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The QPR Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

AW on the performance

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

AW on the nature of the pitch

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

AW on the pitch

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

AW on the defending

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

AW on complacency

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

AW on the goals conceded

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

AW on the response

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

AW on Adel Taraabt

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

AW on the next game

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

AW on the QPR performance

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

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

RVP on the defeat

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

RVP on his evolution as a striker

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

RVP on having the element of surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a wrap. Enjoy the European action.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in General

 

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Italian Ruins, Potholed Pitches, Unhappy Legends and Strained Muscles

Sunderland vs Arsenal, Stadium of Light, FA Cup 5th Round

Kickoff – 17:15 GMT (22:45 IST), 18th February 2012

Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!

Ten thousand thundering typhoons!

Smoldering smokestacks!

Were Captain Haddock an Arsenal fan, I am pretty much sure, this would have been his reaction to Arsenal’s capitulation at the San Siro. Infact, these were the same reactions that I had.

Having been so excited all week about the clash, probably every minute spent pondering over the game, walking nervously around the hall minutes before kick off, wondering ‘It is just 1 goal’, when Kevin Prince-Boateng scored a scorcher, calming myself ‘Now we just need an away goal’, when Robinho scored the second, messaging all my friends ‘It’s all over man 😦 ‘ , when Robinho scored the third, and heaping insults on Djourou after he conceded the fourth; next day roaming around with an unshaven glum face all round my office, with colleagues trying to console me saying ‘Don’t kill yourself dude’, it is time finally to try and narrow down some issues on the match and investigating how Arsenal got mauled so emphatically.

First, the pitch. Whatever the Arsenal fans might say about the Gunners not performing up to the mark, the Milan pitch was a disgrace to the competition. How the Italian side get away with all this, I have no idea. Now, Milan play a very narrow formation, with minimal wingplay. Even their full-backs, namely Luca Antonini and Ignazio Abate, are more defensive minded, and rarely go forward. They started with 4 central midfielders on the night., ‘the ‘grand old man of football’ Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Antonio Nocerino. Arsenal have a completely different style to Milan, and rely on wingplay. This entire season Arsene Wenger has deployed wingers, Gervinho, Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Even our full-backs are proper full-backs. Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna all love going forward.

Now, by disintegrating the pitch, it was pretty evident Milan had spotted Arsenal’s strength and decided to turn it into a weakness. Considering the fact that the flanks on the San Siro pitch were laid out just about 24 hours before kick-off is a clear pointer of that claim. Moreover, Robin van Persie decided to change his boots, going for a harder studded boot, so as to facilitate his wing play on the horror of a pitch. Arsene Wenger decided to drop Chamberlain on the bench and started with Tomas Rosicky, who is more adept a central role, than on the left. Had the pitch been perfect, or at least had a semblance of normalcy about it, Wenger would have started with the pacy Chamberlain who would have wreaked havoc with the Milan defence. None of the players looked comfortable on the night. The ball was rolling so slowly around the flanks that at one time, Vermaelen had to back-track his header, which he thought was heading for a corner.

Second, I don’t want to be too critical of how the Milan groundsmen prepared the pitch, as it was same for both side. Arsenal should have been prepared to adapt to it. Now, we go into an European game against the Italian champions, in their formidable home, and we can in the least expect a tough game on the cards. Unfortunately, Arsenal couldn’t adapt to the fact how Milan had taken the game by storm. Milan exploited the nervousness and fragility of the Arsenal rearguard, and swooped down like vultures would on a carcass. The Gunners failed to adapt, and got all their tactics wrong.

Alex Song was unable to contain the advances of both Nocerino and Boateng, and didn’t get too much help from Ramsey and Arteta. Sagna wasn’t helped by Walcott either as he tried to counter the threat of Ibrahimovic, Emmanuelson and Antonini.

Thirdly, Arsenal lost their best defender at the moment, Laurent Koscielny to an unfortunate injury. He picked up a strain, and it mean he would be replaced by Calamity Djourou, who ofcourse went on to concede a penalty. Thomas Vermaelen had an unfortunate slip on the horrendous playing surface, which lead to Milan’s third.

