great and play like that. But because our left backs (Santos and Gibbs) are out injured I had to play as left back in the last weeks.  I think that is unfortunate but there is nothing that I can change about that.

Did you talk about it with Wenger?

Yes, but what is said between us stays between us. Everybody knows playing left back is not my preferred position.

Why do you think that despite all this  you after all are a good left back?

I don’t think I am a bad left back. I do my job over there. But I am never really completely satisfied with myself after playing there. I want to get to my highest level in each game and I don’t have this as a left back. When the team wins I’m happy, but still it is a bit frustrating.

Why are you so much better as a central defender than as a left back?

Tell me why does a striker performs better in attack than in midfield? I’m just trained as a central defender.

And, with left-back Kieran Gibbs returning to full fitness, it is common sense to say, Wenger will move Vermaelen to centre-back. Easier said than done, however. Gibbs is returning to first-team action after a four-month injury layoff, and is still short of match fitness and confidence, according to the manager. Pushing him into the first team, in a high-intensity encounter, would be a risk. The hunch is Vermaelen will continue at left-back, with Djourou partnering Koscielny.

In other news, Arsenal welcome back Gervinho after his African odyssey. While it ended in heartbreak for Ivory Coast, it was joyous for Zambia. Struck by tragedy in 1993, when the plane carrying the Zambian national side crashed near Libreville, killing everyone on board, it has taken 19 years for the ‘Chipolopolo’ to rebuild and reach the pinnacle of African football. What’s more, they did it just kilometers from where the tragedy had struck in 1993.

It speaks of volumes of the game itself, how underdogs have won against all odds. There was Greece, who won EURO 2004, after being touted as the first team to be eliminated after the Group stages. Then, there was Iraq, who won the Asia Cup in 2007, in the midst of political and civilian turmoil in their country. Now, football has a new team to celebrate about, Zambia.

Back to Gervinho then, who scored a brilliant goal in the semi-final, but missed a penalty in the shoot-out, which, had he scored, would have kept the Coast in contention. Also, former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure. Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba, missed a penalty in regulation time. Much has been discussed about the confidence of Gervinho, after that miss. He is still a young lad, with a bright future in front of him. The faster he gets past it, the better for him.

Moving on, Thierry Henry’s return to Arsenal has been nothing short of a fairytale. He scored the winner in the FA Cup game against Leeds, which secured passage into the next round. Then, he scored in his last minute at the Emirates against Blackburn, and he capped it off with a goal in the last minute of the Premier League, against Sunderland. He was full of praise recently, for Arshavin and both sets of supporters at the Stadium of Light.

Andrey’s cross was amazing,all I had to do was get a touch. It was perfect.You have to give him credit. I just had to get on the end of it. You can always miss but I was just the guy who put the ball in the net.I really must say I was on the end of a great cross. It just happens that it was me in the last minute so it is a story. But the most important thing was the three points whether I was in the team or not.

It’s always been a pleasure to come to Sunderland. I’ve always found this a very special place to play football and, when I was warming up, the fans near me started clapping. The atmosphere was fantastic.It being my last Premier League game, to score in the 90th minute was so special, something really magical.I stayed a bit longer with the Arsenal fans because I knew it was my last game in the Premier League so I wanted to say ‘Thanks, that’s it’.

And Henry also left a hint that he could be back next season as well. Legendary!

Sometimes you never know when something is going to end,I guess you can never say never. I never thought I was going to come back and play for Arsenal now. Who knows if I can say that this was definitely the end? We’ll see.

Wouldn’t it be the perfect ending to the fairytale, if he were to manage a winner at the San Siro as well. Meanwhile, I feel this is the perfect time for both England wingers, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to shine. Arsenal will need plenty of pace in Italy.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have confirmed they will be wearing the yellow kit, which was the away kit last season, and registered as 3rd kit this season. Not too sure, whether we will have ‘Fly Emirates’ or ‘Dubai’ as our shirt sponsor today, because AC Milan, too have the same shirt sponsor. The last time we had ‘Dubai’ on our jerseys, Tomas Rosicky scored a scorcher in Hamburg.

Milan are considered an ageing side. But, that’s all a myth. They have a massive and extremely talented squad. With 2 or 3 world-class players at every position, Milan will, undoubtedly start this game as favorites. Lead by the experienced Massimo Ambrosini, they boast the likes of Clarence Seedorf, who has won the Champions League, with 3 different clubs, Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan; midfielder Antonio Nocerino, who has been a brilliant player for them in midfield. Should Kevin Prince-Boateng start, it will be another player Arsenal will have to stifle. He has a good shot on him, and is known for the audacious.

Milan, in recent games have stuck to a rotation policy. Considering the fact they have a massive squad and a plethora of talent to choose from, it comes as no surprise. While Brazilian Thiago Silva and Allesandro Nesta will be the preffered centre-back pairing, Massimiliano Allegri has the likes of France international Phillipe Mexes, and Italian international Daniele Bonera at his disposal. With left-back Taye Taiwo loaned to QPR, Luca Antonini is expected to start in his place, and at right-back will be Ignazio Abate.

Up front, Milan will play 2 strikers, in a 4-4-2 formation, as they have for most of the season. With Pato just returning from injury, Cassano still injured, and El Shaarawy still a youngster, it seems more than likely that Ibrahimovic will be partnered by former Santos, Real Madrid and Manchester City striker Robinho.

Ibrahimovic is to Milan what van Persie is to Arsenal. The Swedish marksman has scored 21 goals this season, 4 in the Champions League, compared to van Persie’s 28, with 4 in the Champions League. Though Robinho has been under par in recent games, his talent cannot be undermined. Allegri could still however start with El Shaarawy.

Most probable lineups..

The fact that Milan have players like Gianluca Zambrotta, Fillipo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso (all World Cup winners), Alberto Aquilani, Mark van Bommel, Mario Yepes, Urby Emanuelson, Sulley Muntari, Antonio Cassano, former Arsenal midfielder Matheiu Flamini and Maxi Lopez, all internationals, some of whom are out of the first leg owing to injury; in reserve, is proof enough of the depth and quality of their squad, and a representation of the challenge that Arsenal will have to overcome in 2 legs.

But, like I said, football is capable of anything. It is going to be a treat to watch these two teams pit their wits against each other.

And we all know who we want to win!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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