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

West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal, The Hawthorns, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Keep the Faith.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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In our hands again?

Hello Gooners. All of us wait in anticipation for Sunday. The last day of the league season, where so much is left to be decided.

The week that passed by has been quite action packed. Sunday bought loads of important clashes in the Premier League. Newcastle were finally overpowered by the class of Yaya Toure, who scored twice, to move Manchester City ever so closer to their first Premier League crown. A late Djibril Cisse strike for QPR, against Stoke, may prove to be the singular most important goal in the Hoops’ season. Bolton dropped valuable points at home, and find themselves deep in trouble.

Blackburn Rovers were relegated, after a late Antonin Alcaraz goal ensured league safety for Wigan. It has been a tumultuous season for Rovers, with protests against manager Steve Kean, after almost every home fixture. Even a chicken with a Blackburn logo was released on the field, while other novel protests included a plane, with the message ‘In Venky’s we trust – Burnley Fans’. More importantly for us, Sp*rs could only muster a draw against a determined Aston Villa, which keeps us rooted to 3rd spot, one point ahead of our neighbours.

In our hands again. It has been quite a dismal end to the campaign, which has mirrored our previous seasons. A winning run of 7 games was halted by QPR, before we won two more against Manchester City and Wolves. Wigan bought us down to earth again. Since then, we have only managed to eke out 3 points against Stoke, Chelsea and Norwich, and a 5 point gap has been reduced to just 1.

St. Totteringham’s day celebrations have been put off, atleast until 5 PM GMT. While the Gunners travel to Birmingham to face West Brom, Sp*rs will take on Fulham at home. Newcastle still have an outside chance, though, when they travel to Everton.

The last time we faced this nail biting finish to the season, was in 2006, the final season at our beloved Highbury. The last game at the famous old stadium, Arsenal took on upstarts Wigan, while Sp*rs travelled to West Ham. Arsenal were 2-1 down at one stage, before Thierry Henry turned on the style, to win the game 4-2, while a certain Yossi Benayoun sunk Sp*rs, whose many players were out due to food poisoning before the game. Conspiracy? Probably.

However, we cannot rely on rotten pieces of meat this time round. 3 points is an absolute must at the Hawthorns, and regardless of how many goals Fulham get punctured by, we will have a place in next year’s Champions League. Anything but that, we face the realistic prospect of playing in the Europa League, and that means, a probable exodus from the club, a financial downfall, and the inability to sign top players for quite some time.

In other news, the past few days saw two former Arsenal legends retire, one from the game, and the other from his post as assistant manager. Both were defenders. They are Sol Campbell and Pat Rice.

I will start with a little tribute to Sol Campbell. Signed controversially on a free transfer from Sp*rs in the summer of 2001, Campbell came to be one of the mainstays in the Gunners’ defence for years to come. With stalwarts such as Tony Adams retiring from the game, the mantle had well and truely been passed. He first formed a solid partnership with Martin Keown, and then with Kolo Toure, the latter of which proved to be one of the stand out performers in Arsenal’s history making season of 2003-2004. Of course, our unbeaten run ended, off a Rooney dive, with Campbell the accused, but he has been an absolute rock for us. His command in the air, his leadership and organisational abilities have been indispensable. Another fine season in 2005 followed, with a FA Cup final win over Manchester United. He even scored in the Champions League final in 2006, a thumping header against Barcelona, but, alas we were not to leave our old ground as European champions. Campbell left Arsenal in 2006, to Portsmouth, where he won the FA Cup in 2008. He made a brief return to the North London, making 14 appearances, to help out the team during an injury-striken phase. Campbell was voted 15th in the “Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players” poll.

While Campbell served the club for little more than 5 years, Pat Rice has been a fantastic servant to the club, with an association that adds up to nearly 50 years. From Northern Ireland, and born in Belfast, he grew up in London, and joined the Gunners as a schoolboy. He made his debut in 1967, and slowly but gradually made the right-back position his own. He was an ever present in the 1970/71 side, that won the league and the cup, and at just 22, he was becoming the mainstay in defence. Rice was to stay with the Gunners for another 9 years, till 1980, and moved on to Watford after amassing 397 league games. He would return in 1984, as a youth team coach, for 12 years, before moving up the ranks to be assistant manager for the next 16 years. He has seen through successes like the doubles in 1997/98, 2001/02, and the unbeaten campaign in 2003/04, also FA Cup wins in 2003 and 2005. He has also been partly responsible in developing a host of exciting young talent over the past few seasons, in Cole, Flamini, Fabregas, Ca$hri, Greedybayor, van Persie, Wilshere, Gibbs, Ramsey, to name a few.