Finally, the Gunners fielded a very naive and relatively inexperienced side on the night, even though it was the best of the resources we had. Szczesny has looked nervous in recent games and he did so on Wednesday. His goalkicks, clearances and distribution was poor. Aaron Ramsey had a poor night too, and was well tracked by the menacing Mark van Bommel. Tomas Rosicky was good in patches, but honestly had no direction about his forward play. Theo Walcott, can best be described as ‘poor’ on the night, notwithstanding the poor condition of the ground.

Now, here we are, on the brink of exit in the Champions League. All my banter dished out to Manure supporters about them watching the Europa League has come back to haunt me.

Arsenal players and the manager have all had their say on the Milan game. Wojciech Szczesny was among the first Arsenal players to speak the media, saying Arsenal deserved the mauling.

It’s not impossible to come back but it’s going to be very difficult,Milan showed how good they are tonight and it’s going to be very difficult. We showed last week against Blackburn how good we can be if we are on the front foot and if we manage to score an early goal then anything can happen.We have quality attacking players and we can score goals so why not? But we have to realise that it’s going to be really, really difficult.It was a very difficult night and it’s hard to take right now. We have to admit that Milan were the better team and they completely deserved the victory. It’s hard to take but hopefully we can pick ourselves up.We’re full of belief that we can still have a successful season. It’s a big blow for us tonight but I’m confident we’ll pick ourselves up and do our best in all the games we have coming up.

Thomas Vermaelen had one of his worst nights in an Arsenal jersey.

We have another game and the only thing we can do is show our pride and give 100 per cent,We have to give something back to the fans who came all the way here, we disappointed them. The only thing we can do is try to get a good result in the home game.The fans supported us all the way to Milan and we disappointed them, which is not good. We will try to give them something back when we next play at home.It was not a good evening for us, they scored four times and we did not play well. It’s simple – we conceded too many chances and too many goals and it was just a bad evening.They played well, they were aggressive – more than us I think and you can see that from the result. It’s difficult to give an explanation so soon after the game because I am disappointed. The result was really bad.What happened, we have to forget now. We have to learn from it and just keep going to the next game.

Surprisingly, the harshest criticism on the team came from their own manager, Arsene Wenger, who  launched a scathing attack on the team, for probably the first time in his Arsenal managerial career.

We were never in the game,We were very poor offensively and defensively. It was shocking to see how we were beaten everywhere. It was our worst performance in Europe by far.Not once in the 90 minutes were we in the game. You question everything on a night like that but it’s difficult to analyse and it’s better not to talk too much, analyse it with a cooler head and to regroup for the next game.We don’t live in a dream world. There is may be 2% or 5% chance statistically, but realistically we are out of this competition. We made mistake after mistake and we were punished.It is too big a deficit to turn over, we certainly will try, but it will be very difficult. We will give it our best and we certainly cannot be worse than we were tonight.We left ourselves in a position where we had to chase the game from early on and we continued to lose the ball in positions where you cannot afford to lose it at this level and we left ourselves exposed. It was a big problem for us and we were slow to respond all evening.We will not talk too much tonight − we will take our punishment and get over this. The season isn’t finished.We have a big game on Saturday to show character & spirit. We have to regroup, but there’s not a lot of time.

Call me optimistic or crazy or whatever, I think we have a great chance of putting things right in the second leg. Of course, it is going to be an uphill task, the hill being Mount Everest in the case. But, this is football. What would it be, if scores were decided before the ball was kicked. Anything is possible in this sport. Remember Deportivo la Coruna in the 2003/04 season of the Champions League? They were 4-1 down after the first leg at the San Siro, but came back in emphatic fashion in the second leg, to wipe out Milan 4-0. So, all is not over yet, folks.

Arsenal have come in for quite a fair share of criticism from club greats such as Dennis Bergkamp, Martin Keown, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira etc.

Here is what legendary right-back Lee Dixon had to say.

