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Real Madrid 2(1)-1(3) Bayern Munich – Bayern set up historic final

Real Madrid 2 (Ronaldo 6 (pen), 14) – Bayern Munich 1 (Robben 27 (pen)) – Scores tied after ET

Penalty Shooutout – 

Alaba (Bayern) – Scores 0-1

Ronaldo (Real) – Saved 0-1

Gomez (Bayern) – Scores 0-2

Kaka (Real) – Saved 0-2

Kroos (Bayern) – Saved 0-2

Alonso (Real) – Scores 1-2

Lahm (Bayern) – Saved 1-2

Ramos (Real) – Misses 1-2

Schweinsteiger (Bayern) – Scores 1-3

Man of the Match – Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

Bayern Munich booked a place for themselves for the European final, in their own city, in their own stadium, as they overcame Real Madrid’s challenge, in dramatic fashion, winning on penalties.

Real Madrid were turning out after a thoroughly absorbing encounter over the weekend in the El Clasico against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, which they won 2-1, thanks to goals from Sami Khedira and Cristiano Ronaldo. Bayern Munich, seemed a bit more relaxed, having almost conceded the Bundesliga title to high-flyers Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern Munich named an unchanged squad from the first leg at the Allianz, while Real Madrid drafted in Brazilian left-back Marcelo, in place of the ineffective Fabio Coentrao.

The start to the game, was completely the opposite. Real Madrid started on the front foot, and after just 5 minutes, young Austrian defender David Alaba was adjudged to have handled a Angel di Maria cross. Ronaldo stepped up and scored. And, within no time, Real had the tie by the scruff of the neck, after Ronaldo’s fine finish after being set up by Mesut Ozil.

With Real Madrid coasting away, Bayern’s response was pretty quick. Pepe fouled Germany international Mario Gomez in the penalty box, and Arjen Robben made no mistake from the spot, to level scores on aggregate. It was justice done, as the German side was as attack-minded as Real.

Gomez, who has been in fine nick this season, showed the same wastefulness in front of goal, as he had done last week, against the same opponent. His low driven shot was saved by Iker Casillas, and his header glanced wide.

Real Madrid almost scored early into the second half, when Benzema was released on the right. His half-shot, half-cross was met by no one, but ambled just short of the goal. Bayern responded as Lahm’s cross was met by Gomez again, but it ended up just wide.

There were more soon shots on goal, with the usual culprits Benzema and Gomez in the thick of things. Benzema has a shot from long range, while Gomez’ shot is deflected away. Arjen Robben, then, went on a fine run, but the alert Casillas, saves from his heavy touch.

Late on, with minutes left to play, Arjen Robben played in Mario Gomez, who was in a fantastic position to score, but he took too long to make a decision, and Real cleared.

The extra time played out was actually quite uneventful. Both teams were visibly exhausted, and lacked the pace to trouble the opposition. However, David Alaba and Luiz Gustavo picked up cards, which meant they would miss the final.

There was enough tension at the Bernabeu, to be cut open by a knife, as the match had gone down to penalties. David Alaba made no mistake. Cristiano Ronaldo did, as Manuel Neuer produced a fine right-sided save. This was the second time Ronaldo had missed a penalty in a shootout in the Champions League. The last time it happened, Manchester United went on to beat Chelsea.

Mario Gomez slotted away his, and Neuer produced a photocopy save of the first to deny Kaka. Iker Casillas, then made the most vital of saves off Toni Kroos, to keep Real in contention. Xabi Alonso managed to put away his, and it seemed Real had clung on, after Lahm forced a brilliant one-handed Casillas save.

Sergio Ramos made a complete hash of his penalty, akin to the Charlie Adam miss against Cardiff City in the League Cup Final. Bastian Schweinsteiger slotted home the final penalty, to take Bayern through to the final.

Bayern will be without key players Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber for the final. But, they will relish the chance of playing Chelsea in their own backyard.

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

 

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Telecast revolts, Muamba latest, Park Life, Everton Preview + Lineups

Everton vs Arsenal, Goodison Park, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (01:30 IST), 21st March 2012

Another fine day to all you Gooners out there. Something very unexpected happened yesterday.

A few days earlier, ESPN-Star Sports India, had put up the schedule for Wednesday night (i.e the wee hours of Thursday morning), for the telecast of the English Premier League games. There were 4 games to be telecasted, which were Manchester City vs Chelsea, Everton vs Arsenal, QPR vs Liverpool and Sp*rs vs Stoke. And, the schedule put up was Manchester City vs Chelsea, live at 1-25 on ESPN, and Sp*rs vs Stoke, live on Star Sports. Well, that did it.

This is not the first occasion, where Arsenal games have been snubbed by the network. This sparked an outrage, and a petition was started by the Bangalore Gunners group, to troll ESPN-Star’s Facebook page, and also a petition was started on twitter, which attracted nearly 700 signatures. Finally, last night ESS bowed down to Arsenal Power, and decided to telecast the Arsenal game. This is of course fantastic news, and shows how Arsenal can unite us all. 😀

Speaking of uniting, the unfortunate incident involving young Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba has united the entire world of football. Messages have poured in from all over the world in support of the player. I read an interesting article in Angry of Islington, which I think is a must read. Here the author, has expressed his honest view on the incident.

Muamba, of course learned his trade at the Arsenal academy, and he has got lot of support from his parent club. Arsene Wenger spoke how Muamba has a ‘special bond’ with Arsenal.

He is a loved guy,Because we have a young team, many of them grew up with Fabrice. There is a strong link when you fight together in the youth teams because it creates a special bond. The players were quite low yesterday and two days ago but today it is a bit better because we have good news about him.Everybody has a bit of relief today but let’s not maybe go too quickly overboard and think he is completely out of it. You trust the quality of the care he has, you trust the quality of his mental strength and his desire to fight any restrictions. But we are as well a bit cautious as long as we do not really officially know that he is out of danger and that he is completely alright.I have not personally been in contact with him but through Bolton we have been in contact. His very close friends have gone to hospital and you want to respect that it is not overcrowded there. At the start we know how it is, many people go, and after a while you need a bit more support.

Latest news is that Muamba is fine, and reacting well to the treatment. He also had brief interactions with his family and Bolton manager Owen Coyle. Liam Brady, who worked with Muamba, earlier in 2007, had this to say.

Like everyone else I was completely shocked. I was in Barcelona with our Under-14 team and I was watching the Tottenham v Bolton game on TV. I was completely horrified by what happened and we are hoping and willing him to pull through.Fabrice was always a happy boy at Arsenal, a well-mannered boy. He seemed to really appreciate the opportunity he had and was fully intent on giving his best. He has been like that ever since he was 12.He comes to visit us, he calls in when he can. Fabrice remembers where he came from and he’s a smashing young man. He’s determined to make the best of his career and let’s hope that determination helps him pull through the situation he is in.

I can speak on behalf of all Arsenal fans in India, and we wish Muamba a speedy recovery.

Moving on, news emerged earlier in the week that Park Chu-Young’s military career has been postponed by 10 years. Now, if you are confused, let me tell you what it is. South Korean rules state that all fit and healthy males should joing the armed forces, when they turn 28. You need a special permit from the government, if you wish not to pursue a military career. Now, whether he stays on at Arsenal or not is a completely different issue. He was signed by Wenger from under the noses of Lille, and has rarely featured since. He scored his solitary goal against Bolton in the League Cup, and has rarely featured since. Even when Arsenal were leading 10 man Blackburn 5-1 after around 65 minutes, Wenger decided to keep van Persie on the field, instead of giving Park a run. Many would expect the South Korean to leave for greener pastures at the end of the season. Staying with Park, the player’s agent revealed that it was the result of talks between Monaco, Park’s former club and Arsenal, that resulted in Park’s freedom. The permission was granted back in August, but was kept under wraps.

I asked the Military Manpower Administration in early August last year to grant me an extension of overseas stay permit. The permit was granted on Aug. 29,In 2009, the Monaco royal household agency granted Park an unprecedented 10-year residence permit in recognition of his outstanding activities there. We found out through a legal counsel last July that it’s possible to delay military service based on a long-term overseas residence permit.Additional negotiations about his transfer fee between Arsenal and AS Monaco only concluded recently, and AS Monaco asked us to make it public after the negotiations came to an end.

Park’s transfer still seems strange. Why was he signed by the manager, if he hasn’t been given the chances. Anyways, we will come to know during the summer.

Moving on, Kieran Gibbs spoke about how the pressing game has allowed Arsenal to win more games, recently. It is a tactic greatly employed at Barcelona, where they unsettle the opponents, as soon as they lose possession.

There are a lot of players putting a lot of effort in, especially off the ball, and that is great to see,When we put pressure on teams high up the pitch and early on in the game, it is difficult for them to play and we can control the game a lot easier.We are enjoying doing that at the minute and we have to enjoy defending as well. It’s alright just having the ball, we know what we can do to create chances and score goals. That [the defensive side] is the big improvement we have made over the last few weeks.In previous seasons you wouldn’t have thought we would have the strength to come back but now we don’t really think about the score, we just keep playing,It helps when you have the best striker in the world at the moment in your team. The team is showing great character at the minute and we need to keep that going.