The squad gave Rice a farewell party, ahead of his last game against West Brom.

The game against Norwich was Rice’s last at the Emirates, and also Wenger’s 900th in charge of the Gunners. He boasts a win percentage of 57%, which is quite remarkable, for a 16 year tenure.

This means that there will be some more shuffling about in the backroom staff. Youth team coach Steve Bould has been promoted to assistant manager, and it is a good move. Bould played as a centre-back for the Gunners for nearly 11 seasons, making 288 appearances, and despite revealing recently that he loves his present role as developing young exciting talent, his appointment, will hopefully drill some good defensive skills into the club. Arsenal have conceded nearly 50 goals in the league, this season, which is quite unacceptable.

Moving on, Yossi Benayoun revealed on Israeli radio, that there is a minor chance he could stay with Arsenal for next season. I am not too sure, whether he will stay, but I think another year would be good. He is experienced, level headed and a pretty useful member to have in the team. He has done a good job, despite being one of the peripheral players. With Wilshere returning from injury, and Ramsey struggling to hit form, Benayoun will be the right cushion for the first few months of the season.

Another player, whose future at the club is a doubt, is Russian Andrey Arshavin. Loaned to Zenit St. Petersburg, Arshavin has slowly but gradually improved his form, and helped the club to a Russian Premier League title.

I haven’t yet thought about (my future). Everything will be decided after the European Championship,Of course, the result and quality of play there could affect my destiny.Without a doubt I can say that the decision to return to Zenit was correct. First of all, I am now playing regularly. Secondly, it’s hometown. Third, Zenit has ensured me of everything so that my thoughts are focused only on football.

According to reports, one player on the brink of a transfer to Arsenal is Yaan M’Villa, the Rennes midfielder. There is a good article on Gooner Daily, and what a useful asset he could be to the Gunners. To be honest, I haven’t watched this lad much. If he can bolster the squad, then it would be a good addition, and a strong statement of intent. I highly doubt this happening though, with Wenger still hoping against hope for Diaby to be fit again, and with youngsters such as Coquelin and Frimpong in the waiting list.

In other news, Per Mertesacker, has praised the new arrival at the club, his compatriot Lukas Podolski.

He is very confident.  When he feels he has to be there for the team and when we needed a goal he was always there. He was always one of the best players on the pitch and nothing could take him down. He is so confident and that is what I like.He is a fantastic striker,Everywhere he has played he has scored a lot of goals. He is very good on his first [touch] when he has the ball in front of him, that is a big quality and very good for us.I think he has good physical power and that is what is needed in the Premier League. He is very quick too. It is a challenge for him but he can cope with it.

Finally, the new home kit was revealed recently. My first thought, was they have gone bonkers. On a closer look, it is a tribute to Herbert Chapman’s revolutionary WM formation. The sleeve looks kind of like the Dutch flag, and if it helps keep Robin van Persie, who did participate in the photoshoot, then, so be it. The neck looks ghastly, but then again, if it helps us get some silverware, then change is a good thing.

More on the West Brom game coming up soon.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in General

 

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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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Lukas Podolski scoop and a bit more..

Hello Gooners. While we wait with bated breath for tonight’s Manchester derby, news has just emerged from Germany that Lukas Podolski has confirmed his move to Arsenal.

This, taken from Arseblog News, that the German striker and his present club, FC Cologne, have released a joint statement. It says,

Hi folks, from next season I will play Arsenal FC. This change gives me the opportunity to play at international level in a top European club. This is a great opportunity in my sporting career.The decision for this step is not easy for me because the FC Köln, the city and the fans are very special for me. I’ll always carry FC in my heart. We must now concentrate all the forces together and focus exclusively on the league. Regards, Poldi.

This is certainly great news for us Arsenal fans, who have been waiting quite long for that one really experienced world class striker. No disrespect to Eduardo or Chamakh though. Eduardo was a fantastic striker for Dinamo Zagreb, but you could say a bit unproven at the top echelons of European football. Unfortunately for him, he got struck with a horrible injury, just when he was picking up the pace of the English game. Chamakh, despite a great start, has failed miserably to hold on to his place in the team, and much of it can be rather owed to the fine form of Robin van Persie. The less said about Niklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Park-Chu-Young, the better.

I think Podolski will add a new dimension to our existing attacking array. He has chalked up 43 goals in 95 games for the national side. With Fiorentina and Bordeaux interested in Chamakh, I find it hard to see him at the club next year, and the same goes with Park. He may have delayed his military service, to prolong his football career, but he wouldn’t be happy warming benches for the Reserves, on cold nights in places like Barnet, Stevenage and Burton.