Everything that could go wrong in the game did and it was a really, really poor performance – It was a good performance from Milan, I thought they did ever so well. (Kevin Prince) Boateng, Robinho and (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic tore Arsenal to pieces, simple as that.There are not a lot of positives to be honest with you. It’ll be difficult for Arsene to pick the players up before a massive FA Cup tie at Sunderland this weekend. He’s got his work cut out.

And, World Cup winner, and former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit, said the following words.

I asked myself what has become of the team that I knew.It’s a gulf which is confirmed weekend after weekend and what is perhaps the most worrying thing is the club won’t do anything this summer to reverse the trend. They don’t want to go back to overspending in the transfer market, and I think they’re right. But for two seasons, the level of the team has only gone down.Certain young players haven’t done enough to justify the confidence that Arsene has in them. Walcott – somehow he’s going to have to reach the next stage. It’s been years that he’s been at the same level. Ramsey, against Milan, I got the impression it was his (twin) brother on the pitch. In the way they behave, in their body language, we see they’re not there anymore.We shouldn’t hesitate to talk about the end of the cycle. Regardless of age, we have to look seriously at certain players. Right now you have to send out a strong signal.You have to say to Arshavin, and to Rosicky: ‘Gentlemen, thank you, but goodbye’. And soon.’

Dennis Bergkamp had an extensive discussion with another Arsenal great, Alan Smith, and shared the following views on a variety of issues like the squad, Wenger’s future and on the passing style employed by the club.

DB10 on the team:

I feel there are a lot of similar players there at the moment. It needs to be more diverse.You need a few strong characters who can get the team going, in training as well as matches.You also need a few players who can make a difference in terms of scoring goals. I don’t feel there are enough of them.You look at the midfield and compare it with ours. We had Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Ray Parlour – when it wasn’t working for one of the big names, one of these could step up.You can’t only depend on one or two players. When they’re having an off day, you need someone else.

DB10 on the style of play

Sometimes you need more of a winning mentality than a passing mentality.I’m not sure Arsenal have enough of that in their players, when the attitude becomes more important than the ability just to pass the ball.I don’t know if the English mentality is missing a little bit.We had it with the back four, of course, who had the mentality of thinking, ‘OK, this game is ours now.Sometimes I see their games and it’s always the same way of playing, a bit too predictable. They are all fantastic players, that must be said, but sometimes you need a bit more of the other side.

DB10 on Arsene Wenger

Yeah, I think so, because the way I know him, he’s a winner. He can’t just let go.He would think he hasn’t finished there yet. He would want to finish on a high or at least do something that makes the team successful again.So I think he will wait and push as hard as possible to achieve that before he leaves.I’ve worked with Arsène for 11 years and it goes up and down.You do well, then you need some time to rebuild, then you do well again. But the thing now is that he isn’t winning any trophies.That’s what I was talking about earlier. Sometimes you just need to win something by showing a certain attitude to get the team going again.That isn’t happening at the moment so it is a bit of a struggle.But I wouldn’t say that’s down to Wenger because he has been fantastic and he still is fantastic for the club.He brings in young players and sells them on for more money. Financially, he’s doing great.

DB10 on RVP

To be honest, I would still prefer to see Robin play a bit deeper behind the main striker so that he could pick his moments the way I used to.I think he could be even better in that role, but the way he’s playing now you can hardly blame the coach for putting him there.

Most would agree with Bergkamp here. The club ain’t in a doomsday like situation, like the kind Rangers or Portsmouth are in. The club has been inches away from silverware in recent seasons, and the fans should keep their faith in the manager and the team.

Phew that’s a lot of legends having their opinion their. Speaking of legends, there have been rumours that Pat Rice will finally retire from his stellar stint at Arsenal. He amassed 528 games for the club as a right-back from 1966 to 1980. He joined Arsenal as a youth coach in 1984, and even briefly became the manager in 1996, before Arsene Wenger took over. He has been Arsene Wenger’s trusted assistant, and though never in the spotlight, is said to be key to the team’s affairs. Here’s to 42 years of exemplary service.

Legend!