Gibbs also spoke about how players returning from injuries, and the fact that Arsenal have only the Premier League to concentrate on, will help keep their players fresher, and will assist them in the run-in.

It is a relief to have a break until the next game and it was important for us to get that because we have played quite a lot recently in a short space of time,“We should have players coming back from injury now so we should be getting some fresh legs looking to go for the rest of the season strongly.Football changes so much. We’ve seen over the last few seasons that anything can happen now and it is important for us to cement our place [in the top four] and keep winning. I saw Everton against Tottenham and they would have obviously been on a high after that. They are a good side and what the manager [David Moyes] has done with that squad is quite amazing. We know it will be a difficult game but we have the momentum and at the moment we are on a good run so we want to continue that.

Another player who has massively impressed this season is Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain. He was a massive presence in the second leg against AC Milan. He spoke about how he keeps calm, and doesn’t get nervous, and that the Milan game was a dream.

I’ve played so many games of football now and even though it is at a higher level, at the end of the day football is football. You are just playing with better players,As soon as you feel comfortable and confident you just carry on as normal. I felt comfortable in the Manchester United game because I thought we came out in the second half and played really well.Playing in a team like Arsenal helps massively having all of these players around you giving you advice. When they are playing well, you feel comfortable and it helps you to play well too.I can learn from all of them. I look at Theo, Gervinho and Robin as the three main attacking players and more recently I have been watching Tomas Rosicky because he’s been outstanding,Robin has taken most of the headlines and rightfully so with all of his fantastic goals but quietly I think Tomas has been playing absolutely amazing.I started my career as a central midfielder and the way that he gets the ball in midfield, turns and runs at people just makes things happen.We have had some really good wins [lately], away at Anfield, at home to Tottenham and Newcastle, and AC Milan too even though we didn’t qualify. It drives you on to want more of that success.

It was a dream yes, but it was also a bit nerve-wracking because I haven’t played there since Under-18s football I think,It is where I have grown up though so it was nice to go back there.I think my Dad was more excited about me playing in that game than any other because he thinks I am going to drift into central midfield more as I grow older. It was nice to play there, I just knew I had to work hard and do other bits of my game. Sometimes when you play on the wing a lot you forget other parts that you have to do in the middle.

It is a different work rate as well. When you are playing on the wing you sprint a lot, recover and then sprint again, whereas when you are playing in midfield it is non-stop. Maybe it is slower running but it is here, there and everywhere.So it was different, a big shock to me but obviously playing against Milan with their players was a really good experience and one I won’t forget.

Meanwhile, Robin van Persie has asked Arsenal to keep playing at the same level, and churn out results, for the rest of the campaign.

If you look at the last couple of weeks, we showed we have a lot of character in our side,After the two defeats to Milan and Sunderland, everyone was like ‘this is going to be a tough couple of weeks’ because we had games against Spurs, Liverpool, Milan and an international week and then Newcastle. Yet we won every game, so we showed lots of character. We can be proud of that.Now we need to show that over a period of a whole year. That is very hard and only the best of the best teams have that in them. Look at Barcelona for example. They have a special team there, they are playing most games – 9 out of 10 – really well and working hard. We need to have a run like that for months and even win the ugly games. We showed signs that we can do it because against Liverpool we didn’t play well but still nicked it. Sometimes it is necessary to win those games. We came from behind in the past four games and ended up winning the game. That shows we can do it, not only once or twice or three times, but lots of times. So why not show it 20 times or whenever it is needed?It is very hard [to be consistent], especially in a league like England,In my opinion, if you look in a technical way, a physical way, the pace, the quickness of the game, all that stuff together, the Premier League is the hardest. I see lots of games from Italy and Spain, but overall it is the hardest league. It is tough to play the way we all want. We need to be consistent and get a win over the line, like at Liverpool. We did it now, and we can enjoy it, but we need to show it again [at Everton] and it may even be a harder game. But we have to give it our maximum and see where it ends.

Some Wenger talk, then. Le Prof spoke highly about his signing from Everton, Mikel Arteta, who according to some reports, will get a huge applause from the Goodison faithful.

He always gives you a certain level of quality.He is always 100 per cent focused and committed and that is what you want from a real professional. He brings the best out of other players.I believe he is a winner and a fighter as well. I think he possesses both aspects of the game of a real midfielder – that means he can defend and he can attack. That is what we looked for.

Wenger also had praise for Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh midfielder, has found it hard a few times this season, but he is all of 21.

It is basically his first full season and he has done extremely well,He can learn from the experience of players like Arteta, Song and Rosicky. That is something vital when you want to develop players.We lost Diaby as well and people forget that he played a big part in many games last year. I believe that the players who came in did a good job.

Le Prof also spoke about the run-in, saying it was different from previous seasons, where Arsenal were still in contention for silverware. Also, unlike previous seasons, the team seems to have found a spirit and a fight, to go on and keep pushing.

It is different from last year because we had a lot of negative experiences then,We were in four different competitions and we were knocked out in three in the space of two weeks, and you are only human beings. On top of that some results were really going against us, when you think about the last minute [equaliser] against Liverpool at home, you think about Tottenham when we were ahead. These two results killed the hope we had to play for the championship and from then on we felt, subconsciously, too secure that we were in the top four anyway. Once you don’t go for the championship anymore it’s different. This season it’s completely different, we were completely out of the top four, we have come into it on a good run and now of course it is taking advantage of that momentum.We are on a positive momentum and last year we were on a negative momentum. That changes it completely. On top of that we have experience. There again, it is how much are you ready to give? How much commitment can you give in every game? How focused can we be?

And, finally, Wenger spoke about how he doeesn’t believe in the element of luck.

Every time we were behind, we showed outstanding spirit,It is not fantastic for your emotions but overall when it finishes well you accept that you suffer. If that is the price we have to pay we are ready, but you just want to continue with the same attitude because I don’t believe in luck too much on that side of the game. If you come back it is because you fight and if you fight you have a chance to come back. So let’s fight first.

Team news, then. Arsenal will welcome back Andre Santos, from his long layoff. However, Gibbs is expected to hold on to his place in the starting lineup. Arsenal haven’t lost since the defence was a staple Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, in the Premier League. It is a good sign that the defence is showing signs of improvement. Abou Diaby played for the reserves against Liverpool, and was at the receiving end of a tackle, which means he has suffered another setback, but news is that he will be back soon. Francis Coquelin is still weeks away from return, while Jack Wilshere is as good as ruled out to feature this season. Sebastien Squillaci has returned to first team training. Thomas Vermaelen picked up a strain in his calf, but he is set to start.

Everton, on the other hand, have injury concerns of their own, with Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and Darron Gibson all out injured.

Arsenal can expect a tough encounter at the Goodison, and have to be alert at all times, to get a win out of the Toffees. The Merseyside club, who have been consistently finishing in the top 10 under Moyes, have already beaten the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham this season. However, they have already played 2 games in the last 8 days, including a 3-0 loss to neighbours and rivals Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday, and a 1-1 draw with Sunderland in the FA Cup. Arsenal on the other hand, are in fine nick, picking up 5 wins in the league, which includes the 7-1 thumping of Blackburn, the 5-2 mauling of Sp*rs, and 2-1 wins over Sunderland, Liverpool and Newcastle. Everton play a similar formation to Arsenal 4-5-1, and can be dangerous on the counter. If they do get an early goal, you can expect them to shut shop and absorb attacks.

As is evident, Everton have some quality crossers, in Baines, Drenthe and Piennar. Arsenal will have to narrow down Everton’s play. On the counter even the pacy Osman can cause problems to the Arsenal defence. At the back, they have a steady defence, and a goalkeeper who is as good as any on his day. Arsenal will have to make full use of every opportunity they get.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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How good is Arsenal’s defence?

Lee Dixon. Tony Adams. Steve Bould. Nigel Winterburn. Martin Keown. David Seaman.

Lauren. Kolo Toure. Sol Campbell. Ashley Cole. Martin Keown. Jens Lehmann.

First, George Graham, and then Arsene Wenger, have managed to build two great defensive units in the past for Arsenal. While Graham managed to build a resilient, hard-tackling English unit, which lasted a good part of a decade, winning 3 championships, Arsene Wenger built a defence, mixed with both English and multicultural talent, which went on to win 2 league titles, one of which was an unbeaten campaign. This unit was more adept in going forward, and blended amazingly well with the talented array of players going forward.