This leaves us with our on-loan strikers, Niklas Bendtner, who says he wouldn’t even join Sunderland if he got the chance to. I agree with him. He is the best striker in the world after all. We have Carlos Vela, once touted as the next big thing in Mexican football, before one Javier Hernandez came along. He has scored 10 goals for Basque club Real Soceidad, and they want to retain his services on a permanent basis. Vela was a bit of a question mark. At times, he would make you think you are watching Maradona, but then moments later, he would look like Nelson Vivas out of position. Joel Campbell, the Costa Rica international looks like one for the future, if he can get his visa and passport issues sorted.

Arsene Wenger and Israel captain Yossi Benayoun spoke about the over-reliance on Robin van Persie at the moment. While admitting that they have relied on the Dutchman, more than they should, this season, Wenger also urged him to finish the season on a high as we look to seal 3rd spot and automatic Champions League qualification, which helps us ease the fixture congestion at the very start of the season, as well as prevent us from even contemplating a possibility of playing in the Europa League.

He has to push us over the line. There are two games to go. We have been a bit over-reliant on him, I concede that. But it is difficult to change that before the end of the season.

Yossi Benayoun, compared the Dutch striker to his ex-teammate at Liverpool and later Chelsea, Fernando Torres. (Mind you, when he was in top form)

I have been lucky enough to play with some of the best strikers in the world,”he said. “Robin is one of the best in the world. It was the same when Fernando was on fire and scoring lots of goals at Liverpool. They are on the same level as two of the best strikers in the world.Every game at Liverpool we knew he could score. We know we must give Robin the ball in the right place and he will score. That is what we did against Stoke and he has been doing that all season.

In other news, Arsene Wenger is lining up his options for assistant manager, after Pat Rice revealed he would retire at the end of the season and probably spend his retirement days in Brighton, and enjoy the sun, while pondering over what has been a fine tenure at the club.

It will be decided very very soon and I will decide after that. It looks like he could stop, but it is not official yet. Pat is fantastic. He works every day hard and never speaks to the press – fantastic!

One man, who surely would love to take that position, is club legend Thierry Henry.

You know what? I might. Now do you think I would be a good one? You can never tell. I actually don’t know if that would be an option. I know I will be in the game for sure. Why not? Sure.Everyone knows the love I have for Arsenal Football Club, so you know it goes without saying where.

The King also spoke about his brief 2 months stint, when he scored 3 goals, 2 of which were match-winners.

That’s a dream.It was the first time – put the national team aside – it was the first time I scored a goal as a fan of the team [I scored for].It’s too much to describe. I know I’ve never felt that before.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger also spoke about the appaling behaviour of the Stoke fans on Saturday.

I don’t think you can be especially proud to boo Aaron Ramsey,because I don’t see what he has done wrong in his behaviour. That’s an old story where the fans of Stoke stand behind their player. But it shouldn’t go as far as booing Aaron Ramsey.They have a relationship with me but I don’t have one with them! They do enjoy my visits] but I personally have enough experience to cope with that.I focus on what I love in my job and the way my players behave on the pitch. I am not responsible for the way people behave in the stands. If you want to stop that it is easy to stop but I cannot influence it. I have had so much in England, I have been here for 15 years, and basically I don’t hear it because I am focused on the game.It doesn’t bother me too much. I don’t listen too much to what people chant and I just think one day people in football will have to tackle that as well. It is easy to sit in the stand and insult people – it is the easiest sport in the world.I believe that it was a game where we have shown great character, great battling qualities. Overall we deserved at least a point and I can only give credit to my players for their battling qualities and the way they responded to what Stoke offered us – full commitment, well-organised, direct. We did not always cope with it but today I felt we did.It is important to win our next two games.

That’s a wrap then. More to come soon on the Podolski story. Do not forget to read the preview of the Manchester Derby here.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in General

 

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Battle of Manchester – A preview

Manchester City vs Manchester United, Etihad Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in General

 

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Torres, Guardiola, van Persie, Stoke Preview + Lineups

Stoke City vs Arsenal, Britannia Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger was quick to praise the Dutchman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger

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

Tomas Rosicky

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

Thomas Vermaelen

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

Carl Jenkinson

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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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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Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

Man of the Match – Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)

I am actually at a bit of a loss of words, right now. Even though its been well over a day since one of the worst games of football I have witnessed, I still can’t find enough words to jot down a match review.

