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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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Torres, Guardiola, van Persie, Stoke Preview + Lineups

Stoke City vs Arsenal, Britannia Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger was quick to praise the Dutchman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger

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

Tomas Rosicky

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

Thomas Vermaelen

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

Carl Jenkinson

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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

Arsenal vs Chelsea, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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All the reaction, Wigan preview + Lineups

Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Emirates Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

AW on the run-in

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

AW on the team this season

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

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

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

AW on Yossi Benayoun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AW on the penalty

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

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

AW on Van Persie’s finish

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

AW on ending his four-game goal draught

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

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

AW on the Wigan game

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

AW on FA decision not to extend Balotelli ban

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

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

 

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Wolves Preview + Lineups

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Arsenal, Molineux, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game, wherever you are!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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The QPR Fallout

Hello Gooners. Football is all about fine lines. Before the QPR game, Arsenal fans were riding high on seven consecutive victories. And, that fact that we had taken an eight point lead over Chelsea and a 3 point one over our bitterest rivals Sp*rs. Few hours later, we find ourselves again in a vulnerable position. After Chelsea’s dogged display at Villa Park, which, surprise, surprise, saw Fernando Torres finding the back of the net, and Sp*rs relatively easy beating of Swansea, and our own capitulation against relegation threatened QPR.

The fine line is applicable at the top too. Everyone had predicted towards the end of February, that Manchester City would power their way to the title. But, oh my, has the title race taken a wicked turn or what. Manchester United’s experience in closing down games, under the guidance of Alex Ferguson, is pretty well known. What we didn’t know were Manchester City’s self destructing powers. The enigmatic Mario Balotelli has been in the thick of things, as he involved himself in an on-field altercation with teammate Aleksandr Kolarov over free kick taking priveleges. With Sunderland leading 3-1, at the Etihad, Kolarov skied his freekick, before Balotelli himself got one back, and Kolarov levelled things soon after. However, it just papered the cracks, that Mancini has created, by assembling an expensive, egoistic squad. With players like Richards, Balotelli, Tevez, Kolarov, and of course $amir Ca$hri, squad management was always going for a toss. Manchester City’s title dream lays in tatters now, as they move 5 points behind Manure.

A bit from the continent then. The Champions League quarter final ties, are still far from over. AC Milan and Barcelona face off at the Nou Camp. I don’t know why, but I have the feeling AC Milan will garner a 1-1 draw and qualify. Barcelona can be bloody brilliant at times, but Milan proved they are a tough cookie to crack, in the first leg. The Bayern Munich-Marseille tie is as good as over, after Bayern’s comprehensive 2-0 win, in France. They have been warned against complacency, though, but it is going to be routine for them as they look to compete in the Champions League final, which is taking place in their own backyard, the fantastic Allianz Arena.

Chelsea vs Benfica, too is far from over. The Portugese team weren’t too good against a rather second string Chelsea side, and I would fully expect Chelsea to ride the wave, and kill of this tie too. I, however, think they will fall at the semi-final stage. They really haven’t got the squad at the moment to beat Barcelona or AC Milan. But then, in football, who knows. Speaking of which, we arrive at the Real Madrid vs APOEL Nicosia. If you told an APOEL fan, that they would be playing Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, they would have taken you for a nutter. But, here they are, brushing shoulders with the elite in Europe. They are as good as out, but they will have fun at the Bernabeu. It is not everyday you get to play there, after all.

Matters closer to the heart then. The defeat to QPR has drawn criticism, from Le Prof. Not stinging, but criticism, nonetheless.

AW on the performance

It is very frustrating because they left us the ball and waited for our mistakes. We took the ball, did not do a lot with it and made the mistakes. At the end of the day that made the result. Our performance was not good enough to win this kind of game, especially in the duels. They had a little bit of extra special commitment that took advantage of us in some specific positions defensively. Overall we can only congratulate QPR for their attitude and be unhappy with our own performance.

AW on the nature of the pitch

Any bad performance you can see coming. Each football game is a new start. It is not what you have made before that decides the game, it is what you produce on the day. And what we produced on the day was not good enough.

AW on the pitch

The pitch is not smaller than any other pitch. The pitch was bad but it does not explain our performance. We did not create enough to win a football game.

AW on the defending

I do not want to single anyone out but of course we made defensive mistakes. It is a good shock to come back to what has made our strength recently. Subconsciously something was missing today. In the Premier League, if you miss something on the commitment front you are beaten. That is what happened today.

AW on complacency

It is difficult to single out one reason but why not? We played against a team who play for survival. We prepared properly but we missed something today and you could see that. Their keeper made a good save.

AW on the goals conceded

We lost a game when our keeper had nothing to do. It is the first time this season, we were too open when we had the ball.

AW on the response

We know how to respond, we have been exposed to this situation this season. We have a good opportunity on Sunday but it will be needed after giving away the points today.

AW on Adel Taraabt

He is a very talented football player,He has shown here that he has talent, that I knew. But he has to produce these kinds of performances on a consistent level.No [I have never tried to sign him]. He was in Lens and then he went to Tottenham. He is a good player with good potential but he has to produce that week in, week out.

AW on the next game

We have to take the distance with that and put things into perspective. We have to go back to basics; that means to win football games and win your fights first.We have to play like we do. It is disappointing to lose a big run in the way that we did it here. At the end of the day the result does not lie. The focus was missing a little bit and the way we conceded the goals [was disappointing]. I felt that we lacked something, I do not deny that.  We have been consistent recently and you have to give credit to the team. But in this game we were poor and we were not good enough.