However, over the last few seasons, the Arsenal defence, which had been renowned for so long, has disintegrated, and is a thing of the past. Arsenal shipped out Lauren, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, by 2006. Taking their places were young Swiss centre-backs Phillipe Senderos and Johan Djourou, along with Kolo Toure’s Ivorian teammate Emmanuel Eboue and Ashley Cole’s understudy Gael Clichy. The defence put in some massive displays in Europe as Arsenal went on to the Champions League final, before eventually losing. William Gallas was soon added to bolster the defence. The defence had some much needed experience now, in its heart and had two bombing full-backs. And, by 2007, Arsenal had signed French international Bacary Sagna to replace the erratic Emmanuel Eboue, who played second fiddle. Arsenal came so very close to silverware, before Eduardo suffered a horrific injury.

By 2009, the last of the Invincible’s defence, had gone, as Kolo Toure departed for Moneybags City. Arsenal secured the signature of a tough tackling Belgian centre-half Thomas Vermaelen, to partner William Gallas. Also, joining was former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre. In January, Wenger resigns Sol Campbell on a short term basis. But, a spate of poor performances, and Campbell, Gallas and Silvestre were shown the door. Phillipe Senderos, who has turned out for AC Milan, and Everton in the last couple of seasons, finally leaves on a free transfer. In came, two more unassuming Frenchmen Laurent Koscielny, and Sebastien Squillaci. The club has had a host of goalkeepers in this period, including Jens Lehmann, Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, Vito Mannone et al. By 2010, Arsene Wenger handed a contract to young Academy graduate Wojciech Szczesny. In the summer of 2011, Arsenal let go of Gael Clichy, to Moneybags City, while snapping up Brazilian interbational left-back Andre Santos and German centre-back Per Mertesacker.

So, after all the circus that’s taken place, Arsenal’s first choice defence reads,

Bacary Sagna. Laurent Koscielny. Thomas Vermaelen. Andre Santos. Wojciech Szczesny.

While, the second choice backline reads,

Carl Jenkinson. Per Mertesacker. Johan Djourou. Kieran Gibbs. Lukasz Fabianski.

With reserves such as Nico Yennaris, Sebastien Squillaci and young Spanish defencer Ignasi Miquel. The question I am asking is how good is Arsenal’s defence. Let’s take a look.

Wojciech Szczesny

Szczesny has been a breath of fresh air. He is passionate, young, talented and determined. He seems to be the answer for all of Arsenal’s goalkeeping woes in the past, and has pulled off some amazing saves this season. He is a fine goalie, but he isn’t the best when it comes to facing free-kicks.

On quite a few ocassions this season, the two Rooney free-kicks at Old Trafford, Larsson’s free kick in the Sunderland game and the Pedersen dead ball goal against Blackburn are proof. Szczesny was a bit late in reacting, and failed to read the flight of the ball, and when he did, he had little time to react. He has saved some mammoth penalties this season, including the di Natale one in Udinese and Dirk Kuyt against Liverpool. He remains the best bet for being goalkeeper in the coming seasons for the club.

Bacary Sagna

The French right-back has gone from strength to strength, and is probably the best right-back in the league. His performances have been consistent throughout the season. Defensively, he has the ability to break down attacks from the left, with ease. He showed his tenacity against players such as Martin Petrov, Stewart Downing and Gareth Bale, essentially left-wingers. However, when up against very skillful forwards, Sagna does tend to get caught out. For example, Luis Suarez or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic managed to waltz his way past Sagna numerous times, in the 4-0 thumping at the San Siro. What Sagna does best is provide the right platform for Theo Walcott to bomb forward on the right wing, while himself being able to provide thrusts from the back.

The emergence of Alex Song is vital for the good form of Bacary Sagna. What Song does best is rotate in the midfield area right in front of defence. This gives Sagna time to drop back. Though on some instances, Sagna gets caught out when the balls are played far behind him, and he is up against a pacy winger.

Laurent Koscielny

Without a shadow of a doubt, Koscielny is Arsenal’s most improved player this season. He must have felt, what can be called as a ‘culture shock’, when he arrived from Lorient at the start of last season. He was seen as a weakly built defender, who could not get to grips with the pace of the Premier League. However, this season, we have seen nothing short of brilliant from Koscielny. He has been comfortable in dealing with top strikers, the likes of Ba, Aguero, Ibrahimovic, Sessegnon and Adebayor.

What helps Koscielny is his nimble movement, which allows him to transfer his weight while defending against quick opponents. A clear case is how he kept Messi under wraps last season against Barcelona. His reading of the game has improved. In the second leg against AC Milan, it was quite visible the number of interceptions he managed to make. Another feature of Koscielny’s game is getting behind the striker, and taking hold of possesion in crucial positions. By early January, Koscielny ranked 1st in the league in between center backs for tackles at 2.7 per game, 1st in the league between center backs for interceptions with 2.8 per game, 2nd overall with 1.6 off-sides won per game and 30th overall with 5.7 clearances per game. He has put in some fantastic performances this season, which include the win in Marseille and at Chelsea, also the second leg against Milan.

Thomas Vermaelen

As Arsenal’s best defender, Vermaelen brings a lot to the team. Sorely missed through the entirity of last campaign, Vermaelen has played lot more games this season, more so at left-back. He is probably today’s version of Tony Adams, and what Arsenal have missed for so many seasons now, that little bit of steel at the back. Vermaelen, despite his short stature, can get over the striker, to make vital clearances, while his tackles also possess bite. His abilities also mean he has filled in at left-back, which has been a problematic spot for Arsenal this campaign.

The Belgian also brings with him natural marshalling abilities. He knows how to organize defences, to brace for an attack or a corner. His ability going forward is also unquestionable, when he thumped in important goals, namely the equalizer against Fulham, and the winner against Newcastle. What Vermaelen, at times, does lack, is alertness. In the Spurs match, he left acres of space, for Saha to score the first goal. And, against Manchester United, he was not quick enough to react, allowing Valencia to score the opening goal. Also, he can be suspect to that extra bit of injection of pace, as was visible against players like Bale, Robinho and Suarez.

Andre Santos

Santos was signed from Fenerbahce on the last day of the transfer window. He has since appeared 14 times, before his season was cut short in the meaningless Champions League game against Olympiakos. Santos has it in him to be Arsenal’s left back for the next few seasons. He is adventurous, pacy and scores goals. He did take some time to settle into Arsenal’s style of play, but when he seemed like staking down his place, he was dealt with the injury.

Santos loves going forward, probably because of his Brazilian genes, and the fact that he has to fill the boots of a certain Roberto Carlos. He can really bomb up and down the pitch, and scored two fine goals, one against Olympiakos and the other against Chelsea. However, criticism is that he forgets his defensive duties far too often, and that puts pressure back on the central defenders.

Lukasz Fabianski

Fabianski is a bit of a question mark, still. He is usually deployed in cup games, and dead rubber ties. He was horrendous in the Olympiakos game, but did manage to pull of some fine saves in the cup games. However, he is still second best to Szczesny, and I expect him to leave in the summer, for more first-team football.

Carl Jenkinson

Jenkinson, all of 19 years old, was signed from Charlton during the transfer window, and was thrown into the limelight very early, against Udinese in the Champions League and Liverpool in the Premier League, coming on for injured players. He also played in that game at Old Trafford. However, as his performances gradually began to get better, he suffered an injury.

Jenkinson, like Sagna loves to go forward, and like Santos, forgets he is still a defender. Gareth Bale, proved that for a few minutes in the league game in October. Jenkinson needs to work on his pace a bit, and also balancing between defence and attack.

Per Mertesacker

Mertesacker, like Santos was a deadline day signing, probably a desperate signing, rather. He struggled at first against pacy opponents in the Premier League. For example, the game against Norwich, where he was completely caught unaware, or even against Fulham, where he came up against the physicality of Dempsey, Ruiz and Zamora, and against Swansea, where he had to contend with the quick Swansea passing.

However, Mertesacker’s performances have gradually improved. He has vast experience at the international level, donning the German shirt over 70 times. He may lack a bit of pace, but his reading of the game was second to none. His performance against Manchester United stands out, where he kept Danny Wellbeck, the swift striker, quiet for large parts of the game. But, unfotunately even his season has been cut short by injury.

Johan Djourou

Let’s put this into perspective. Johan Djourou is not a bad option for 4th choice centre-back. He has been at Arsenal for 8 years now, and has represented Switzerland 30 times, and he is just 25. The problem with Djourou is, he just cant seem to put in that performance where he can quiet the critics. But instead, he goes from one shambolic display to another. But, is it really his fault that he was played at right-back for most part of the season, whereas his favoured position is centre-back. He had a torrid game against Fulham, and a pathetic game against Manchester United, where he was subbed at half-time. He conceded a penalty against Milan, without which, we had a great chance of going through

Flashes of optimism remain though. He was massive last season, more so in the game against Barcelona where he kept the best attack on the planet, unusually dormant. He played remarkably well in a few games this season, out of position, as well as providing a fine assist in Marseille. Yes, but he still needs to do a lot of work on his defending as well as his pace, if he wants to be a success at this club.

Kieran Gibbs

Gibbs comes from a long line of left-backs in the Arsenal production centre, which has produced the likes of Ashley Cole, Gael Clichy and Armand Traore, all of whom ply their trade elsewhere in the league. Gibbs, essentially, is very similiar to the player I mentioned, in terms of his game. He is defensively sound, and good going forward, and does have the ability of scoring an odd goal in a season.