Meanwhile, rumours are floating that the man touted for the job is none other than the present youth coach, Steve Bould. Bould was another memeber of the famous back four, and played in 11 seasons for the club. He has been the coach of the youth side since 2001. Another candidate is ofcourse, Dennis Bergkamp, who has been assistant coach at Ajax Amsterdam.

Moving on, we have another massive game on Saturday, which will decide if we have any shot at silverware this weekend. The Gunners will have to deal with a terrible pitch for the third time in a week. Phil Bardsley, the Sunderland right-back was quoted as saying, the pitch still looks terrible.

If that is the case, the Gunners should brace to having more players injured, after losing Per Mertesacker last week on the same ground, and Laurent Koscielny at the San Siro. Now, Arsenal’s team selection will be interesting to see. Whether Arsene Wenger will field his strongest side or whether he rests key players ahead of next week’s mammoth clash against Tottenham in the North London derby. Reports claim Mertesacker had an extensive ankle scan in London as well as Germany and he could be out for the rest of the season. This could be a major cause of concern for Arsene Wenger as Mertesacker, despite having a slow start has put in some really good displays recently. Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny seems to be available for selection for the Sunderland game, despite picking up a strain. That could be a massive boost. But, the Mertesacker injury means, one more injury/suspension and we will have Squillaci strutting his stuff. (Not a pretty sight). By the looks of it, Calamity Djourou would partner Vermaelen at the back, with Sagna and Gibbs continuing on the flanks.

I expect Arsene Wenger to give some of the other players a run out. Robin van Persie looks a bit jaggered, and could be on the bench, to be replaced by Morrocan Marrouane Chamakh. So will be Ramsey, Song, Rosicky and Arteta. I feel Coquelin, Arshavin and Benayoun could start the game. This will be ideal for the team. Lukasz Fabianski is expected to take his place in goal, as he did against Leeds and Aston Villa, in the earlier FA Cup games. Gervinho, who returns from the Africa Cup of Nations, will take his place on the left, while Chamberlain replaces the under performing Walcott on the right. Such a squad rotation will bode well, for the entire team, who need a bit of rest. But, then again this is my prediction. Wenger certainly will have different ideas.

Arshavin, Benayoun, Chamakh and Coquelin all deserve a run in the first team. And the fact that they are completely fresh, having been used sparsely this year. Sunderland actually put in a commendable game last week, and under Martin O’Neill are a completely different proposition. I wouldn’t be too dissapointed if the tie goes to a replay.

Sunderland will be waiting for the Gunners, knowing fully well that they will be tired and mentally down after  the midweek exertions. They have had a good week to rest and prepare well for the FA Cup clash. They will, in all probability field the same side that took to the pitch last week in the Premier League game.

Thierry Henry scored the winner last time around. It will require a completely different performance this week around to win the game. Henry, despite comments that he could damage his reputation by resigning for the Gunners, certainly proved all of them wrong. Touted as a PR move by an under-pressure manager, Henry has scored two goals, that could be decisive for the rest of the season. His late goal against Leeds was a piece of magic, and the winner against a dodgy opposition, which resulted in progress in the Cup. His goal against Blackburn was just the cherry on top of a tasty cake, while his poked goal against Sunderland was  massive. An extra-time winner is always cherished, but this was special as it was Henry’s last goal in the Premier League, and it moved the Gunners to 4th spot. However, he would like to quickly forget his last game for the club. Henry came on as a second half replacement for Walcott. He tried hard to inspire a goal, but was ultimately succesfull. Supposedly, he has been vocal with the team, giving them pep talks before games, and was influential in the 3-2 comeback against Aston Villa. And he says, he could be back next year. Now, that would be a story!

Anyways, hoping for a win on Saturday, and progress in the Cup!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 17, 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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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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2009-2010 Season Review – More Unfinished Business

A long pre-season over, a fresh new challenge awaited the Gunners, as they embarked upon another roller coaster ride, in what was to be the 2009-2010 season. Coming close on many fronts over the last few seasons had left everyone frustrated and here was a chance for Arsenal to redeem themselves.

