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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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Why always Mario?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have no idea ourselves, Mario!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in General

 

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Haircuts, Transfer Rumours, Title Chances and Honest Assessments

That wait for the weekend is quite painful can be quite painful, when the entire week has been quite strenuous. Seems like the world has finally returned to its normal ways, after those midweek games, where I had to watch games, in the strangest hours of the day, with strained watery eyes.

Saturday kickoff’s are really great, and set the stone for a good weekend, if you win of course, or a pathetic one,  if you lose. With seven wins off the bounce, I am predicting this weekend to be a buzzing one as well.

The strangest news or rather report to emerge out of the Emirates’ this past week has been the hairstyle of right-back Carl Jenkinson. Quite strange really. Jenkinson has moved on from the classic 30’s style (which is now donned, with panache by the goalie), to an outrageous half Mohican or whatever term used by the hairstylists these days. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, supposedly tried to talk Jenkinson out of it, but to no avail, before the club captain, Robin van Persie decided to step in.

We all want to help him. We have the slight feeling that this hair is a bad influence on the team. Or maybe it’s a good influence, since everyone is having a laugh.

The hairstyle remains though, as of latest news reports. It is a pleasant contrast, from just, say 6 months back, when the press were predicting this season to be the downfall of one of English football’s giants. Now, the talk is about hairdo’s, and the antics of Emmanuel Frimpong. A major transition.

Speaking of which, there has been much talk of how this very current crop of Arsenal players could be potential title challengers next season. I certainly think so. The likes of Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Song, Rosicky, van Persie know what it means to wear the Arsenal crest on your chest and take it as a privelege to be turning out for Arsenal. Of course, it would take much more that that. Football isn’t getting any cheaper, especially with Manchester City and Chelsea in the market, and also a certain Scot in Manchester, ain’t getting any older. The cunts down the road, well, will always remain in our shadows.

But of course, there is still that belief. The Lukas Podolski saga is getting too drawn out and boring. I just hope it doesn’t end up being another Juan Mata. We should get this deal wrapped up as soon as the transfer window is opened. If reports are to be believed, Arsene Wenger will order a squad clearout, the likes of Chamakh, Squllaci, yeah you know the lot, beeing shown the door. We have heard a lot about it, but whether it will really happen is another matter. Supposedly, another rumour is Arsenal will complete the signing of Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen. Yeah, we believe that one. And, the Mario Gotze deal is out of the window, with the German signing a long term deal with Dortmund. Eden Hazard, though, still gets visits from top managers across the world, as he turns out for Lille in the French Ligue 1.

The question is do we really need another central defender, in Jan Vertonghen? We do have 3 world class centre backs in Koscielny, Vermaelen and Mertesacker. Plus, we have Calamity Djourou, who really ain’t half bad an option for 4th choice centre half. The rumours, yes, them again, claim Juventus are interested in signing him. Probably, they saw the Villa game. If Djourou were to leave, and then we had Vertonghen coming in, then great, otherwise it would be another Park like situation. Plus, we have Ignasi Miquel.

Yaan M’Villa, too has been linked with a move to North London. This again is contentious. We know Wenger will stand by Abou Diaby, no matter what. Plus, we have Song in top form, and youngsters like Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong pushing for a place in the first team. What we do need is, of course, a top striker, which I think, Podolski fulfills. Our midfield looks pretty strong, though we would need cover, once Yossi Benayoun returns to Chelsea. But then, we do have Jack Wilshere returning from his long term injury. Whatever it is, Arsene has a long time to think about it, and he certainly wouldn’t want a repeat of last summer.

Andre Santos, who was one of the players signed on that eventful day in August, says he wants to make history at the club.

It is fair to say that I have totally adapted,I feel very well, people here have received me with open arms, and I mean everyone, the Club, the staff and the fans.People recognise me on the streets and ask for photographs, people have great respect and charisma and they make me feel at home here. I’m super happy, I’ve adapted and now all I want is to make history with this club.The Premier League is something different – it’s the best league in the world. It’s hard to play in, the pace is different, the fact that almost every pitch is wet makes the ball run more, the tackles are harder, and it’s just really good.I’m not saying that the Turkish league is not good, it has quality as well, but the Premier League is different from anything I’ve ever seen.It was a big surprise how people accepted me here,Especially when I was injured, a lot of people supported me and they were always asking when I was going to come back, saying that the team needs me and wishing me well.In the stadium people would see me in the stands and ask me to come back, there was also many ‘Get Well Soon’ messages on my Twitter account.All of that gave me the strength to carry on, and it all just contributes to my desire to work hard for this club and win titles in the red shirt.

