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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 🙂

 
3 Comments

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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A Welsh test, a bit of Swansea history and more…

Swansea City vs Arsenal, Liberty Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 16:00 (21:30 IST), 15 January 2012

So, finally Sunday is here. As a football fan, all you care about is muddling your way through a hectic week, to be able to catch your favourite team in action. And thanks to our friends in ESPN/Sky Sports UK, Arsenal’s fixtures are now being tampered with so that they can be shown live in the UK

This bodes well for us too, the fans in India, as now our fixtures won’t clash with the other well-followed teams, and they will be show live. It always riles me that Manchester United games are always shown live. But, you can’t complain. They are the champions, and even though every other football fan or wannabe’s you meet on the street, is a United supporter, and doesn’t know shit about the club, they deserve their matches to be telecasted. As for Liverpool, I am not so sure, how they get their preference above us. They finished 7th last season, 3 places below us, and not even in Europe. Bloody, their games are always live. They may have the second largest fan base after United, but that just undermines the whole point. Anyways, Arsene Wenger has been fairly critical of how the fixtures seem to be favoring some clubs and not so favorable to others.

Yes, if you can’t blame the players, blame the fixture list, eh? Well, he does have a point. Arsenal beat QPR on Saturday, and then went away to Fulham on Monday night. Manure lost to Blackburn on Saturday, and they had to play Newcastle away on Wednesday. Manchester City, too were at a disadvantage. Liverpool defeated Newcastle on Friday and then visited Eastlands on Tuesday to face City, who had just 2 days to recover after a 1-0 loss at Sunderland. Chelsea, on the other hand, who lost to Villa at home 1-3, made up for it as they beat Wolves 2-1. The Christmas period scheduling is very complicated. However, things seem to be easing out now.

So, now our fixture list says we have to travel to Wales, a town named Swansea, second largest after Cardiff, to play our Premier League game against the town’s darlings. Arsene Wenger has a bit of history with them, having faced them in the 1991 Cup Winners Cup. But then, Swansea was a completely different proposition and Wenger’s Monaco, which boasted the likes of Emmanuel Petit, who would rejoin Wenger at Arsenal; Youri Djorkaeff, who would help Bolton stay up, and the legendary Liberian George Weah; by a thumping 10-1 aggregate.

Talking of history, Swansea trounced Arsenal twice in the league 2-0 in the 1981/1982 season, when the Welsh club, on the bounce of 3 promotions in 4 years, took the old First Division by storm. They also secured wins over other traditional powerhouses Liverpool and Manchester United that season, also thumping Leeds United 5-1 on opening day, and despite being top on many occasions through the season, they eventually finished 6th. However, that revolutionary season ended there as Swansea soon dipped back to a nomadic life on the football ladder.

The erstwhile glory days! 🙂

Today, Swansea is a changed team. Having moved from their traditional styled British stadium, Vetch Field, to the Liberty Stadium, they are now strutting their stuff with the biggest teams in England. They have a talented manager, Brendan Rodgers, who has inculcated in the team, a  ‘beautiful football’ philosophy. And, what’s more, they have conceded just 4 goals at home. Manchester United, are the only team to emerge with 3 points, even though they could have lost that game, had the Swans been more clinical in front of goal. Now, the Swans sit pretty in 13th place, 6 clear of the relegation zone.

Yesterday’s results have given some semblance of hope for Gunners’ fans that they will finish above their fiercest rivals Spuds. Spurs think they are a club with ambition. First, they qualify for the Europa League. And then, old man ‘Arry decides to play his youth team against the Communist inspired European sides. It bodes well, for them, as they play their strongest team in the league, and keep plucking 3 points of every game. It didn’t work last night, as Wolves did a piece of justice, by emerging out of North London, with their second point in as many weeks.

Old Man 'Arry knows the trick, doesn't he?

Liverpool, who just can’t seem to get 3 points at home, again slumped to a bore goalless draw at home to Stoke, while Chelsea scrambled past Sunderland 1-0. Torres, was particularly good. He was a goalscorer at Liverpool, yes, but now at Chelsea he seems to have shifted his role a bit. Now, he is overall a better player in terms of holding up the ball and allowing the others to come into play. Fat Frank got the only goal in that. Inspired by Thierry Henry, or not, I am not sure, but Paul Scholes scored against Bolton, after making a shocking return, an hour before the FA Cup game against Manchester City.

It means, that if Arsenal secure 3 points today, they will go 7 points within Spurs, with the Yids still having to play at the Emirates. And, who would win the battle. A stupid cockerel balancing on a leather football, or a loaded cannon? The answer is quite obvious.