Surprisingly, the only major signing was the Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen. Emmanuel Adebayor had left for wads of cash. He was to later change his name to Emoneyuel Greedybayor. Kolo Toure left after examplary service to the club. Both had the same destination, Moneybags City.

The campaign started away to Everton. Arsenal had to endure a tough opening match of the season. Or was it?The Gunners completely dismantled the Toffees 6-1. The rout was started by Denilson in the 26th minute with a long-range screamer. And by half-time, 2 more goals were added as debutant defender Thomas Vermaelen headed in one and his defensive partner William Gallas also netted. And in the second half, Arsenal’s dream start continued as Fabregas netted a brace, celebrating the second by displaying a jersey with the name of his friend, and late Espanyol defender Daniel Jarque. Eduardo completed the rout before Louis Saha scored a consolation.

Big Belgian, Little Belgian!! 

Arsenal seemed to be on a goal-scoring spree as they qualified fir the Champions League group stages yet again, when they beat Scottish team Celtic 5-1 on aggregate, and Portsmouth 4-1 in the league.

However, that was that, as Arsenal faced a daunting trip to Eastlands to face both the Manchester clubs in the league. Old Trafford was the first stop, and Arsenal seemed to be on top of their rivals for most of the match, despite an early chance for Wayne Rooney. The young side created a flurry of chances, before Darren Fletcher bough down Andrei Arshavin for ‘what-should-have-been’ a penalty. But the referee didn’t oblige. Moments later, Arshavin found the ball in a perfect shooting position and let in a scorcher to hand the Gunners a 1-0 lead going into half-time. The second half started in the same frantic manner as the first had started. Wayne Rooney converted a penalty in the 59th and minutes later, Arsenal undid all their hard work as Abou Diaby headed in a disastrous own goal. A late deserved equaliser by Robin van Persie was denied by the referee.

Arshavin scores a belter!!

Manchester City were aiming to be the new force in the Premier League, with new investments coming in from the Abu Dhabi group. They had already priced away Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from the Emirates for a combined fee of £41 million. And other high-profile signings included strikers Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz, midfielder Gareth Barry and defender Jolean Lescott, all of whom were attracted by nothing but riches. The game, in itself was an enthralling affair, with van Persie’s fine strike levelling the scores at 1-1 in the 63rd minute. Moments later, Bellamy made it 2-1 to City before Emmanuel Adebayor made himself Arsenal’s public enemy No.1. He scored in the 80th minute and ran the length of the entire pitch and overcelebrated in front of the Arsenal faithful. He was also involved in a moment with van Persie, when he stamped the latter on purpose. However, it went unnoticed and Arsenal were beaten 4-2.

Days later, Arsenal found themselves 2-0 down in Belgium in less than 6 minutes and it seemed like Arsenal were disintegrating too early. However, Niklas Bendtner equalised on the stroke of half-time, and a 78th minute equaliser by Vermaelen in his homeland was soon added on to, by a 81st minute winner from Eduardo to complete a 3-2 turnaround.

The comeback is complete!! 

Vermaelen was proving to be somewhat of a hidden centre-forward as he crashed in 2 goals against Wigan in a 4-0 triumph, the second a belter from outside the box.Blackburn were given a sound 6-2 thrashing, in a game featuring another Vermaelen screamer, after being 2-1 down at one stage.

A centre forward in disguise!

Arsenal dropped 2 points away to West Ham with a late Allesandro Diamanti penalty and days later a youthful team eliminated Liverpool from the League Cup, young Spaniard Francisco Merida, scoring a wonderful goal.

The first North London derby turned out to be a mismatch, as Arsenal beat Cunty Spuds 3-0. Fabregas embarrassed the Spurs defence, in the 43rd minute, who were kicking off after van Persie had scored the first. He took the ball of them and ran half the pitch, beating everyone in his wake to score the 2nd goal of the evening.

Spuds drubbed again!! 

Meanwhile, Eduardo was in scintillating form as he forced two own goals at Wolves in a 4-1 win. However, the run ended there as the next two league games ended in defeats, first a 1-0 loss at Sunderland, and then a home loss to a marauding Didier Drogba-inspired Chelsea. More humiliation was heaped upon as a young team were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City in the League Cup.