Moving back to Jenkinson then, who says it’s been a steep learning curve for him at Arsenal over the past few months.

I didn’t start how I would have liked to, but an honest assessment would be that as I have progressed, got more minutes under my belt and trained with the boys I definitely feel like I have improved a lot.It was a very steep learning curve for me. I believed I was capable of playing at the highest level, and sometimes it is about getting seen by the right people at the right time.I have had some tough times but I feel like I have come out of it a bigger and better person, and a better player.In a football career you are going to have ups and downs and tough times, but people have told me it is about how you respond to those tough times that will make or break you as a footballer.It was all a little bit of a blur,It was tough day for me and the Club and it was very hard to swallow.We had played Udinese in midweek and I felt I had done quite well. That was a massive high, so to go from that to Old Trafford was strange. It happened so quickly.It was a disappointing day for me and it took me a while to get over. It was my first taste of a tough result, but things like that make you stronger, and build you as a man and a character.It has been a real rollercoaster,I have had some tough times and some fantastic times. Chelsea, Spurs and Udinese are games I will never forget.It is my first season as an Arsenal player and games like the one at Stamford Bridge were just fantastic. You don’t score five goals there very often so that will stay in the memory for a long time.Overall I am relatively pleased [with his first season]. I know I have an awful lot to build on, and a lot to improve on. But I have got more in myself to show people, so that is my aim.

While we are about honest assessments, Gervinho has one of his own, about the club and himself.

I think that we can cope with everything really,We have had and have been through a lot of difficult times this season. Lots of people have waivered in their belief in us, have said this and that, but we have returned to form.We are a group of young lads, we get on really well, but we have got stronger during the tough times and showed the real Arsenal. We are going to try and finish the season well and we are happy with that.We are all still young, have got some good players and a good group. We can still win lots of trophies and do great things in the future because we are a good club.The derby game was great and everything came together and clicked,You saw how we played as a team, the result, how the team worked together and hit some form. That is how we should be and we can use that as a yardstick.

There have been different things to deal with on the pitch and I think that my career has come on a lot since I have been here,It is something I am really pleased with because so much has improved. Being here in England can only be good for my game and my career. I am happy with how I approached and came into English football and I think that my first year has gone well. I have adapted to the club, I have settled into the group and I get on well with everyone. We have two months left and it can get even better. But I am really enjoying it and determined to keep it going. There have been lots of good moments, but it has been difficult too. Coming to another club can be hard but each time I play for Arsenal it is special. I am happy coming to a club like this with such good players.

Meanwhile, youngster Nico Yennaris, who has been a revelation this season, and moved to Notts County said he needed to get out of the comfort zone to be a better player

I’ve been at Arsenal for a long time so I really feel at home there, but it’s good to come out of your comfort zone sometimes to learn and experience new things,Coming to Notts is a good opportunity for me to do that, play games and hopefully improve as a player. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.

Finally, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, says he always believed this current crop of Arsenal players had it in them to finis near the top.

It was always going to come as we have the quality in the squad to get results like this,It was about grinding out certain results and concentrating on playing our game – that is what we have been doing recently.We have been playing the way we want to play and even when we haven’t been able to, like at Everton and Liverpool, we have now been able to grind out results.Working together and believing in ourselves has been a massive part of it, and the fans have been a big help as well.When the team or a player has got a lot of confidence, things come naturally and you do things without realizing,Maybe a player whose confidence has been knocked would not do those things. When you feel comfortable, everything runs smoothly and that’s the way we have been playing recently.You can see around the training ground there is a big buzz, the weather is nice and everyone is happy. It has been like that since the start, but when results are going your way it helps a lot.

That’s a wrap for today.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in General

 

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

AC Milan vs Arsenal, San Siro, Champions League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you talk about it with Wenger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most probable lineups..

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

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

And we all know who we want to win!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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Brawls, Chairmen, Champions League, Comebacks, History, Injuries, Wages..

Arsenal vs Manchester United, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 16:00 (21:30 IST), 22nd January 2012

Sunday, finally. Arsenal vs Manchester United. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

A week, that has been filled with turmoil for Arsenal, can end on the most positive of notes, with a win over our fiercest rivals in the Premier League era, Manchester United.