Team news, then. Wenger seems to be keeping faith in the Russian, Andriy Arshavin, who did put up a decent display against Leeds. Henry, again, by the looks of it, could be an impact sub. But, till the teams are officially out, you never know. Wenger might just be tempted to play van Persie and Henry upfront. Speaking of which, van Persie is back after a well-deserved holiday in the Middle East. He was quoted as saying ‘that he has recharged his batteries and is raring to go’. Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky seem to be having some sort of sickness, which means they will have a late fitness test. It will mean, we will be short at the back, despite the return of Johan Dhourou from suspension. The backline could be Yennaris-Djourou-Koscielny-Miquel. Should the BFG be fit, and I would certainly hope so, the defence would be Djourou-Mertesacker-Koscielny-Miquel.

Swansea will be particularly hard to break down. They have an excellent keeper in Michael Vorm. He is probably the best keeper in the league at the moment. Heck, he is in my Fantasy Premier League team! Mean, they may be, but a solitary Arshavin lucky goal, was enough to seal 3 points last time around at the Emirates, which started a small resurgence of sorts. It will take a lot more than that this time around to get 3 points.

Some good news then. Thomas Vermaelen could be back for the visit of Manchester United next Sunday. Kieran Gibbs is 10 days away from a a return and will probably start in the 4th Round FA Cup match against Aston Villa. Carl Jenkinson also seems to have attracted the word ‘good news’ by Arsene Wenger. Bacary Sagna, could be back by the end of the month. Francis Coquelin is 2 weeks away after tearing a hamstring against Leeds. Jack Wilshere, could make an early return by the start of February, to bolster the squad. Aaron Ramsey seems to be excited by this, and has told of his eagerness to link up with Jack in midfield. And, finally Abou Diaby, will surely be back by the start of the 2026/2027 season.

Hoping for 3 points tonight.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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A Polish cult hero, A Gazillion rumours, a Legend-ary Farewell and a Legend-ary Return

What a week it’s been!! Not just Arsenal-wise but football-wise. First, there was the small matter of a Manchester Derby. Then there was that little Barca hiccup. It moved on to a magical night at the Emirates before finishing off with a Johnson controversy at the Etihad.

I could go on and on about that Kompany moment, and so could you. We all know, how over a billion decisions have gone in the favour of England’s most successful club, with the feeblest of fans, that is Manchester United. Howard Webb, criticized heavily for his recent poor showing in the game at St.James in the league, where Fergusmoan’s men slipped to a 3-0 defeat; found himself out of United’s books. In came Chris Foy, and he made himself a darling of the Stretford End, or rather the away fans stand at the Etihad, with a brilliant one-man show. He sends off Moneybags City’s influential Belgian captain, Vincent Kompany in the 12th minute. Soon enough, United double their lead through Danny Wellbeck and in no time it is 3-0. I am not sure what half-time talk was offered to the City players. An offer to double their wages if they could muster a result, is my guess. Kolarov and Aguero got 2 goals, but they eventually ran out of steam.

The latest to suffer the 'Ferguson Hairdryer'! Webb and his chums! 😀

Meanwhile, in Spain, Espanyol caused an upset by drawing with the superhuman football team, Barcelona. Despite taking the lead through that goal-machine Cesc Fabregas, Espanyol managed a late equaliser, which leaves the Cataliens 5 points adrift of FC Real Ronaldo. At the end of the match, it felt like Espanyol had won the World Cup or something, going by the animated celebrations of their faithful, while Guardiola could only crinch in dissapointment, as his team couldn’t get past a bunch of mere mortals.

In the midst of all the drama going on in Europe, there was an emotional farewell to India legend Baichung Bhutia. Not as well publicised as even the Championship match between West Ham United and Birmingham City, on a cold night in East London, German giants Bayern Munich made the journey down to the Indian capital to play India, in what would be a fitting end to a glittering career. The Bavarians played a strong line-up, including the likes of Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Neuer. Pre match pleasantries were heart-warming as Lahm offered a Bayern jersey with the signatures of all their players. After the kick-off there were no pleasantries, as Bayern scored 4 goals in the first-half. Probably, they slowed down their free-scoring instincts as a mark of respect. Bhutia was bought off to a loud cheer and it signalled the end of the career the greatest footballer the country has produced.

Farewell Baichung!

Jetting back to Europe, more particularly north of London, where Arsenal hosted Leeds United in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. All pre-match talk was about a bearded bald Frenchman. And yes, there was also a stray ball that hit Martin Keown while he presented the pre-match show, down on the ground. (C’mon, Arsenal didn’t spend millions on building commentary boxes, for you to present a pre-match show, with Robbie Savage, on the pitch). Well, Sky Sports got what it deserved.