Arshavin re-announced himself at Anfield, months after his 4-goal display, as he scored a brilliant goal in a 2-1 win. Dirk Kuyt had scored the first for Liverpool, before Glen Johnson deflected one into his own net for Arsenal’s equalizer. It saw a reverse in Arsenal’s league fortunes, as they picked up vital wins against Hull City, Aston Villa and Portsmouth. 2 late goals from Ramsey and Eduardo saw off West Ham in the FA Cup.

Gerrard-‘What have we ever done to you, you mean mean Russian?’ 

Arsenal hosted Everton in what was one of the few matches around the country that weekend, due to heavy snowfall. Most matches had been cancelled, and it seemed even this would have been. However, brilliant work from the groundsmen ensured the match would go ahead as scheduled. And it seemed Everton would make most of Arsenal’s defensive frailties when Steven Piennar handed them the lead in the 81st minute. But, Tomas Rosicky’s late goal secured a point. Bolton were then beaten 2-0 and 4-2 in successive games.

Arsenal welcomed back experienced defender Sol Campbell on a short deal to the Emirates. He had made 195 appearances in his first spell from 2001 to 2006, winning two league titles and the FA Cup thrice. He moved on to Portsmouth where he won another FA Cup winner’s medal in 2008. He made an unsuccessful move to lower league Notts County, breaking his contract after just 1 match. He returned to Arsenal’s training base to keep fit and was offered a short term deal. He made his debut in a 3-1 loss to Stoke City, which saw the Gunners exit the FA Cup.

31st January 2010 is a date I don’t remember fondly. It was the day before the new semester began in college, and I was in the hostel to watch Arsenal host Manchester United in the league. Giving me company were around 30 glory hunters. I am sure not even 5 of them could name Manure’s starting lineup. United were 1 point ahead of the Gunners coming into this one. Every Manure goal was cheered loudly by these chums, who didn’t know shit about the sport. Anyways, Arsenal disappointingly lost 3-1.

Even this goal was to no avail, in the worst match ever!

Arsenal were haunted again by an Ivorian demon called Didier Drogba, going down 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. By now, Arsenal had fallen well behind in the title race, 9 points adrift of their Chelsea neighbors.Abou Diaby bought back some cheer as he scored the only goal in the 71st minute in a game against Liverpool.

Sol Campbell scored his last goal in the Champions League in that fateful night in Paris against Barcelona. He scored again in the Champions League Knockout stage game against FC Porto of Portugal, with the scoreline reading a 2-1 loss to Arsenal. 10 days later Arsenal travelled to Stoke, only to face a team that had been trained to play in the Rugby league. Ryan Shawcross’ wild lunge broke young Aaron Ramsey’s tibula and fibia (in short, the leg). It was another horrific injury Arsenal had suffered. I can still remember that moment, when Ramsey lie there in dire pain, calling out for the physio for help. It was another Eduardo moment, and the Gunners covered their face with their hands, not able to comprehend the injury. But, it was not to be a Birmingham as Arsenal proved their mettle with two goals in stoppage time from Fabregas and Vermaelen to secure a 3-1 win.

Ramsey’s horrific injury..

The team celebrate a resurgent win!! 

In the home game against Burnley, posters in support of Aaron Ramsey adorned the stadium, with the Gunners emerging 3-1 winners. 3 days later, Arsenal turned on the style in Europe. Down 2-1 from the first leg, Arsenal saw themselves leading 2-0 after just 25 minutes, with both goals being scored by the heavily-criticized Dane Niklas Bendtner. The 63rd minute saw the lead being extended to 3 goals, as Samir Nasri beat a host of defenders, and proving he can step up to the role of Cesc Fabregas, to score a peach. Emmanuel Eboue scored in the 66th, before Bendtner completed his hat-trick with a stoppage time penalty.

Bendtner and Nasri, brilliant against Porto!! 