Turmoil, which was brewed due to a second successive league defeat at Swansea. The defeat sparked comments from the  chairman Peter Hill-Wood, who even went to the extent of saying that not qualifying for the Champions League, would be bad, but it won’t be a disaster. Of course, being a chairman, of one of the most succesfull financial models, in terms of football, in the world, he does have a point. But, football wise it would be a disaster for the club. It could mean the £30 million we get from qualifying would be considerably reduced. And, apart from that it could mean a mass exodus. Something, that could be lead by the best player we have, Robin van Persie. van Persie has spent his best years at Arsenal. And, he has another 5-6 seasons more. A move at this point of his career would be his last. Would he follow the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, or more evidently, Thierry Henry, who decided, and rightly so, that nothing would be won with kids for the next 3-4 years, and moved on to Barcelona, where he was met with a barrage of silverware. Theo Walcott, also, at the end of the season will be in the same situation as Samir Nasri was in the summer. Would Arsenal bank on his transfer or keep him for another season. These are all questions that would ring in your mind, while contemplating a 5th placed finish.

Arsene Wenger vehemently insists that his sole aim this season is to secure a place in next Year’s Champions League.

“For me it would be [a disaster] because I want to play with the best,We want to be in there, in the top four, and to play in the Champions League. Anything else would not be good enough.”

Does this season draw parallel to one of our past seasons? Yes, it does. Everyone remembers the last season at Highbury, where Arsenal, in 5th place all season, needed to beat Wigan 4-2 and a little help from West Ham, who obliged through none other than Yossi Benayoun, to beat Spurs and snatch 4th spot from right under their noses. That season, we made it to the final of the Champions League, beating the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal, on the way

This season seems like a rerun of that. Of course, without the enormous sums of money dropping in the blue half of Manchester. Anyways, that season, Spurs had their shortest season ever. They lost to Grimsby in the League Cup 2nd Round, while losing to Leicester City in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, meaning they had only 40 games to play that season. On the other side, an injury-riddled Arsenal side played 13 games en route to the Champions League final, plus some more as we went all the way to the semi-finals of the League Cup. At defence, we had players suffering horrendous injuries. Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Gael Clichy, Pascal Cygan, Sebastien Larssonn (who played left-back a few games) were all injured for vast majority of the season. A makeshift defence, comprising Ivorian doggedness in Eboue and Toure, a Swiss brick wall in Senderos,  French tiger in Mathieu Flamini, and an angry old German Jens Lehmann,managed to keep at bay, the biggest teams in Europe.

This season, has been quite the same. While Spurs have displayed little or no interest in the Europa League, by giving their reserves a run in far-flung Europe, they have been high-flying in the league. And, Arsenal have suffered a spate of injuries to their backline. Jenkinson, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Santos and Coquelin are all cramping for space in an over-crowded medical room. We are in the Champions League Round of 16, facing a mountain to climb against AC Milan, and in 5th place, with another peak to conquer to finish in the top 4.

And, the fight for exactly, that, starts today with the visit of Manchester United who brandished the Gunners to a humiliating 8-2 defeat in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford. A win here can really kickstart things for the club for the remainder of the season, and help wipe out memories of that horrible afternoon. It can rejuvenate the fans into believing the team again, which just goes to show how a win over your rivals can change your mentality.

Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney, both have rejected talk of ‘revenge’. He has suggested that it has probably been forgotten by Wenger, because since then the Gunners have picked up quite considerably. He is expecting a difficult trip to North London. Wayne Rooney, has stated that Arsenal can go on and win the league this year. (Fat chance, that). He has also dismissed talk saying it is a head-to head battle between him and van Persie, saying the team that plays better will come tops come Sunday.

Past encounters between the teams have been feisty, with occasional handbags. It all started in a league encounter at Old Trafford, when Dennis Irwin kicked Arsenal’s Swede Anders Limpar, and went unpunished. This sparked a brawl between the two teams, and Arsenal were subsequently docked 2 points. However, they went on to win the match and the league. With the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996, heralded a new rivalry. He captured the league and cup double in 1997/98, before Ferguson replied with 3 back to back titles, including a treble. Wenger went on two more league titles, in 01/02 and 03/04, with several fiery tussles with the Scot. Everyone remembers Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane having a go at each other, and Martin Keown screaming into the ears of Ruud van Nistelrooy. Who can forget the pizzagate scandal, where Fabregas supposedly threw a pizza at Ferguson, and the tunnel blowout between Vieira and Keane.

They started it all!