He does have pace, but at times can be easily knackered by bulkier, more physical opponents. However, he seems willing to improve. He is all of 21, and has put in a fine performances this season, in the few times he has played. I do expect Arsene Wenger to keep Gibbs as second fiddle to Santos.

Nico Yennaris

Yennaris has been one of the revelations this season, though not to the scale of, say, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He played in the League Cup games against Shrewsbury and Bolton, but his biggest performance, was against Manchester United, when he came on to replace a hapless Djourou. He tracked Nani exceptionally well, and never allowed the Portugese winger to get in some decent crosses. He provides good stability at right-back.

Sebastien Squillaci

One of Arsene Wenger’s poorest signings, again, though, I have to say, he is not a bad player to have as 5th choice centre-half. He has appeared over 20 times for France, and has experienced French and Spanish football. Of course, the English game is a completely different ball game, and at age 31, I wouldn’t expect Squillaci to flourish much. He could be shown the door at the end of the season.

Ignasi Miquel

Another young player to look forward to, Ignasi Miquel looks a polished young defender, at the raw age of 19. He has put in some good performances, usually out of position at left-back in the League Cup and against Manchester City and Swansea in the league.

LOWDOWN

So, now that we have seen Arsenal’s defenders, what really is Arsenal’s best defensive unit.

At right-back, there can be no question about Bacary Sagna. He has been Arsenal’s most consistent player over the last 4 seasons.

At centre-back, Arsene Wenger has a pleasant problem on his hands, as he gets to choose between 3 world-class defenders. While Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, look a great pair, and complement each others styles, Thomas Vermaelen adds that extra bit of steel to the defence. I think Laurent Koscielny is one of the first names on the team sheet. The choice between Vermaelen and Mertesacker is a tough one, but I think Vermaelen just edges it.

At left-back, too, Arsene Wenger has a happy problem. Andre Santos has bags of experience, while Kieran Gibbs is young, raw and English. I think Andre Santos edges it here, because of his overall play.

SUMMARY

So, the answer to the question, how good is Arsenal’s defence?

Martin Keown, in an interview recently told that Arsenal’s defence is as good as any other in the league. I certainly think so, they are. A defence of Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Santos looks strong on paper. Arsenal need to stop making ridiculous errors, if they are to win any silverware next season. They have already conceded 39 goals in just 28 games, and that number needs to reduce.

I am no big football analyst, but Desi Gunner is. I read this amazing article, about Arsenal’s defensive issues. It is a must read.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in General

 

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Chelsea circus, Liverpool aftermath and Milan revenge

Welcome to another brilliant Monday, Gooners. It is that time of the week again, when your team has won on the weekend, and gives you that ‘on-top-of-the-world’ feeling.

Of course, it doesn’t top the feeling we had last Sunday, when we trounced Sp*rs, but certainly comparable, considering that all other results went our way elsewhere in the Premier League. Niklas Bendtner did us a bit of a favour, albeit his face-mask, as Sunderland, yes, those muggers, drew Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby. West Brom too put in a spirited display and beat a clueless Chelsea. And, though we hate Manchester United to every shred, they did us a favour by orchestrating a daylight robbery at Shit Fart Lane.

He ain't half bad, that Dane, after all!

The biggest news from the weekend, apart from the Suarez dive, and the Henderson elbow is the sacking of yet another Chelsea manager. The victim this time was Andre Villas Boas, a young manager, who was tipped to be the top manager in the continent in few years’ time. It is but one in a long list of managerial casualties at Stamford Bridge, a list which has the likes of Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Hiddink and Ancelotti. Roman Abrahamovich certainly has done another error there.

Jose Mourinho won them their first league title in 2005, after a hiatus of 50 years, and by 2006, they had another league title. Apart from that, he also won Chelsea the League Cup twice, and the FA Cup once, and for once it seemed that the era of Manchester United domination in the Premier League had come to an end. After a 2nd placed finish in 2006-2007, and a poor start to the 2007-08 campaign, Mourinho was sacked. It seemed a very poor decision at the time, and clearly, Abrahamovich’s insistence on playing players like Andriy Shevchenko, who clearly looked out of place in the Premier League, among other decisions, cost Mourinho his job. Replacing the charismatic Portugese was a dull Israeli, Avram Grant, who took the Blues to their first Champions League Final, which they eventually lost on penalties to Manchester United, who did the double that season.

Luiz Felipe Scolari was given the boot after 7 months in charge, which is hardly enough time to judge a manager’s tenure. Hiddink replaced him, and despite a quite good reign, he wasn’t offered a permanent contract. Instead, it was offered to Carlo Ancelotti, who won the double, i.e the Premier League and the FA Cup, in his first full season. On the way to the league title, they set the record for the highest goals in a season, at 103. One season later, Ancelotti was sacked, after he failed to win anything. And, now Villas Boas has suffered the same fate.

League Managers’ Association chief executive Richard Bevan, had this to say, on the Chelsea managerial saga.

What is for sure is that, despite unlimited wealth, they haven’t worked out how to build a successful football club,Looking for his [owner Roman Abramovich’s] eighth manager in nine years is a serious embarrassment.If a club has frequent managerial changes, you will have that sort of situation,When you take over a football club, you must ensure there are clear agreed objectives and goals right from the start. You must make sure that you manage expectations from the players, everyone at the club, the fans and even the media.Players need to know the manager’s strategy and job is not in question and there is a clear remit. You get success if you have time and stability comes from that, otherwise it’s very difficult for a manager like Andre to impose his philosophy and build a team.

Anyways, enough of the circus, that is named Chelsea, for now. The hero for Arsenal, right now, Robin van Persie won the man of the match champagne bottle, but he later handed it to Wojciech Szczesny, who saved a penalty, and made made numerous other saves, to win the game. He was also full of praise for Bacary Sagna, and Alex Song, both of who assisted the goals. Moreover, the moment of the game was surely van Persie kissing Song’s boots, after the Cameroonian’s delightful assist. It was a goal akin to the one RVP scored against Everton at home.

It was the same pass from the same guy, Alex, an unbelievable pass,This one I hit with the inside of my foot, but again it was an unbelievable pass.Alex is a really good player, he can see it and actually do it. And I have to thank Szczesny as well.

Arsene Wenger and Szczesny both admitted that Liverpool deserved to win the game, and that they killed us in the first half.

There were two men of the match today, Wojciech Szczesny and van Persie.It means a lot, to score at Anfield is big because Anfield is a massive ground,I’m proud of that, but even more proud of this win. I don’t think we really deserved it to be honest because Liverpool played better.I think we are 10 points ahead of Liverpool now and we can wait to see what Spurs do tomorrow (against Manchester United). It’s a big win, a massive win.

Arsenal’s Polish goalkeeper paid tribute to the manager, as well.

He made me the No 1 goalkeeper at Arsenal at 20 years of age. That gives you a lot of confidence and I am just trying to repay that faith with every single performance.I have had my ups and down, but the manager keeps believing in me and I hope that performances like this just prove him right.

Szczesny has come a long way since his debut at Old Trafford. The moment when he patted Koscielny after he scored a rather unfortunate own goal, takes us back to the bygone era of the famous Back Four. I do think Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos and Szczesny have the ability to become as great as Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Seaman. Of course, they will take their time, and I hope they will be ready for it next season.

Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta recovered in time to leave for London, with the team bus, according to reports. It was a really nice gesture from Liverpool fans to applaud the former Everton midfielder. Arteta, later said,

I have suffered the biggest fear of my life, I only remember the fall by the blow and nothing after. It was terrifying but now I am better. Sincerely, I do not remember too much apart from the impact. I have heard people applauded me as I left the field and I am grateful for this reception.

While we are about injuries, Jack Wilshere is slated to return towards the end of the season, and hopefully in time for the European Championships. It has been a frustrating season for the young Englishman, who has seen his returning date being postponed several times. Arsene Wenger is remaining cautious in this case.

We have good news but Jack isn’t close to a ­comeback,The last scan was good and he can start to jog again so he is on the way back – but we have to be very cautious with him.I hope to have him back before the end of the season, but we go step by step.

One player who returned to action was Abou Diaby. He played about half-an-hour, replacing Arteta at Anfield, and looked lively during his time on the pitch. Unfortunately, or rather, as usual, he has suffered a setback. Another ‘tight hamstring’, means he is out of contention to play the Milan game tomorrow. Other doubts are Kieran Gibbs and Yossi Benayoun.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in no way related to Roman Abrahamovich, recently revealed in an interview that one of the proudest moments of his career, was when he was given an Arsenal shirt, with his name behind it. He told he was made an offer by Arsenal, but declined it, instead, to join Ajax, citing the reason that Arsene Wenger didn’t want him enough. Rather than buy him out right, he was offered a trial at the club, which to him was demeaning. He says he had enough trust on his ability, and that Arsenal should have made a direct offer for him. How self-obsessed can one be? I hope, sooner or later, we extract revenge from this egoistic Swede, who thinks he is better than Pele.