A trip to the KC Stadium proved to be fruitful, as Bendtner turned out to be the match-winner to secure a 2-1 win with a really late strike. This still kept Arsenal in the title hunt. Arsenal were 2nd, level on points with leaders Chelsea at 64 points, and a point ahead of United, having played a game more.

Bendtner’s 90th minute goal!! 

After beating West Ham 2-0 at home, Arsenal failed to go just 1 point behind leaders Chelsea after being denied a win at St. Andrews, thanks to a late Kevin Phillips equaliser. And, Arsenal were still going strong in Europe and had been drawn to a formidable Barcelona team. While Barcelona were near full-strength, Arsenal were still without first-choice striker Robin van Persie. A half-fit Fabregas led Arsenal into the match.

Barcelona were completely dominant in the first half, and only a resolute Manuel Almunia kept them at bay, as he pulled off a flurry of saves. To Arsenal’s misfortune, they suffered two more injuries as Gallas and Arshavin were substituted before half-time, with the lesser-experienced and lesser-talented Denilson and Eboue. Barca made most of it, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the first a minute after the second half started. He rocked Arsenal again 13 minutes later to double the advantage. It seemed all was over for Arsenal that season in Europe. Just then, Theo Walcott fired in Arsenal’s first in the 69th minute to provide a glimmer of hope. As Barca huffed and puffed to hold on to the precious lead, Carles Puyol bought down fellow Catalan Cesc Fabregas in the box and was sent off. Fabregas converted and made it 2-2, but by now he was limping in pain, and played the last 10 minutes without complaining. The match ended 2-2, leaving the Gunners a mountain to climb at the Nou Camp.

El Capitan wins and scores the equaliser! Legend!

Back in the league, Wolves provided stiff opposition, only for Bendtner to pop up with a valuable winner in the 94th minute, the very dying embers of the game. This win kept them 3 points behind the leaders Chelsea, with 5 games to go.

Bendtner to the rescue again!!

Camp Nou was the setting of the beginning of the end. A Messi masterclass. In the 18th minute, Walcott sent Bendtner through. The Dane missed, but scored off the rebound. I remember that goal. I was so mad at Bendtner, I would have killed him if he were next to me. But, he redeemed himself seconds later. Arsenal were 1-0 up at the Nou Camp. That joy was shortlived as 3 minutes later, Barca were level through that superhuman Lionel Messi. By half-time, it was all but over as Messi scored two more to hand the Catalans a 3-1 lead. The second half was more a regulation, and Messi rounded off with his 4th of the night in the 88th minute. A weak Arsenal had been thoroughly beaten.

A Messi masterclass! 😦

Arsenal’s last shot at silverware was the league, and nothing short of 15 points in the next 5 games would give the chance for Arsenal to life silverware. First stop, Shit Fart Lane, in a forgettable North London derby. It was the day when some cunt called Danny Rose decided to be Ronaldinho for a second. His blazing shot from planet Saturn was unstoppable. Soon enough, in the 47th minute, Spurs doubled their advantage through Welsh winger Gareth Bale. Robin van Persie made a comeback after a long injury layoff in the 68th minute, but was denied a goal on several ocassions by Gomes, who decided he would be Oliver Kahn for 25 minutes. Bendtner’s 85th minute goal was just a consolation, as Arsenal created a 6 points gap between them and the leaders.

Some pride was restored at the DW Stadium, as Arsenal took an unassailable 2-0 lead against Wigan. Or it was, I thought. Wigan heaped heartbreak over the Gunners, with 3 goals in the final 10 minutes, to snatch a 3-2 win. In this game, Charles N’Zogbia decided he had Roberto Carlos’ left foot. The title race was over for Arsenal.

Dejection! 😦

Another loss awaited at Ewood Park, before a final day home win over Fulham meant a 3rd place finish and no trophies to show for.

Chokers?Goners?’Throw away your chances’ team?Well, all of it were terms branded by the media over Arsenal, as the club completed their 5th season without a major trophy.

Well, my love for Arsenal?It was the same old, boundless.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 3rd place

FA Cup – 4th Round

Carling Cup – 5th Round

Champions League – Quarter Finals

Top Scorer – Cesc Fabregas (19 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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