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has been quietly confident about Sunday’s game, stating that memories of Old Trafford won’t be lingering around. He still feels that the intensity in Arsenal-United is as strong as ever, even though, it has quite visibly calmed down in recent years. Both managers agreed, this has been the toughest season in the Premier League, so far with all the top teams having a go at the title. While it was an Arsenal-United hierarchy few years back, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham have all staked their challenges, with money being invested in refurbishment of squads.

Team news, then. Both teams are going through a rough patch with injuries. While Arsenal have Fabianski, Sagna, Jenkinson, Santos, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Coquelin, Diaby, Wilshere, Arteta, Henry all injured, and Gervinho and Chamakh at the Africa Cup of Nations; Manchester United are without Fletcher, Vidic, Young, Anderson, Owen and Cleverley. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have recovered, while Henry and Vermaelen face late fitness tests. Mikel Arteta will be sorely missed, as was shown in the Swansea match, where the Welsh team edged the Gunners in possession. Tomas Rosicky or Yossi Bennayoun could be given a starting place. Andriy Arshavin looks to continue on the left, unless Wenger decides to surprise everyone and start off with the electric Oxlade-Chamberlain. Some more injuries and soon we could have Charlie George and Frank McLintock on the roster.

Fancy a comeback, eh? 😀

Arshavin has been average in the past few games, and unless he can fashion something extraordinary before Gervinho returns from his African adventure, it could signal the end of the Russian’s spell at the club. Walcott’s excessive wage demands have come at the wrong time for the winger, as his on-pitch form has been dissapointing. Should Vermaelen return, it would be a terrific boost for Arsenal, strengthening their defence vastly. While Robin van Persie has been terrific all season, Aaron Ramsey’s season has been mixed. But, the young Welshman scored the winner last time around in the same fixture.

Manchester United, have bounced back from successive league defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle, overcoming neighbours Manchester City and Bolton in the FA Cup and league respectively. One of their most underrated players has been Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian has been scintillating on the right flank. While David de Gea has flopped, Phil Jones has been a revelation since his summer transfer from Blackburn.

Most Probable Lineups..

The return of Paul Scholes has coincided with that of Thierry Henry, and despite the fierce rivalry between the sides, in their heyday, they have maintained the utmost respect for each other, with Henry praising the Englishman as one of the best midfielders he has ever seen.

Returning stalwarts! 🙂

Meanwhile, in yesterday’s fixtures, Chelsea have dropped points away to Norwich City, meaning the gap can be closed to 2 points with a win over United, making this game all the more a ‘must-win’. Fergie will have his own worries, should Manchester City beat Tottenham in the earlier game and make the gap between them 6 points. At this stage of the season, every point is decisive.

Again, I end on a positive note. Exactly, 5 years back, on January 21, 2007, Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry scored 2 late goals to seal a win over Manchester United in the league. Will it happen again? I certainly hope so!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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2010-2011 Season Review – Heartbreakingly Close

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

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

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

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

It’s a howler!! 

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

Baptism of fire for the new boys!

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

After Blackpool, it’s Braga’s turn! 

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

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

The local boys Lansbury, Gibbs and Wilshere! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite rare occurances, this should be made illegal!

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

Villa dispatched! 

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

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

Samir puts his dancing boots on! 

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

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

Destroyers-in-chief! 

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

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

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

Robin scores a hat-trick! 

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

Another one of those penalties! 

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

That goal! 😦

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

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

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

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

Yes, that was cheeky Robin 

It’s that Russian again!!! 

Barca f*cked! 

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

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

More cup-final heatbreak! 😦

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

The worst decision in the history of the sport! 😦

It’s over, at the Nou Camp, again! 😦

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

More misery in the cup! 😦

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

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

Kuyt strikes home Manure’s 19th title!

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

That’s that..

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

Finally something to smile about 

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

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

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

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – 6th Round

Carling Cup – Runners-Up

Champions League – Round of 16

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

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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2005-2006 Season Review – The Final Salute

The 2005-2006 season brings back some amazing memories to me. The final farewell to a legend of English league Football, i.e The Arsenal Stadium, Highbury; the red-currant kit, the final season of the Dutch master Dennis Bergkamp and some more of the usual nitty-gritty of the season, which I will take you through in this post.

Club captain, and a towering influence in Arsenal’s midfield for 9 years, Patrick Vieira left for The Old Lady of Turin, supposedly to win the Champions League. Well, no disrespect to the legend, but all he got there was relegation to Serie-B, after the great Italian match-fixing scandal of 2006. Patrick left some great memories, arriving as a raw 19 year old in 1996, to replace the erratic Eddie McGoldrick, forming a strong midfield with compatriot Emmanuel Petit, hence contributing the the double success of the 1997-1998 season. His constant tussles with Manchester United skipper Roy Keane, were legendary, and Vieira had the last laugh as he took the decisive penalty in the 2005 FA Cup Final.