Finally, ahead of the Milan game, Arsene Wenger says that the Gunners will give it their all, in the second leg, despite virtually being out.

We want to make the impossible possible. From the first leg it looks impossible but we have to have a real go, play with belief and think we can do it.You never know. Maybe I will change the structure of the team to go for it and see if we can put them under pressure and score some goals.We have nothing to lose. For us to find the right balance between having to completely go forward and not concede a goal will be the difficulty for us because they have talented players.We have a lot to answer for and to respond to in the second leg. Everyone expects us to be out, but we are not yet, we are still in there.We look decimated after the game. I don’t know who will be available on Tuesday night. Maybe I will play with six strikers as we have to score goals!

Seems highly unlikely, that we will knock Milan out, but as a Gunner fan for a long time, I am highly optimistic. Of course, Milan are no Blackburn or Sp*rs, but we have to believe in the team and its abilities.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in General

 

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Dutchmen, Young Guns, Profits, Szczesny, Injuries, Reyes, Internationals + Liverpool Preview & Lineups

Liverpool vs Arsenal, Anfield, Premier League

Kickoff – 12:45 GMT (18:15 IST), 3rd March 2012

Another weekend, and with it comes another ‘cup tie’. This weekend, it gets bigger. Yes, bigger, because this time we are playing a club, bestowed with success throughout its history, added to by last week’s Carling Cup victory; unlike last week, where we had to show Spu*s, where they stand in the scheme of things.

The Liverpool game could be one of the major games of our season. It comes at a very delicate time. With just 12 games left in the season, Arsenal will have to find atleast 10 wins if they want to make sure of that 4th spot. Chelsea are breathing down our necks, and separate us only by virtue of head-to-head. Liverpool, themselves, boosted by their Carling Cup triumph, will look to push on. They are 7 points behind us, with a game in hand, of course. Newcastle have defied all odds and remain in contention too.

The match could be a cagey affair though. Liverpool have struggled to score goals this season, and suspension to their best striker, who missed a total of 9 games due to bans, hasn’t helped either. With it, coinciding was the form (rather the lack of it) of Andy Carroll. The bulky striker has scored just 3 times in 23 league appearances. Add to that, long term injuries for Gerrard and Lucas, two vital players for Liverpool. To compound the frustration, Liverpool have been unlucky at times. They have hit the goalpost highest number of times, this Premier League campaign, and this has resulted in failure to convert draws to wins, at home. Kenny Dalglish has managed his resources remarkably well this campaign, ensuring progress in cup competitions.

Liverpool’s defence, however has been stifling. They have played a consistent back 4 of Johnson, Skrtel, Agger and Enrique, and are a well-drilled unit, having conceded only 23 goals in 25 games. Arsenal on the other hand have conceded 37 goals, in 26 games, and have used an entire 11 at their back. These include Sagna, Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Squillaci, Santos, Gibbs, Miquel and Coquelin. Funny, ain’t it?

While Arsenal have managed to bang in 53 goals, Liverpool have managed a paltry 29. The game will be a combined result of two battles. One is an attack which can’t score against a defence which can’t stop conceding, and the other is an attack which can’t stop scoring, against a defence that rarely concedes. Seems like we have a cracker jacker of a game on our hands.

Meanwhile, Arsenal chairman Peter Hill Wood has paid a tribute to the clubs two premier strikers, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.

It was a special moment to have Henry back with us for his statue unveiling. This was only surpassed by that winning goal against Leeds United on his return to action in an Arsenal shirt during his loan period with the Club. It was a truly memorable football moment from an outstanding Arsenal servant.

I would like to recognise another outstanding Arsenal servant, our captain Robin van Persie.He has been in tremendous form and has scored many spectacular and valuable goals.In addition, he has proved to be an exceptional leader of the team and I am delighted by his contribution on and off the pitch.

Riding high on the Spurs win, van Persie has been subject of interest among the football world, regarding his contract. While clubs like AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid look to price away Arsenal’s most prized asset, the Dutchman has gone out to say he is fully committed to the Arsenal cause.

There have been a lot of stories, generally contradictory ones, about my contract situation recently so I’d like to make it clear,There’s nothing complicated or sinister – the club and I have both agreed to speak at the end of the season and see how things stand. The boss, Ivan Gazidis and I are all comfortable with it.I need all my focus to be on football – on captaining this team, improving every day, doing extra work on the training pitch and preparing for the very busy schedule of fixtures we have.

I have been there for eight years and I’m proud. At the end of the season I will it down with the trainer and the president. Then we make a cup of coffee all together.I am a true Gunner. I love this club and that’s no secret. We will soon talk about many things. I do quite often with the trainer anyway. Only later on is the president there.

Arsenal fans will certainly hope so. RVP staying at Arsenal could hinge on whether the club manages to qualify for next year’s Champions League. Actually, a lot of things hinge in it. It could affect our transfer kitty, which means the likes of Podolski and Gotze, certainly won’t be arriving at the Emirates. We wouldn’t be able to attract too many good players, either. Our best players, more importantly, van Persie, could be on their way out in search of a Champions League club.

Dennis Bergkamp showered praises on his compatriot, and the successor to his throne.

He has been playing in a role which is very difficult,I think it’s easier for a guy like Robin or me to play behind the striker, and feed the main striker and sometimes get the space to do your own thing. But basically he is the one up front who has to make a difference, which puts a lot of pressure on him, but it seems like he can deal with it. It seems he can make the difference time after time and in my opinion that describes a great player. It’s fantastic how he has developed himself, and players like that deserve trophies. So I honestly hope that comes soon, because his character and style of play is fantastic.

As soon as he trained with us you could see his potential,He seemed free, he played with a lot of freedom. You could see immediately he was a very talented player.I got to know him a bit, obviously with us both being Dutch, so I tried to help him with a few things. You could really tell that he’s a good person, a good lad, and totally the opposite to the stories that were coming out of Holland at the time about him. They said he was a difficult character, wouldn’t listen to experienced players and so on, but he was a great example of a player making the right move at the right time. He joined a settled team with a lot of big players, and from day one he respected those players and listened to them, and I think that helped him a lot.

Meanwhile, another Dutchman contradicted another Dutchman’s statement. Recently, AC Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel came out and said van Persie would be perfect for AC Milan. However, his AC Milan team mate Clarence Seedorf, feels van Persie should stay put.

A player must not leave a club because one is not in the Champions League. There must be other reasons. Van Persie gives Arsenal a lot, but he must not forget that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in particular, have given him a lot, they have been waiting for him and given him time to show his true potential. If Van Persie leaves, it should certainly not be because they will not participate in the CL.

Moving on to the transfer rumour mill, the Lukas Podolski story seems to be getting bigger and bigger everyday. The German tabloid Bild published that the 26 year old German striker has already signed a pre-contract agreement with the Gunners, and will definitely sign in the summer. To what extent, these are true, I have no idea. But, being an Arsenal fan for so many years, I wouldn’t believe in it unless it is on the Arsenal website. Meanwhile, rumours suggest that Fiorentina have offered Marouanne Chamakh an escape route, and will place a £6 million bid for him in the summer. That is actually great, if we could get so much for a flop, whom we had acquired on a free transfer.

While we are about the subject of strikers, RVP has heaped praise on reserve striker Benik Afobe.

I was delighted to see Benik Afobe back in the Reserves on Tuesday night, scoring against Norwich. Six months is a long time out at his age, especially when he did really well with the first team over pre-season making fast progress. He’s returned impressively though – I watched him in training ten days ago while I was doing my warm down and he looked really strong and quick, a proper English striker who holds the ball up well and works very hard.When you’re young you just want to be playing, improving your game and making your career, and he was denied that for a long time. To come back as he’s doing is tremendous – he’s a fantastic lad, a really good character to have in the squad and a player I genuinely rate, so I’m really proud of him,He absolutely loves his football and treats it very seriously. That’s the main thing for a young footballer – if you really love the game like he does then you will make it, and he has everything to become a great player.

The future seems bright for Arsenal, with young talent like Szczesny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Frimpong, Wilshere, Afobe, Lansbury, Miyaichi and Oxlade-Chamberlain coming close to the first team.

And while, we are still about strikers and talented players, Emmanuel Frimpong, who is out with a long term injury, spoke fondly of his time on loan at Wolves. He also praised striker Steven Fletcher.

I think Steven Fletcher is a good player, I told him to come to Arsenal!Stephen Ward at left-back isn’t bad either. They’ve got decent players, and the thing about them is that everyone works so hard. They base everything around work – people there even told me they haven’t got the ability of some of the teams in the Premier League and need to make up for that by working hard and I think that’s the right attitude.As a footballer you sometimes have to make decisions, and I think going to Wolves was probably the best thing I could have done.They may not have been doing too well, but the manager [recently departed Mick McCarthy] was very good to me – I think it’s very important to go to a manager who likes you, and he showed belief in me.He put me in the team, and I’m just happy that I was able to do him proud on the pitch. I had a great time, and if I come back from injury and need some games then I’d be happy to go back there.