10 years back, he would have headed it clear! 😀

Anyways, the match was quite dull, as ditch water, as Leeds were happy to keep Marrouane Chamakh and his non-firing buddies at bay for most part of the first half. Chamakh has lost his shooting boots permanently, while Arshavin seems to have gotten all his shooting calculations wrong, as he blazed over effort after effort. But, all the mediocrity of the game was cancelled when Arsene decided it was time to throw his compatriot into the fray. 5 touches, 1 offside and 10 minutes later, the ball was in the back of the net, and absolute pandemonium erupted around the stadium. I too couldn’t control my joy, hopping about joyously in the living room. My usual goal-screams would have led to the neighbors complaining to the police, for sure.

Well, it didn’t matter, as after 90 minutes of huffing and puffing, Arsenal set a date with Aston Villa on the 28th. Henry, who got the Man of the Match award, for his 4 average and 1 world-class touches, told later in an interview about how he felt on scoring the goal. He said, it was his first goal as a fan, and it was an incredible feeling to score for the club you support. Henry reiterated that the same can’t be expected of him every week. Well, this ask more questions than it answers. Considering we required a 34 year old legend to score the winner against a patched up Leeds, it doesn’t augur well for a team that is aiming to qualify for the Champions League. We should have be beating them comprehensively. But, then again, this is the magic of the cup. It is all about these magnificent stories that make the FA Cup so great. Stories, which you would tell your children, according to Mr Wenger.

Henry later dedicated the goal to some ‘special people’. “I hope someone isn’t going to wake me up and tell me it was a dream”. Dream, it was, said Arsene Wenger, who couldn’t praise Henry more. After Campbell and Lehmann, it was Henry’s turn in 2011. And there could be more, after reports of a Robert Pires tweet, saying he was in London Colney for training. Boy, wouldn’t that be magical!

The praises came pouring from all parts of the camp. First, from Laurent Koscielny, who was quoted as saying Henry runs around training like a 20 year old. Ignasi Miquel and Kieran Gibbs were buzzing about sharing the same dressing room as the legend.

Well, now let’s put a stop to all the Henry plaudits, cos that would never end, were it to continue. The club now has a new charismatic keeper. After David Seaman and Jens Lehmann, its the turn of the young Wojciech Szczesny. The young Pole was in the news for various reasons, but both stemming out of his Twitter account. Firstly, he commented on Aaron Ramsey’s photo, taken at a golf event.

I don’t wanna be rude mate but you look like a rapist on that picture.

For which the Wales captain retorted..

I try my best mate we’re not all blessed with a good fashion sense like you.

Jokers, them lads!

Well, all in good humor I assume, and then he comes up with this audacious tweet after the Leeds game.

It was good to see Becks in the dressing room after the game last night although he was a bit starstruck when he saw me.

Surely, after Perry Groves and Jens Lehmann, we finally have a new cult hero. Here’s to Wojciech Szczesny!!

Some, off the field news then. Francis Coquelin, who limped out of the Leeds match, signed a new long term contract, which bodes well for the player as well as the team. He is a finely talented young lad with some good passing and defending abilities. Luke Freeman, who, 3 years back, was the target of Manchester United and Chelsea, as well, left to Stevenage for an undisclosed fee, for more first team opportunities.

Meanwhile, Arsenal seem to be linked to a host of multicultural stars from around the continent. Left-back problems have triggered rumours suggesting Arsene Wenger has made a bid for Aly Cissokho from Lyon. Other reports suggest Eric Abidal is on his way for £4.1 million from Barcelona. Wayne Bridge rumours have died down a bit, while reports arise of Arsenal scouts now having a look at Southampton left-back Luke Shawe, all of 16 years. Neil Taylor of Swansea says he is flattered by the interest of Arsenal. Man, the media can go crazy. If all these rumours were true. Arsenal would have 12, 274 left-backs at their disposal. (Just a random number) And going by recent luck with the fitness of left-backs playing for Arsenal, all of them would be injured and we would still have an Ignasi Miquel holding out right-wingers all over the Premier League!

Well, that’s not all, apparently. Marco Reus, of Borussia Monchengladbach (hope I got that right), who has signed a pre-conract with Borussia Dortmund, has been linked with the Gunners. So is long-term target Eden Hazard. Youann Gourcouff, too is a constant rumour. Mario Gotze, for whom, Dortmund have demanded a miserly £30 million, seems to have fallen out of the radar, to be replaced bu Lukas Podolski, who seems to be Gerd Muller in the German shirt and Francis Jeffers, when he puts on his club colours. Demba Ba, so good they named him twice, says he wants to move back to the capital. Whether Newcastle want him to, is out of the context.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the hoolabaloo, Mikel Arteta has thanked Scottish football for his rise in English football. Yes, Mikel, we thank them too. For, if it weren’t for the typical Scottish physicality, Arteta wouldn’t have succeeded in the Premier League, where it is pacier. He has been a brilliant performer for us in midfield, not necessarily in the mould of Fabregas, but a major influence without any doubt. He also was happy at having the honour of captaining the club. Per Mertesacker, the BFG (Big F*cking German), as he is so fondly christened in other Arsenal blogs, drew words of praise from his mentor Tony Adams. Yes, we can all see where it comes from. Mertesacker has been tower in defence. Though still short of pace, his experience has been very handy in the resurgence. Together with Koscielny, he has formed a strong spine at the back. According to Adams; Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertesacker could be the next Adams, Bould, Keown. Whether we would have a fully fit Santos and Sagna (Winterburn and Dixon) for the remainder of the season, is another matter.