The worst game I saw this season, before this was the 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Liverpool. Both teams played crap, and were just happy to kick the hell out of each other. It also had a little racist incident, by the way. And next was the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Tottenham. Not that I give a shit about them, but the game’s result was important to us. What ensued was piss poor football. But, yesterday’s game topped it all. Here is an attempt at a match review.

Arsenal’s major injury concern before the Chelsea game, was in all obviousness, Mikel Arteta. He has been ruled out for the remaining 4 games of the season. However, there were returns for French defensive midfielders Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin. Also, Yossi Benayoun was ineligible to play against his parent club. Brother of Calamity, (thanks to god’s blessings), was replaced by Laurent Koscielny, who returned after his 2 game suspension. And, a timely return it was. Arsenal started with Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield.

Chelsea, on the other hand, were forced to make wholesale changes to the squad that played in absorbing encounters against Tottenham and Barcelona, in the FA Cup and Champions League respectively. Ashley Cole was replaced by young Ryan Bertrand. Branislav Ivanovic, who is still suspended, was replaced by Portugal international Jose Bosingwa. John Terry, Gary Cahill and Petr Cech kept their places. The midfield looked fresh, with Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Oriol Romeu, all of whom have played sparingly this season, drafted in. In what seemed a 4-3-3 formation, Daniel Sturridge, Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou were picked in attack.

Now, to the actual match itself. The first few minutes were the slowest minutes I have seen this season. Usually, teams like to start off with some fizz. After kickoff, Arsenal were just happy passing the ball in their own half. And the players, were just walking around, like they were taking a stroll in the park with their girlfriends. This is where the tone for the entire game is set.

Arsenal were very lethargic, and thus allowed Chelsea to have much of the ball. And, when Chelsea have the ball, it ain’t a pretty sight. They were spraying around the ball intelligently though, managing to frustrate the Gunners. However, it was Arsenal who made the first real attempt on target. van Persie managed to direct a Walcott freekick on to the post. Then, Fernando Torres had a great chance, after some good work by Florent Malouda, but he was denied by a last ditch interception from Laurent Koscielny. Minutes later, Malouda caused more problems when he played a ball over the top for Kalou, who missed an onrushing Szczesny, only for Koscielny to come to the rescue again.

In the second half, it seemed like Arsenal had gotten a bit of bashing from Wenger, when they got into the groove. (Mind you, only a little bit). Laurent Koscielny hit the post again with his header, and van Persie’s shot was turned away by Cech. Theo Walcott suffered an injury, which meant he was replaced by Le Forehead, Gervinho. A largely lacklustre Tomas Rosicky, and a dissapointing Chamberlain were soon bought off, as well, to be replaced by, surprise surprise, Abou Diaby and Andre Santos. Now, that’s how you win a match, I suppose.

There were no more real attempts on goal, really, after that, as both sides looked like they had already agreed on a draw, and were just creating chances for the heck of it. Towards the end, Alex Song played in Robin van Persie. Unfortunately, for the Dutchman, his right foot isn’t as talented as his left, and he completely miscued it. Before that, he turned in and out, beating Chelsea’s defence, but was beaten to the shot by Cech.

It took another Koscielny block to deny Sturridge later on.

The only reason I was cheerful come 1:30 AM IST, was that QPR managed to beat Sp*rs 1-0, and I saw a really entertaining El Clasico.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (7.5) – Had a good game, preventing a few goalscoring opportunities for Chelsea.

Sagna (7.5) – A decent game again, but still lacks a bit of cover from Walcott.

Vermaelen (8) – Was caught out a couple of times, and had Koscielny to rescue the situations.

Koscielny (9) – Fantastic defending. He is our best defender by a mile. (Country mile)

Gibbs (7.5) – Looked vulnerable to Chelsea’s attack a few times, but a good game overall.

Song (6.5) – He was poor. Just like the Wigan game, gave away the ball far too often, and never really looked like a defensive midfielder.

Rosicky (7) – Subdued by Romeu and Essien, to make any impact.

Chamberlain (6.5) – Can’t fault his effort, as he is still inexperienced at this level. Rarely got out of the traps.

Ramsey (6.5) – I thought he worked hard, but nothing really worked for him. Strange.

Walcott (6.5) – Ineffective against Bertrand. Stranger.

van Persie (7.5) – Why you no score with right foot? Beats me.

Subs –

Santos (7) – Put in more pace and creativity than Chamberlain on the left.

Gervinho (6.5) – Crossing needs to improve. I have never seen him once kick a football into the air.