Moving on, the club has announced the interim financial results, which boasts of a healthy profit, owing to player sales. Following are some of the main features of the announcement.

Group profit before tax was £49.5 million (2010 – loss of £6.1 million).

Profit on sale of player registrations amounted to £63.0 million (2010 – £4.0 million).

£74.7 million of investment in new players and extended contracts pushed amortisation charges up to £17.3 million (2010 – £10.1 million).

The resulting profit from player trading was £46.1 million (2010 – loss of £5.9 million).

Turnover from football rose to £113.5 million (2010 – £97.6 million) with increases from match-day (4 additional games played) and commercial income streams.

Operating profits (before depreciation and player trading) from football increased to £15.2 million (2010 – £9.4 million).

Period of minimal activity, as expected, in the property business with turnover of £3.2 million (2010 – £22.5 million) and operating profits of £0.5 million (2010 – £3.3 million).

Group has no short-term debt and continues to have a solid financial platform from cash reserves of £115.2 million (2010 – £110.4 million).

I am not very sure what these mean, as to if the manager will have all of it at his disposal, should he decide to splash the cash on reinforcements. It will be interesting to see.

Going back to the Spurs reaction then, one enduring image is that of our young Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny performing a somersault and hugging a ball boy during the match. He is gonna be a legend!He was full of praise for Arsenal’s frontline.

It is comparable to that of beating Barcelona. “It is a great feeling, probably one of the best I have ever had. Every single goal felt better than the previous one and I was celebrating quite energetically. But I loved it. It is the first time I have beaten Spurs and it is just great.

Theo scored two goals, which is all you can ask for,They were both very good. He has come under a little bit of stick for his finishing but he took those two very well and we are very pleased for him. He’s a very good lad and he is probably one of the best trainers in the dressing room.  He works very hard every day, scores a lot of goals in training and just needs to get the goals in games. But we are very pleased for him and we hope he can do it all over again in the games from now.

He’s not bad is he?(RVP) He only scored one goal today though, which is really disappointing for him! We are used to him scoring a hat-trick.But he set up a couple and he was great. He worked very hard defensively, headed a few balls away when we defended corners and scored a fantastic goal.That’s what he is all about – he is the best player in the Premier League and we are very pleased to have him.

After what we have done, we believe we can challenge Tottenham. We have the momentum. Will there be psychological effects for them? As an Arsenal fan, I hope so. I said ages ago that we can’t realistically win the Premier League any more but now, my main ambition is to finish above Tottenham.You can see that we are not any worse than them and when we have the momentum and are on the front foot, we are very dangerous. I hope we can use that to our advantage and get the momentum to start challenging.

Legend!

Per Mertesacker, who is nursing an injury, and watched the game from the sidelines, too was full of praise.

As you can imagine, the Champions League game was torture. And on Sunday it didn’t look good for half an hour or so. But then I thought: wow, that’s some cool club – they are turning it around!I almost felt like in the old days, when I followed Arsenal from a distance and felt like a fan: “This is a great club!” I am really proud of being part of a team that is capable of putting in a performance like that.I’m already looking forward to being back in London next week (to watch the Milan second-leg), because it is annoying – especially in your first season – to be away from the team on account of an injury. You want to spend as much time as possible with your new team-mates.

On his own injury, the Big F*cking German had this to say.

I can report that all’s going pretty well for me, to be more precise: for my ankle. I was able to put aside the crutches relatively quicklyI’m able to walk rather normally thanks to a custom-made boot and a splint that prevents the ankle from twisting. The condition has become more and more stable by the day, so I’m quite light on my feet.The ankle is still swollen, but since I’m walking daily more and more fluid is being, so to speak, “lymph drained”. I’m really happy about that.It’s only when we get to the phase of placing load on the foot that we’ll be able to see what we’re looking at, in terms of the length of the lay-off.

Speaking of injuries, Johan Djourou has suffered a muscle tear on his right thigh, and could be out of action for a month. My first reaction was, this is great news. But then, I realised that another injury to a centre-back and we will have Sebastien Squillaci strutting about there. That ain’t a pretty sight. I would certainly hope Ignasi Miquel to be next choice centre back. Wenger recently told Djourou will be fit for the Milan game.

Meanwhile, Andre Santos nears to first team action, after a long term injury, which he sustained in the dead rubber Champions League game against Olympiakos. Wenger told,

He is doing good, he is not far as well – two weeks away from returning to the group. It is a bit ahead of time and he works with a fantastic attitude. He is unbelievably focused, motivated every day and he is a credit to himself. It is a joy to see how hard he works and sets himself targets. In two weeks we will assess how well he is doing in training.

Moving forward, the club has announced it will play Manchester City in Beijing, more specifically the ‘Bird’s Nest’, the beautiful arena built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, on July 27th in preparation for the new season. It will certainly set tone for the season. Ivan Gazidis had this to say.

Further to our hugely successful visit to Hangzhou in 2011, everyone at Arsenal is extremely excited to once again be visiting China this year.We enjoy huge support in Asia and by playing a match in Beijing, we will once again be bringing the Club close to our loyal fans in China. The players and staff had an amazing time in China last year and we are all looking forward to visiting this great country again in July.The match against Manchester City is sure to be an exciting spectacle, with many great players from both sides playing in front of thousands of supporters in the wonderful ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium. It is also fitting that two English clubs are playing each other on the opening day of the London 2012 Olympics, in the stadium which hosted the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

This friendly, along with further friendlies in Hong Kong and Nigeria are to replace the Emirates Cup, which has been cancelled owing to police shortages in the English capital during the Olympics.

Spanish striker Jose Antonio Reyes recently spoke to the Arsenal magazine, and reminisced fondly his time in North London.

I have nothing but positive and happy memories of that time,I follow their matches whenever I have time and I always hope the best for them. At the time I joined it was really exciting, one of those experiences where you pinch yourself to make sure it’s actually happening to you. It was a big step to take at that time but my family and girlfriend supported me a lot.I felt happy and flattered about Arsenal’s interest, and I left Spain to go and win titles with them, which I achieved – but it was a big leap.I have to say that everybody was very, very helpful, and not just the players and the staff at the Club. I found the people in England to be very kind.I did not realise it so much at the time but after the job was done I started to realise that I, we, were part of football history and that we had written ourselves into the history books,I think all of us who were part of it treasure that particular season. The intensity of the emotions was incredible. At times like that, you feel proud and self-confident. You feel you are doing a good job. You feel happy, you feel strong. And you feel you took the right step in your career.

Reyes made a huge impact when he came to Arsenal in early 2004. After a reasonably good year, his form dipped, and he never really fulfilled his potential. He soon moved to Real Madrid on loan, scoring 2 goals in the final game of the season in 2007, to hand Real the Spanish League. He has since played for Atletico Madrid and Benfica.

Internationals, then. Overhyped and overrated England took on Netherlands at Wembley and ended losing 3-2, thanks to a masterclass from Arjen Robben. Arsenal fans, for sure, were more concerned about the fitness of Robin van Persie, and there must have been a collective sigh of relief when he was bought off at half-time. News had percolated before the match that van Persie had walked off with a slight problem 10 minutes before the end of a light training session. But, then, he played, and Dutch coach Bert van Maarwijk bought him off at half-time.

After the weekend, Arsene Wenger stated that both Tomas, and Thomas hare injured, and are big doubts for the Liverpool clash. However, Vermaelen played 90 minutes against Greece, for Belgium. Which mean, he is fit, but exhausted. Rosicky didn’t feature for Czech Republic against Republic of Ireland. And there was no mention about him in the press conference, which is slightly puzzling.

Moving on, on loan Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury scored a brace for England U-21’s, one of which was an absolute screamer. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, too got on the scoresheet. Elsewhere, Gervinho, Alex Song, Park Chu-Young, Szczesny,Benayoun etc. all were away on international duties. Szczesny kept out Cristiano Ronaldo and Co., while Ukraine beat Benayoun’s Israel 3-2. Andrei Arshavin, too scored for Russia in a 2-0 win over Denmark. Chamakh featured in Morocco’s 2-0 win over Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, Yossi Benayoun recently revealed he is frustrated at the lack of opportunities at Arsenal, where he has fallen down the pecking order below Rosicky, Arteta and Ramsey.

To play 88 minutes, especially in a derby, is a great pleasure. I enjoyed every minute of it, but I still don’t know what will be next week because at Arsenal you are at the top and the competition is tough.The bottom line is that I’m not playing enough games. I haven’t been given enough opportunities.

I scored the winner at Aston Villa and made a goal in the next game. But for some reason I didn’t get opportunities after that, even though the team had a string of disappointing results. But I still believe in myself and that I will play much more.My inclination at the moment is to sign for a mid-table team and play another two or three years.