His greatest and most significant contribution, however was captaining the Gunners in their unbeaten and non-blotted campaign of 2003-2004, where they ruled the league with an iron fist, and a swagger unmatched.”RESPECT“.

The Community Shield was lost 2-1 to the billionaires of West London and then Arsenal’s last season at Highbury began with the visit of Newcastle, Henry scoring and celebrating with the ‘T’ sign, signifying the name of his newborn daughter.

A loss to Chelsea followed, with Drogba’s shin scoring the unlikeliest of goals, after bullying Phillipe Senderos throughout the game. Stop-start season continued, with a win against Fulham, where the legendary Pascal Cygan scored a brace and then a 2-1 reverse to Middlesbrough.

Pascal Zinedine Cygan..A legend of football..

Speaking of Pascal Cygan, he was the most comical footballer I have seen. He was so weirdly built, like a blob of baldness over a clumsy body. He didnt have pace, no guile, no agility. He had height, which he used to good effect, against strikers, to usually score into his own net!! Boy, he was a calamity, and the one to press the self-destruct button on a usual basis; and without a shadow of doubt, one of the worst players to put on the Arsenal shirt!! Here’s to Pascal ‘Zinedine’ Cygan!

More dissapointments followed, with a 2-1 loss at West Bromwich Albion. Anyways things looked bright in Europe, as Arsenal seemed dominant in their group, as they beat FC Thun of Switzerland and Ajax Amsterdam, Dennis Bergkamp scoring a sublime winner against FC Thun!!

Henry, Wright and Bergkamp

Thierry Henry raced past Ian Wright’s club record of 185 as he scored a brace in a chilly night in Prague.

That’s No 186!

Arsenal were all rounded over the mercurial Frenchman’s exploits that season, as a seemingly underperforming Arsenal lost 3 games on the bounce, against Bolton, Newcastle and Chelsea, confirming the demise of Arsenal’s title challenge that season.

On the bright side, Arsenal mocked all penalty taking norms, as Robert Pires stepped up to take a penalty against Manchester City. His run-in looked decisive. However, he stopped and then looked to pass it to Henry. However, Henry wasn’t ready, and City cleared the ball only for an embarrassed Pires to give a wry smile to the cameras. It mattered little in the end, as Pires’ earlier spot-kick had landed the 3 points. Robin van Persie scored a stunning goal against Blackburn, beating 3 defenders in his wake to slot the ball past a hapless keeper. Was it the arrival of a new Dutch master?

The Pires-Henry penalty fiasco!!

Meanwhile, the Carling Cup seemed a kind of escape from the stuttering league campaign. Or was it??Drawn to Doncaster Rovers, Arsenal seemed on the verge of exit, as they trailed 2-1 after 120 minutes. Cometh the crunch, cometh the man, as Gilberto Silva snatched a late-late equalizer to take the game to penalties; where Manuel Almunia (yes, you heard right) proved to be the hero, as Arsenal narrowly avoided some really giant-killing!!

Gilberto saves the night!!

And Almunia saves the day!! 

Wigan was next up in the League Cup semi-finals. The Lactics had already proved to be somewhat of a force in the Premier League, as they had notched up some valiant performances in their first season in the top flight, starting the season with a 93rd minute loss to a Hernan Crespo goal in a game against the billionaires of West London. They beat Arsenal 1-0 at the JJB Stadium, a game best remembered for a lowly turnout and a power failure in the area.  Two weeks later, they completed the job at Highbury, even though Arsenal won 2-1, on away-goals rule.

I swear, this stupid power cut cost us the tie and the cup!! 

Middlesbough proved to be cannon fodder and were brushed by a rampant Arsenal 7-0 at Highbury, with Henry helping himself to a hat-trick. Well, then started a miserable run for Arsenal, as they lost to a physical Everton at the Goodison, got knocked out of the FA Cup to Bolton, a 2-3 humiliation at home to newly promoted West Ham, a late 1-1 draw again at Bolton, culminating in a heartbreaking 87th minute goal in a 1-0 loss at Anfield. The season looked to on a downward spiral, and Arsenal had to do something about it.