AW on the QPR performance

It is difficult to explain because we prepared as usual. Maybe we sensed it would be easier than usual and once you have that in your heads it is difficult to come back to reality.We got a reality check. I just believe that our performance was not at the level we have recently produced. I feel we did not create enough with the time we had on the ball. It was all visual but not really efficient. It is disappointing to lose a game like this. If you do not win you at least want to make a draw, you do not make the mistakes we made. We have some time to recover now and produce a decent performance [against Manchester City] on Sunday.

Meanwhile, captain Robin van Persie, looked subdued in the QPR game, for large parts. Some say he is still suffering the after effects of ‘that’ miss against Milan.

RVP on the defeat

Everyone is disappointed but towards the end of the week I am sure the spirit will be how it was,We’ll have a couple of days to be disappointed but after that our focus is on Manchester City.It is a shame we have wait eight days for the game, but it is how it is. Losing at QPR is a big blow but we have to look forward and the next one is a big one.Man City are second but drew [on Saturday] so they will need the points. We have seven big games to play but if you look at the big-name teams then we have City and Chelsea. As a fan of football I always love to play those games and one of them is next week.We have seven more games to play and I believe we can come third. It won’t be easy, everyone is fighting for every point and our opportunity is next week.Even last week when we were three points ahead [in third] with eight games left we never thought it was done. [Tottenham and] Chelsea won and came closer but we have to look at ourselves.

RVP on his evolution as a striker

I was hoping to play as a second striker… I never thought I would end up as a main striker,We only tried it [at Arsenal] when Adebayor went to Manchester City [in 2009]. The boss didn’t buy anyone else because he was convinced I could do it, but I wasn’t even convinced I could do it. I had not really played there that much, and I hadn’t thought about it much before. The boss said, ‘I think you can do it, give it a go and see where it ends. Play your normal game, don’t go out there to score, go out there to enjoy yourself and help the team’. I had a go and then in pre-season we had a game against Inter Milan and I scored good goal and played well, and he told me after the game, ‘We will see how it goes, I am 100 per cent sure it will work’.Then in my first five or six [league] games I didn’t score, I was making assists and playing well, but I didn’t score and I thought, ‘I am a main striker now, I need to score’ and the boss said, ‘I don’t mind that, as long as you play well for the team, giving assists, the goals will come’.When I scored my first goal I then scored seven in seven, with seven assists, so that was quite good. That was my first step to being a main striker.

RVP on having the element of surprise

It is quite strange because a main striker and a second striker are quite close to each other, you are playing next to each other sometimes or just behind. But it is a massive difference in your game,A second striker is a role where you are doing a lot of running, but one-pace running – closing people down to the left or to the right. Sometimes you will have a high-speed run but it is mainly one-pace stuff.For a main striker you might give everything for 10 to 15 seconds or 30 seconds, whatever it takes. After that you might have a breather and then you go again, it is in intervals from really low straight to the maximum again. There isn’t too much in the middle and it is a bit more of an aggressive game.To be fair I like that though because sometimes you can just surprise an opponent by doing that, having a breather and then, bang, you are off again. It is a different game in lots of ways, that is just one of the reasons. You are, of course, closer to the opponent’s goal, which is handy because otherwise you have to cover all that distance. Even if you are not playing well as a main striker, just that one, short moment in behind means you can still score.

Moving on, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain spoke about his EURO chances, and how he feels England has a great chance, with a trove of young talent emerging.

It would be very nice [to be involved] but I don’t get too far ahead of myself or get carried away,My main focus is to see the end of the season out with Arsenal and help us do as well as we can. We have a long way to go to get a Champions League spot and hopefully top three as well. It would be very nice, but one step at a time is the way to go.We have a lot of really good players in this country and a lot of experienced players,The fact that [the younger players] are pushing on already and are in the England squad, while playing week in week out in the Premier League, can only be good.There are a lot of good teams like Spain and Holland, but you have to say England have what it takes to get to the final and even win it.

There are a lot of English players coming through, such as the likes of Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker, while at Arsenal we have the likes of Jack Wilshere and Theo,As long as everyone keeps progressing as they are at the moment, it will be good for England’s future. We have a lot of English talent here at Arsenal and we will all be working hard to get into the national team.The longer you play with people, the better you get to know them. You bond and being around the same players means that you bounce off each other. It will be good for the future.For their age they are all really mature and fearless,You forget how young Jack is – he is such a confident lad – but at the same time they are all humble as well.When it comes to football they are really focused and just get on with the job. They are technically very good and have the right mindsets to become world-class players.

In other news, peripheral striker Marroaune Chamakh was pictured with international teammate Adel Taraabt, who scored in QPR’s win over Arsenal, in a shisha club in London. Despite speculation from the media, that this could be the beginning of the end of his time in London, the Morocco international denies this.

Am I going back to Bordeaux? For now, no. I have spoken to Wenger and I will stay at Arsenal. I think he trusts my work and I will have opportunities in the first team.When it comes to football they are really focused and just get on with the job. They are technically very good and have the right mindsets to become world-class players.

And finally, former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has warned his compatriot Lukas Podolski, ahead of his reported Arsenal transfer.

He is quick, dangerous in front of the goal, and has a good pass. I’m happy for him if he soon joins Arsenal,It won’t be easy though. He will have to get used to the pace, and he will have to realise that participating is not enough. You must win. Expectations are very high.

Meanwhile, Rennes midfielder Yaan M’Villa, revealed he was flattered by interest from the Gunners.

If the coach calls you and tells you he wants you to make you play, especially a French coach, it changes everything.The important thing for me is getting playing time for the France team.

That’s a wrap. Enjoy the European action.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in General

 

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