I do like Benayoun as a player. Not just because he scored against Spu*s in 2006, whilst in a West Ham shirt, to hand us 4th place, and a place in the Champions League. He is quite a talented player, and has good experience in the Premier League, having played for West Ham, Liverpool and Chelsea. He is a good passer of the ball, and as last week suggested, he can stamp his authority in midfield. Unfortunately, his Arsenal stint has come at the wrong time in his career. He is 32, and hence the reason behind him saying that he would want to turn up for a mid-table team. I think an Everton, Newcastle or Aston Villa would suit the Israeli perfectly.

Team news, then. Speaking in his pre-match conference, Wenger revealed that 3 important players will have scans ahead of the game, but he is expecting them to be fit. They are Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Thomas Vermaelen.

I do not know if they will play, Personally I think international friendlies are becoming more difficult to accept. It’s difficult to understand that our players had to go away when injured, it’s disrespectful to the players.

It could spark another country vs club debate. Clubs lose their best players to injury in meaningless friendlies. It has happened in the past to Arsenal at a worrying rate. Players have aggravated their injuries by playing unrequired international games in the midst of a hectic domestic schedule.

If all goes well, it would be interesting to see how the midfield shapes up. Whether Benayoun will keep his place, after impressing in the Spu*s game, or whether Wenger will decide to deploy wingers, namely Chamberlain and Gervinho. One should also remember that Alex Song and Gervinho will be returning from long trips to Africa. Moreover, Gervinho returned from the Africa Cup of Nations, just a couple of weeks back, and him flying back for the friendly, goes to show how poorly framed the fixtures are. I would expect Wenger to rest Benayoun and give a start to Chamberlain. It would mean we could be susceptible to losing a central midfield battle to Liverpool. One player returning for Arsenal is Abou Diaby, and he will be expected to feature in next week’s league game against Newcastle.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of Steven Gerrard. After playing the full 120 minutes in an absorbing League Cup final, Gerrard injured himself in the meaningless friendly. Daniel Agger is out for a month after he cracked a rib in the League Cup Final, which means a fresh Jamie Carragher will start. Liverpool have a host of options in midfield, namely the defensive-minded Jay Spearing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. Stewart Downing is expected to start after putting in a fine display in the Carling Cup final, which earned him the Man of the Match award. They also have the option of the industrious Dirk Kuyt. Up front, Craig Bellamy has looked lively. Andy Carroll’s performances seem to be improving gradually, while Suarez still seems a bit affected by the racism scandal. I would expect Dalglish to keep faith in Suarez and Carroll, again.

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

As you can see Liverpool’s midfield does look slightly imbalanced. Spearing or Henderson should take up the defensive midfielder’s role. Gerrard will gradually drift towards the centre, to support Adam, while Downing will run the left flank. Bellamy or Kuyt are other options on the flanks or in strike, depending on Dalglish’s decision to go with one or two marksmen. All in all, we are set for an enthralling midfield battle.

A lot hinges on this game, regarding who will finish 4th. If Arsenal win, they will move to within 4 points of 3rd place Spurs, who play on Sunday against Manchester United. With Chelsea playing away at West Brom, and Newcastle at home in their derby against Sunderland, Liverpool could move up to 4 points of Chelsea and Arsenal, with a game in hand.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy the game!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Eisfeld, Arshavin, Wilshere, Wenger and Bolton…

Bolton Wanderers vs Arsenal, Reebok Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 (01:30 IST), 1 February 2012

So, the January transfer window has finally shut. Well, it doesn’t make much difference to the Arsenal team, anyways. Gooners around the world, waited in anticipation and agony, and in hope against hope, that Arsene Wenger will finally bow down to their wishes and sign one massive player for a truckload of money, who would transform the fortunes of the club, and more concerningly, the immediate on-field problems.

Of course, that didn’t happen. We signed one massive player though, who has a legendary status at the club, a beard and has taken 34 revolutions around the sun. His name is Thierry Henry. He also has the small matter of 226 goals marked across his name.

Lots of banter coming in about the second signing though.

Wenger: Can we have Gotze?

Dortmund: No.

Wenger: Can we have Kagawa?

Dortmund: No.

Wenger: Can we have Barrios?

Dortmund: No.

Wenger: Can we have Großkreutz?

Dortmund: No.

Wenger: HMMM..(About to hang up, a few freckles formed on his forehead)

Dortmund: Hang, on a second. You can have Thomas Eisfeld for £420,000.

Wenger: Really? WOW!! OK, I will take him.

And thats how the very exciting transfer window grinded to a halt. We have an unknown midget from the minehouses of Dortmund, who will soon be bossing our midfield. Here’s hoping we have unearthed a gem. Arsene Wenger certainly thinks so.

“Thomas is a player we have liked for some time.We’ve watched him closely this season, where he has excelled for Dortmund’s youth team.He is young but has proven to us that he can play, that he has the attitude and technical ability to be a valuable addition to our squad.”

Gotze's poorer cousin!

Meanwhile, there were some players going out on loan for the rest of the season. Chuks Aneke extended his loan spell at Stevenage. Let’s hope he can score the winner against Tottenham in the FA Cup 5th Round. Riyo Miyachi, a schoolboy a year ago, has been loaned out to tonight’s opponents, Bolton. Let’s hope he returns a Wilshere. Sanchez Watt, another youngster, who has spent spells at Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, has joined FA Cup high-flyers Crawley Town. And there could be one more exit. Anzhi Makhachkala (hope I got that right) are keeping tabs on out-of-sorts Russian playmaker Andriy Arshavin. The Russian transfer window closes in 3 weeks time, giving them plenty of time to hammer out a deal.

Arshavin has a mixed time in the English capital. After sparkling performance for Russia in the European Championships in 2008, he was under the radar of various clubs across Europe, including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. However, Arsenal was his destination as a last-second deal was clinched on February 2nd. His impact was instant. He scored a brilliant goal from a narrow angle against Blackburn Rovers and then was a crowd favourite after he put up a once-in-a-lifetime performance at Anfield, netting past Liverpool 4 times. In the 2009-2010 season, he was played as a striker in most of the games, thanks to the club’s huge injury list. He further scored 12 goals and made 7 assists through the season.

Throughout the season, he was a popular figure in the English media. First, for his voice, where he was compared with a meerkat. And then, for his views on English weather and driving women. He despised the gloomy English weather as well as female hands behind a steering wheel.

The meerkat and his poorer cousin!

His 3rd season, he will be fondly remembered for the winner against Barcelona, which came at the end of a well-worked move, and was probably Arsenal’s best European performance in a long-long time.

But, this season had been the low-point for the burly Russian. He has looked completely out of sorts and the Emirates crowd has been unforgiving. There have been complaints about his willingness and his concentration. He has had the odd effort though, against Bolton (Carling Cup), Leeds and QPR, where did much of what was constructive. The lowest ebb came when he came on to replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the match against Manchester United. A chorus of boos greeted him as he ambled his way on to the pitch. At that moment, I really felt for the guy. But, probably, a fresh challenge would do both, him and the club good.

Anyways, enough about Arshavin, for now. Arsenal welcomed back Coquelin, Arteta, Henry and Sagna back into the team against Aston Villa, after all suffered uneven times out in the physio room. Arteta will be the most important man back. He has been the fulcrum in the engine room and has been sorely missed in the defeats to Swansea and Manchester United. Sagna, who injured himself in the North London derby, back in October, is another player who has been sorely missed. His deputy, Carl Jenkinson, also fell prey to the injury monster. Wenger has since played Djourou, Coquelin, Koscielny and Yennaris at right-back, all to various success levels. Stability at that position is vital, and Sagna, who has been Arsenal’s most consistent player, over the course of 4 seasons, provides exactly that. Also, Arsenal welcome back Kieran Gibbs, who has resumed training with the squad and should be fit for the Blackburn game over the weekend.

Staying in the physio room, Jack Wilshere suffered another ‘setback’, which could keep him out for another 6-8 weeks, or probably the end of the season. This is really bad news, and probably sparked the Eisfeld signing. Arsene Wenger had this to say on the young midfielders’ setback.

“Jack is gutted. It is a massive disappointment, but I am really disappointed for him as well because he is a football animal. I am so sad that at that age you have to be out for such a long time with not any obvious reason. If you had told me that Jack would not have played one game by February, I would have said ‘that is impossible’. We miss that little burst from Jack. Let’s hope it goes well and we have good news from the specialists.”

And while we are about it, Eisfeld is another injury-prone player. He had an extensive medical at the club, before he was signed, and also a training session, to monitor his fitness levels. He had suffered a horror injury to his anterior cruciate ligaments (whatever that is!) in 2009. All we can hope is he can keep himself fit and be a vital player for the team.

And yes, while we are still about it, I got an interesting stat online. Since August 2002, Arsenal has suffered 138 more injuries than Chelsea to first team squad members. In the same period, Arsenal has suffered 86 more injuries than Manchester United.