Arsenal were riddled with injuries, to the defensive team of Lauren, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy. The only lynchpin at the back was Ivorian Kolo Toure, who with Phillipe Senderos, had formed a formidable centre-back pairing in Europe. Sebastien Larsson and Pascal Cygan were both roped in as emergency left-backs, but the injury crisis mounted and Mathieu Flamini, a right-footed defensive midfielder, was played at left-back for most of the remainder of the season. Emmanuel Eboue had been a revelation at right-back with his marauding runs into the opposition’s penalty area.

The greatest defence ever!!

Next in line was a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu, to play the ‘Los Galacticos’, Real Madrid’s expensively assembled galaxy of stars; comprising of stalwarts such as Zidane, Ronaldo, Carlos, Casillas and Guti. Notice I have discounted a certain David Beckham here.

The Spanish media were already discussing by how many goals Real Madrid would plunder the Gunners. Were they wrong or what?Arsenal started with a flurry if chances. Jose Antonio Reyes, nearly scoring an opener upon his return to his homeland. Fabregas and Hleb were brillilantly spraying passes and keeping the game well in control. And then, in the 47th minute, Henry picked the ball from near the half-line, and left quite a few defenders in his wake, before calmly slotting the ball past Iker Casillas. The scoreboard had read Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal (Reserves, literally) The stars huffed and puffed, but at the end , it was Arsenal’s young guns, who came away from the Spanish capital, with a vital 1-0 lead to carry to the second leg at Highbury.

Galacticos?? Really??

Arsenal started the second leg, with the same Madrid-conquering side, while Real drafted in local boy cum hero Raul, into the starting line-up to multiply firepower. Real came close on several occasions, only to be denied by the German superman Jens Lehmann. Arsenal’s resolve was testified by Kolo Toure, who took a blow to his body as he blocked a Roberto Carlos freekick from close range. Towards the end, Real were so desperate they threw everybody forward, including the keeper, and almost resulted in a second goal for Arsenal, as Robert Pires,  shot from half-way, only to be halted by a sprinting Roberto Carlos. All’s well that ends well, Arsenal secured passage to the next round, and now had to face Italian giants Juventus.

Galacticos up in flames!! 

The German Superman!!

Meanwhile, Arsenal slowly picked up on the domestic front, with wins over Liverpool(thanks to a brilliant backpass from Steven Gerrard), Charlton and a 5-0 drubbing of David O’Leary’s Aston Villa.

Juventus visited North London on 28th March, and Patrick Vieira got a standing ovation from the Arsenal faithful. It seemed for large amounts of the game, Juventus had taken the game very lightly, with press remarks from Lilian Thuram stating that they would destroy Arsenal. And they had every reason to think so. They had the world’s best goalkeeper; and the costliest one as well, Gianluigi Buffon, a towering defence comprising the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta, an experienced midfield of Vieira and Emerson; and a devastating strike force of Mutu, Trezeguet and Ibrahimovic. Unfazed in no sense, Arsenal dominated the game, with Fabregas playing like a seasoned professional, as he went about the task of going up against his mentor, Vieira. He scored with a sublime shot past Buffon in the 40th, truely announcing his arrival on the European stage, before Thierry Henry scored a brilliant winner in the 69th. The Old Ladies were down 2-0. So much for destroying us, Juve fell to pieces, and Camaronesi and Zebina were sent off, as the 9 men prevented further damage.

Vieira, who?

And that’s how it’s done, my Old Lady!!

The return leg was more of a formality for Arsenal, as they comfortable eked out a 0-0 draw, against Juve, who had drafted in the Czech playmaker Pavel Nedved. Arsenal’s dismal home campaign had continued with a 2-0 loss at Old Trafford and a disspointing draw away to Portsmouth. However, Dennis Bergkamp scored a delicios flick in a 3-1 win over West Brom, on Dennis Bergkamp day, a day dedicated to the Dutchman, whose class had lit up the English game, for a decade.

Dennis Bergkamp scores on Dennis Bergkamp day!! 

The Champions League semi-finals beckoned, and surprisingly the opposition was no Milan, Inter or Bayern, but a small provincial club from Spain, Villarreal. The club had seen a phenomenal rise in Spanish football, and were now in the semi’s after ousting Inter. ‘The Yellow Submarines’ had some fine players in their ranks, including Argentina captain Juan Pablo Sorin; former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan, who had transformed his career in Spain, and become the top scorer in the Spanish League;Juan Roman Riquelme, the Argentine midfield schemer, at the moment, considered the world’s best; Brazilian born Marcos Senna, who represented Spain, and was known for his long range goalscoring skills; and Juventus veteran Alessio Tacchinardi.