So, that’s it, a roundup of quite an entertaining week. Swansea preview and lots more coming soon your way.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in General

 

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Arsenal 1-0 Leeds United

Arsenal 1 (Henry 78) – 0 Leeds United

Man of the Match – Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)

It had to happen. It was in the script. The perfect return. Just hours before the game, I had predicted a late Henry winner to seal the deal in the FA Cup 3rd Round against Leeds United. And Thierry Henry didn’t dissapoint me, or millions of Gooners around the world.

Arsenal came into their 3rd Round match against Championship side Leeds United, with all pre-match headlines surrounding the return of a 34 year old Frenchman, named Thierry Henry. The man, a legend in the parts, reiterated that he isn’t the same as he was 4 years ago, when he was the Premier League’s supreme individual talent. But, the proceedings on the night would suggest otherwise.

Arsenal came into the game, with Arsene Wenger insisting that his side had learnt their lessons after being held by the same team a year back, at the same stage in the competition. The Gunners started with a mixture of first-choice and second-string players. Sebastien Squillaci replaced Per Mertesacker in the heart of defense, while Francis Coquelin switched from left-back to right-back, Ignasi Miquel getting the vacant post. In midfield, Andriy Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were handed starts, alongside the triumvirate of Song, Ramsey and Arteta. Morocco forward Marrouane Chamakh played the sole striker, ahead of his trip to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, for the African Cup of Nations.

Meanwhile, Leeds themselves, suffering from injury problems had fielded a makeshift defense. On the bench, they had two potent threats, the clinical Ross McCormack, and Finnish forward Mikael Forsell, formerly of Chelsea and Birmingham City.

The game started at a decent pace, with most Arsenal attacking onus falling on Andriy Arshavin and Marrouane Chamakh. Arshavin, though with good build-up play throughout the first half, was poor with his finishing, as he blazed over 2 fine opportunities, after being set up by Chamakh. Squillaci saw his header go wide, while Ramsey had a couple of shots blocked.

Squillaci was guilty of giving away possession on a couple of ocassions and Leeds almost took advantage, but striker Becchio smashed wide. Arsenal’s defensive crisis loomed when Coquelin was replaced by young Nico Yennaris, who had a promising outing.

The second half started the same way as the first, with Arsenal creating more of the opportunities, but this time more dangerous ones. Arteta had his shot saved by Lonergan, and so did Arshavin. The atmosphere in the stadium went up a few notches, when Henry started his stretching routine on the sidelines.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had a quiet first-half, came to life in the second, as he fashioned a couple of chances, that went wide. Soon enough, Arsene Wenger threw on Theo Walcott, and Thierry Henry, who was rapturously recieved by the Emirates faithful. True to character, his first touch was in an offside position.

And the moment of joy, came 10 minutes later, as Song spotted Henry in a perfect position. Henry took the ball in his stride and finished with a panache, that rolled back the glory years.

His celebration told it all, as he thumped his chest, while racing to embrace the boss. Leeds weren’t done yet as they threw on forwards McCormack and Forsell, who both had chances to level the tie, but had their shots well saved by Szczesny.

As the final whistle blew, all cameras focused on Henry, who stood with his arms raised towards the heavens. The King had re-arrived at his home.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (8)Didn’t have much to do, but made two vital saves at the end.

Coquelin (7) – Had his evening cut short by injury. Hoping, he will be back soon.

Squllaci (6.5) – Lost the ball in dangerous positions, but overall a decent game.

Koscielny (8) – Rock at the back.

Miquel (7.5) – Was found wanting a couple of times, but good game overall.

Song (7.5) – Neat play, and set up the winner.

Arteta (8) – Led the team brilliantly, and controlled the tempo well.

Ramsey (7.5) – Needs to work on his composure. Gave the ball away on numerous ocassions and also missed few chances, but link up play was good.

Oxlade-Chamberlain (7) – Quiet night for the young England winger.

Arshavin (7) – Slowly regaining his confidence. A goal would do him a world of good.

Chamakh (7) – Again, held up the ball very well allowing the others to play. Also needs a goal soon.

Subs:

Yennaris – (7.5) – Impressive performance from the young lad.

Walcott – (7) – Hardly got the ball to make an impact.

Henry (9) – He is back. Period.

Overall Team Rating – 7.46

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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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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