2009/10 AFC 79; MUFC 55; CFC 52
2008/09 AFC 74; MUFC 62; CFC 46
2007/08 AFC 60; MUFC 53; CFC 42

To what extent these stats are true, I have no idea. But, it does make you think what may be the reason. Is it bad luck or just that we sign injury-prone players, who suffer long times out in the primes of their career, and are not the same when they make their returns.

Moving, on the Aston Villa game has been one of the highlights of the season so far. 2-0 down at half-time and 3-2 up, in 16 minutes of the second half is no ordinary feat. So, what exactly might have ignited that comeback. There have been reports of the captain falling out with the manager after the Manchester United loss. But, van Persie was quick to dismiss them all. And, celebrations in the Villa game, have raised a suspicion or two. van Persie raced his way to celebrate his second goal with Thierry Henry, while he gave Wenger as much as a little look.

Yes, I am blowing things out of proportion here. Henry, Vermaelen and van Persie did have a word or two with the team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things are falling apart in the team. Arsene Wenger still reigns supreme and has a control over all things on the field. Theo Walcott revealed later, what van Persie’s words were at half-time.

“Come on we want to win this trophy, we must win this game!”

And, supposedly, Wenger had this to say.

“You can feel sorry for yourself or show you have the mental qualities to play for this Club.”

Walcott has been doing a lot of talking about winning a trophy for the fans. And that flukey goal over the weekend did the credentials no harm. Meanwhile, Robin van Persie escaped a possible match-ban after Villa boss Alex McLeish claimed he had elbowed his player, Carlos Cuellar. (Go, find yourself a different reason, McLeish!).

And, in other news, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been given the backing of Arsene Wenger, to be selected for England, for EURO 2012.

“You cannot rule it out – we will see in the next three months, If he does well, why not? It is not because you are young that you cannot play. We live in a world of immediacy.I would not have expected him to be so mature in September because he still looked like a boy.Now suddenly he looks like he can take pressure and that he has the personality to produce under pressure.”

‘The Ox’ was thrown into the limelight in the disastrous mauling at Old Trafford, which I don’t want to talk about. Since then, he has put on impressive displays, whenever he has played, scoring goals against Shrewsbury in the League Cup and Olympiakos in the Champions League; his most impressive performance coming in the 2-1 loss at home to Manchester United. He has drawn comparisons with England’s best striker at the moment, Wayne Rooney, who is similiar in build and style of play.

Well, all’s well that end’s well, we are in the 5th Round of the FA Cup, and will face either Sunderland/Middlesbrough, away from home, on 18th February. The FA Cup seems to be Arsenal’s best bet of a trophy this campaign, considering we are 18 points adrift of the leaders, and we will face Barcelona in the next round of the Champions League, should we ward off AC Milan (It’s a conspiracy). With heavyweights Manchester City and Manchester United, both knocked out; the remaining giants Arsenal and Liverpool, along with Tottenham and Chelsea, are favorites to life the famous cup.

Moving on to the game tonight. Bolton will be particularly hard to beat, this time around. Last time, Arsenal trounced them 3-0, thanks to a red card brandished to Dave Wheater, in a game, in which van Persie scored his 100th Arsenal goal. Bolton went on a terrible run, and occupied the last spot in the league for long periods, but since the turn of the year, they have picked up vital results. They have beaten Everton and Liverpool in the league and ensured progress in the FA Cup with wins over Macclesfield and Swansea. Their last game against Liverpool was the best performance from the Trotters this season. Having lost to Manchester United, 3-0, just a week earlier, they put in a battling performance against the Reds.

This time round, the battle will be won in the midfield. Bolton captain Nigel Reo-Coker and Fabrice Muamba will look to cut all supply lines leading to van Persie, managed by Ramsey and Arteta. David N’Gog put in a good performance against his old club last week, but emulating it in this fixture will be hard for the inconsistent French striker. Bolton lost Gary Cahill to Chelsea, but have replaced him with Tim Ream from New York Red Bulls. He will, however not feature tonight, as he is back in the USA, sorting visa’s. Bolton, will, in most probability, go with the same team that started last week.

Arsenal’s leaky defence will be tightened with the returning Sagna, who is most likely to feature, at the expense of Coquelin. Arteta, will take his place in the centre of midfield alongside Ramsey, with Rosicky having to content with a place on the bench. There have been rumours of Wenger planning to give Ramsey a breather, which would, of course mean Rosicky will take his place.

Here is how the teams could line up.

Yesterday’s results will give more impetus to Arsenal to collect a win. Chelsea extended the difference between themselves and the Gunners to 6 points, while Liverpool’s win at Wolves means they leapfrog us to 5th place, 2 points ahead in the table.

Memories of last time will hopefully not hover this fixture. Tamir Cohen scored a 89th minute winner for Bolton, despite Arsenal dominating vast periods of the game. That loss scuppered any hopes of a league title.

Praying for 3 points.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Top 5 Gunners

A lot has been talked about who will be taking over the mantle after the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri over the summer. Well, after a stuttering start to the campaign, the Gunners have slowly but surely responded to critics all around and put a string of impressive performances. Here are the Top 5 Gunners, of this season, so far.

5) Wojciech Szczesny-

Arsenal’s young Polish goalkeeper has gone from strength to strength since making his debut against Newcastle in a League Cup game in October 2010. His big moment would come 2 months down the line when he was asked to guard the post at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Arsenal lost 1-0, but Szcz had done enough to impress Arsene Wenger of his ability. Szcz’s best performance came in a 2-1 win over, probably the best team on the planet, FC Barcelona, where he made some brilliant saves to deny Messi and Co. It was a marker of things to come. However, Szczesny’s moment of horror would come days later at Wembley. Arsenal hadn’t won a trophy for 6 seasons and this was the chance to break the jinx as they faced a Birmingham City side, struggling to survive in the Premier League. A lack of communication between defender Laurent Koscielny and the keeper laid the ball perfectly for Obafemi Martins to tap home a cruel 89th minute winner. He played a vital role in Arsenal’s Champions League qualifier against Udinese, when he saved a Antonio di Natale penalty. And he has been one of the main reasons, why Arsenal put a run of results to arrest their sliding campaign. He pulled off brilliant saves against Chelsea, Norwich etc to help keep the Gunners rolling up the table.In my rating,he is the goalkeeper Arsenal have been craving for, for years.

4) Mikel Arteta-

Arsenal’s £10 million signing from Everton, Mikel Arteta has been outstanding in Arsenal’s midfield. Bought in as a replacement for Cesc Fabregas, Arteta has not yet lived up to the standards of the Catalan, but is Arsenal’s key man in the midfield. In a relatively young midfield comprising fellow new signing Gervinho, flashy winger Theo Walcott and Wales captain Aaron Ramsey, Arteta is a seasoned professional. His game can be likened to the Argentine midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme, the old fashioned playmaker. Arteta knows to control the pace of the game with his experience, and to channel the flow of the game through the centre or the wings, making him an important weapon in the armoury. He still has atleast a good 3 or 4 seasons of football left in him, so the most important signing of the season.

3) Alexandre Song-

Relatively unknown, when signed from Bastia, the only link him being the cousin of Cameroon international Rigobert Song, he has been another player to blossom under Arsene Wenger. Built like an ox, and physically imposing, he has been Arsenal’s unsung hero. His reading of the opposition’s attack patterns makes him the vital cog in Arsenal’s midfield. He was able to quickly fill in the empty boots of Mathieu Flamini, and also the injury of Abou Diaby. He has held a place of his own, putting up impressive displays as well as scoring some important goals. Just 24, Alex Song is here to stay.

2) Thomas Vermaelen-

Probably standing toe to toe as the best player on Arsenal’s books, with Robin van Persie; the Belgian defender brings with him grit and guts to Arsenal’s defence. Comfortable with his left foot, Vermaelen can also play at left-back or even at centre-forward; his goal-scoring instincts can testify. Though short for a defender, Vermaelen compensates for it with his amazing jumping abilities. He isn’t afraid to make the tackle either making him the hard man at the club and giving much needed steel to the team. Named vice-captain to Robin van Persie, Vermaelen can form a strong partnership with either Laurent Koscielny or the big German Per Mertesacker. One indicator of his never-say-die spirit was the game against Fulham, where he made up for his earlier own-goal to clinch a late equalizer.

1) Robin van Persie-

There was no doubt about this one, was there. Having scored almost a goal a game, for the calendar year 2011, Robin van Persie clinches top spot. Arsenal’s captain has been in scintillating form this year, since his return from a long injury layoff. Speaking of which, he is quite an injury-prone player, with them marking most of his Arsenal career. However, the Dutchman says he is ‘fitter than ever’ and hopes to push on as Arsenal go in search of that elusive silverware. Taking over the mantle of responsibility from Cesc Fabregas, who departed for Barcelona over the summer, van Persie’s goals in crucial games like Sunderland, Stoke, Chelsea, Norwich,Borussia Dortmund and Everton have bought a sense of optimism around the Emirates. Here’s to the Dutchman.

Arteta, van Persie and Vermaelen! 🙂

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in General

 

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