They are a good yellow lot, they are!!

The last game under floodlights, and the last European fixture at Highbury, and it couldn’t get bigger than a Champions League semi-final. Arsenal had fielded nearly the same side that had ousted the giants of Madrid and Turin. The game was mostly end-to-end stuff, with both teams creating opportunities. Chants of  ‘Squirrel is a Gunner’ and ‘There’s only one squirrel’ to the tune of ‘There’s only one Dennis Bergkamp’ filled the historic stadium, as a little lost squirrel ambled on to the Highbury pitch, for its only Arsenal appearance. Kolo Toure scored the only goal in the game as he poked in a Hleb low cross for Arsenal to take a 1-0 advantage to the yellow-drenched part of Spain.

There’s only one squirrel and he’s a Gooner!! 

He’s a fine little Ivorian, isn’t he?

Arsenal were 4 points behind Tottenham, and uncomfortably in 5th place, as the two sides geared up for the last North London derby at Highbury. A win here, would put the Gunners within 1 point off a Champions League playoff place, and a game in hand, but a loss would all but end all of Arsenal’s hopes of a top 4 finish.On a bright afternoon, the Scum scored one of the most unsportsmanlike goal, ever witnessed at Highbury. Eboue collided with Gilberto, the former requiring treatment. Michael Carrick, who was scum then, and still is now, got hold of the ball, and passed it to Edgar Davids, who then provided a simple tap-in for Robbie Keane. Arsenal were furious at this point, but the game had to go in. Adebayor and Henry combined to set up Arsenal’s equaliser on a frustrating afternoon. Arsenal were still 4 points behind, and required Spurs to slip up against either Bolton or West Ham, to finish 4th.

Keane celebrating his scumdom!! 

And Henry saves the day yet again!!

Meanwhile, Arsenal knew that winning the Champions League would also seal a place for next years competition, and a name in the history books. The return league at Villarreal, would be no simple task, as the Spanish team had a formidable record at home. And they did dominate most of the game, and probably deserved the win. But there was no denying Arsenal that night. Or was there?Substitute, Gael Clichy, who came on after Flamini suffered a knock, was softly adjudged to have bought down Jose Mari. Riquelme stepped up to take the penalty. And all  the time, I knew he would miss it. He was sweating profusely, the game having taken a mental as well as a physical toll on one of the most astute minds of the game. He was spitting constantly, trying to be calm. But his weak shot was brilliantly parried by the German giant Jens Lehmann. And that’s that. Arsenal became the first club from London to play a Champions League Final.

German Superman saves a shot from the Argentine master!!

Everyone wants a slice of Superman!!

The outpouring of emotions at the end, Arsene Wenger doing a fist celebration, with Pat Rice, still brings tears to my eyes. Thierry Henry was simply ecstatic, as the Arsenal players mobbed Jens Lehmann, who had kept 10 fucking clean sheets, and broke Milan’s previous measly record of 7, and couple that with a defence crippled with injuries, against opposition the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal. It was an amazing night.

Wenger’s greatest night!!

Next up??FC Barcelona. Ronaldinho. Samuel Eto’o. Xavi. Iniesta. Deco. Giuly. Henrik Larrsson. Referee. Linesman. etc. Anyways, that apart Arsenal had a job in hand in the league, and that was to qualify for the Champions League, by finishing 4th.

Arsenal secured 3-0 and 3-1 wins away to Sunderland and Manchester City respectively, and last day of the season, and last game at Highbury, they needed 3 points against Wigan Athletic, and hoped that Spurs lost to West Ham United. Mind games had already started, Arsene Wenger stating that West Ham Couldn’t win the final, if they didn’t beat Spurs, as it would cause a psychological effect, and all that stuuff that goes with it.

The day was perfect. The sun was shining brightly on the Highbury pitch. And, I had missed the first 30 minutes of the game, thanks to my stupid PUC tuitions. Anyways, it was Arsenal 1-2 Wigan. Man, why did Wigan have to come and spoil the party??Oh bother, onto the game stepped messrs Thierry Henry, as he equalised in the 35th minute, and Arsenal went in to half-time at 2-2. Meanwhile, in another part of London, some portly dude called Carl Fletcher had given West Ham the lead against cunty Spuds.Talk of injustice, Spurs had half their team down due to food poisoning , and had asked the Premier League to delay the game. However, this plea was rejected, becasue of West Ham’s upcoming FA Cup Final and the game went ahead as was scheduled.Surely, the chef was a Gooner, wasn’t he??