Diaby (6.5) – Collecting a yellow card was his only contribution to a timid game

Overall Team Rating – 7.69

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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

Arsenal vs Chelsea, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona -Drogba powers Blues to vital win

Chelsea 1 (Drogba 45) – Barcelona 0

Yet again, the Champions League didn’t dissapoint us as Chelsea and Barcelona played out an enthralling semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

In the end, the difference was Chelsea’s resolute defending, and Didier Drogba’s rather decent acting skills. A match touted to be ruled by Barcelona turned out exactly that way. Barcelona were far superior in ball retention than the London club, and their pressing game was being demonstrated at its best.

There were no surprises in team selection. Raul Meireles, Frank Lampard, Ramires, Juan Mata and Mikel Obi all started in midfield. Fernando Torres, who has 7 goals against Barcelona to his name, all during his time with Spanish club Atletico Madrid was rumuored to be a surprise selection by Roberto di Matteo, but the in-form Didier Drogba started.

Barcelona, on the other hand, started with ex-Arsenal skipper Francesc Fabregas, probably for his knowledge of English teams. Gerard Pique, surprisingly was on the bench, with Brazil international Adriano Correia given a start at left-back. Javier Mascherano partnered Carles Puyol at the back. Alexis Sanchez started up front with Lionel Messi.

Barcelona, as expected attacked from the word go. Alexis Sanchez lobbed effort hit the crossbar in the 8th minute. Lionel Messi then set up Andres Iniesta, but his shot was saved by Petr Cech. Off the rebound, Fabregas only managed to miscue his effort. Messi then attempted a header of a Sanchez cross, but it was again well saved by Cech. Barcelona almost scored, when Fabregas rounded Cech, but was denied by an off-the-line clearance by his ex-teammate at Arsenal, Ashley Cole.

When it seemed both teams would go into the break scoreless, Chelsea took their chance. Lionel Messi lost possession to Frank Lampard, who released Ramires on the left, with the Barcelona defenders, who had played a high line all night, scrambling back. His perfectly weighted cross was met with the left foot of Drogba, who ambled the ball past Valdes to send the crowd into raptures.

Barcelona came into the second half, with the same attacking intent. Another Adriano shot was pushed away by Cech, and Sanchez missed a sitter, after being set up by Fabregas. Chelsea rarely mustered an attack, but it was rather down to Barcelona’s expert ability in holding on to possession. On the rare ocassion, when they didnt get forward, Drogba displayed his full range of playacting, to break up Barca’s momentum.

Barca did have enough opportunities to equalize though. Cech again managed to save a Puyol header off a Messi free-kick. Speaking of which, Barca squandered all their free-kicks in good positions. Late on, in injury time, Spanish striker Pedro struck the post, with Cech completely beaten, but Sergio Busquets’ effort managed to reach the top row in the stands.

The final whistle bought palpable relief at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea 90 minutes away from their 2nd Champions League final in 5 years. All they have to do is, prevent Lionel Messi and Co. from scoring in their own lair, the Camp Nou, and arena famous for refereeing decisions favouring the home side.

For now, Chelsea can celebrate a famous night.

Match Ratings (Chelsea)

Cech (9) – Fantastic saves all night.

Ivanovic (7.5) – Barca rarely threatened from the left. Had a good game.

Cahill (8.5) – A fantastic game. Put his body on the line plenty of times.

Terry (8) – Led from the front.

Cole (8.5) – One of his best games in a Chelsea shirt. Tireless.

Mikel (7.5) – Seemed naive. Caught out in possession.

Ramires (7.5) – Set up the vital winner.

Meireles (7.5) – Hassled Barca in midfield.

Lampard (8) – Set up the all important goal.

Mata (6) – Rarely got the ball to threaten.

Drogba (8.5) – Won the free-kicks at the right junctures, and scored the winning goal.

Match Ratings (Barcelona)

Valdes (7) – Barely got to touch the ball, thanks to his defenders.

Alves (8) – Bombed down the right all night, but kept quiet by Cole.

Puyol (8) – A good defensive display, but was a bit out of position in the lead up to Chelsea’s goal.

Mascherano (6.5) – Drogba had him in wraps through the game.

Adriano (7) – Lacklustre last night.

Busquets(7.5) – Should have scored at the death. His workrate in midfield was good, however.

Xavi (7.5) – A bit anonymous, and never really got into his groove.

Iniesta (7.5) – Like Xavi, he too didn’t get into his groove, which makes you wonder, whether they operate only in tandem.

Fabregas (7) – Didn’t have a great return to London.

Sanchez (7.5) – Missed a sitter.

Messi (7.5) – Uncharacteristically quiet. The goal machine was under Chelsea’s radar all night.

Overall Team Ratings

Chelsea – 7.86

Barcelona – 7.36

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in General, Match Reports

 

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