Meanwhile, the final 45 minutes of football at Highbury began, with Arsenal still needing 3 points. Henry duly obliged, as he rounded keeper Pollitt to calmly slot the goal to make it 3-2. Meanwhile, over at The Boleyn, Defoe had equalised for Spurs, and former Spud and cunt Teddy Sheringham had missed a penalty to put West Ham ahead.(Everyone knew he was going to miss it.) Anyways, in North London, it seemed like a fairytale ending was in the script as Andreas Johansson bought down fellow Swede Freddie Ljungberg, in the box and Arsenal had a penalty. Fittingly, Arsenal’s greatest ever player, Thierry Henry, takes it and scores, and celebrates by kissing the penalty spot in front of the North End. And, its St. Totteringham’s day, as an Israeli of all people, Yossi Shai Benayoun, scores the winner for West Ham. Highbury erupts, well knowing that Arsenal have got the better of Spuds yet again.

Henry kisses the pitch after scoring the final goal at Highbury!!

Benayoun..gotta love that Israeli!!

Celebrating St. Totteringham’s Day!! 

10 days ahead, Paris was the centre of the world, as Arsenal and Barcelona faithful converged in on the showpiece event of European football, the final of the Champions League. This was Barcelona’s 4th time in the final, winning once against Sampdoria at Wembley in 91/92. And, this was the first time Arsenal had won the right to be in a Champions League final.I myself remember, waiting in anticipation for the final. I knew Barcelona were the favourites, as they had two world superstars, in the peak of their careers. But, Arsenal had the meanest defence in Europe, now fortified with the return of England duo Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole.It was ‘The Irresistible Force’ against ‘The Immovable Object’.

As the two teams, walked out side by side, with the trophy they were playing for in the centre, I remember praying for an Arsenal win. I knew every Gunner in the world,was too, in silent prayer. The game began, with Barcelona employing smart tactics and playing Ronaldinho in the centre and Eto’o on the left. Arsenal nearly scored with Thierry Henry clear, only for Valdes to pull off a diving save. Jens Lehmann, Arsenal’s hero through the European campaign turned from hero to villain in the 18th minute, as he bought down Samuel Eto’o. Barcelona’s 12th man, namely the referee Terje Hauge, rendered a massive blow by sending off the German, even though Arsenal insisted him to let off the German with a yellow and award a penalty to Barca.Off went Lehmann, though; and so did Robert Pires, who was sacrificed for Manuel Almunia.

Barcelona’s 12th man sends off the German Superman!!

Barca went on a rampage of attacks, capitalizing on their numbers advantage, but were kept in check by Arsenal’s defence. And in the 37th minute, the unlikeliest of goals from the unlikeliest of players, as Sol Campbell’s thumping header of a Henry free kick gave Arsenal the lead. I was delirious, jumping around the house at 1 AM!!

And the 10 men from North London take the lead against the 13 from Catalonia!! 

Arsenal seemed all set for victory as they controlled the game exceptionally, before Barca sent on Henrik Larsson, who first teed up Samuel Eto’o, who was clearly offside; but Barcelona’s 13th player, the linesman, said he wasn’t. And so, ended the over-900 minutes of football without conceding. And Larsson drew the final nail in the coffin, as he set up Juliano Belleti to score 5 minutes from time. I remember myself, nearly in tears at that point of time, as I knew there was no back. Barcelona knew it. Arsenal knew it. So, did the fans know it. And, so did Wenger. He bought on Reyes, for one final roll of the dice, but Arsenal were too deflated at that point. And so it ended Barcelona’s 13 2-1 Arsenal’s 10.

That heartbreaking moment

Would this be his last appearance as a Gunner??

As Barcelona lifted the trophy, it had me wondering me if Thierry Henry would be tempted by that and soon leave for Barca, as he had been courted wildly by them. In gazillions of interviews, and newspaper reports, ‘Henry to leave Arsenal for Barca’ was the constant. How I had wished, for Arsenal to enter their new home as European champions. Sigh, it was not to be.

That sinking feeling

This season, of so many highs and so many lows, with so many heart-stopping moments, fuelled my love for the Gunners. To be part of unparalleled joy at 3 points, and to be heartbroken at the end of an epic European campaign, was an amazing Arsenal experience.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – Fourth Round

Carling Cup – Semi Finals

Champions League – Runners Up

Top Scorer – Thierry Henry (33 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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