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Torres, Guardiola, van Persie, Stoke Preview + Lineups

Stoke City vs Arsenal, Britannia Stadium, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger was quick to praise the Dutchman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger

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

Tomas Rosicky

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

Thomas Vermaelen

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

Carl Jenkinson

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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

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

Penalty Shooutout – 

Alaba (Bayern) – Scores 0-1

Ronaldo (Real) – Saved 0-1

Gomez (Bayern) – Scores 0-2

Kaka (Real) – Saved 0-2

Kroos (Bayern) – Saved 0-2

Alonso (Real) – Scores 1-2

Lahm (Bayern) – Saved 1-2

Ramos (Real) – Misses 1-2

Schweinsteiger (Bayern) – Scores 1-3

Man of the Match – Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A little Champions League Preview – Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid, Champions League semi-finals 1st Leg, Allianz Arena

Kickoff – 19:45 GMT (00:15 IST), Tuesday, 17th April 2012

It is kind of strange to be talking about the Champions League, especially when the club you support isn’t involved in the competition any more. But, the Champions League is the Champions League. It remains the most elite club football competition.

This years semi finals have 4 completely different football philosophies in action. We have the Catalans, who have a brilliant side, featuring the world’s best players, with their unique style of football, where they kill or rather bore the opposition with their passing. We have Real Madrid, who are nothing but Cristiano Ronaldo put together. There’s Bayern Munich, who can really play as a great team at times, and finally there’s Chelsea, who are enjoying a fine run of results under the guidance of Roberto di Matteo.

I may have gone a bit overboard by saying Real Madrid are all about Cristiano Ronaldo, because they are not. Under Jose Mourinho, Real have transformed from being the world’s most underachieving side, to a fearless attacking unit, with handsomely paid superstars like Ronaldo, Kaka, di Maria, Higuain and Benzema. But, they aren’t just about their attack. In the few Real games I have watched this season, I think their most consistent and best players have been the midfield trio of Xabi Alonso, and the Germans Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.

Ozil may not have scored too many goals, but his link up play is second to none in Europe. With Khedira, he has formed a fine partnership for both club and country, and they have proved to be like the Iniesta-Xavi combination for Barcelona. Xabi Alonso, as well know is a finely tuned midfielder. His presence in the centre of midfield, has been vital to Real’s success in both league and Europe this season. He does most of the dirty work, and as always, doesn’t get as much attention as a Ronaldo or a Kaka may attract. Coming to which, Kaka seems like a completely rejuvenated player this season. Some of his goals have been astonishing, and he remains a great option to have on the bench.

The skinny di Maria also seems a player, whom Mourinho has just allowed to go out and play. He is a real menace on the wings, and with strikers with clinical efficiency, namely Benzema and Higuain, Madrid seem to be a devastating attacking unit. At the back, though, they are prone to conceding goals on the counter, which could just suit Bayern’s attacking style. Marcelo and Sergio Ramos are attack minded fullbacks, while Pepe and Alvaro Arbeloa have had their occasional shaky moments this season.

In complete contrast to Real Madrid’s power in the transfer market, is Bayern Munich. They have built a great side, with foundations from their very own famous academy. Captaining them for quite some time, is proud Bavarian left-back Philip Lahm. Thrust the mantle of captaincy at a very young age, he has shown impeccable maturity, in helping out a young Bayern defence. Holger Badstuber, all of 23 has been a rock at the back this season, and he has a great future ahead of him, while Jerome Boateng looks a completely different player from what he was at Manchester City. And, finally 19 year old Austrian player of the year David Alaba, has proved impressive enough to keep out the seasoned Daniel van Buyten out of the squad.

In midfield, Bayern possess more exciting talent. Luiz Gustavo is making the central defensive midfield position his own, as he forms a good cohesive partnership with another Bayern protege Toni Kroos, who has firmly established himself in the German national side.

Bayern’s attack needs no introduction. Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery are two world class individuals on the flanks, and probably represent the best wing partnership of any club in Europe. Arjen Robben will have some unfinished business with his old club of course. Thomas Muller, like most of his clubmates is proving to be a great prospect for the future, and he is all of 22. Mario Gomez, can be counted among the world’s deadliest strikers. Of Spanish descent, he has scored 11 times in 12 Champions League appearances this season, second only to Lionel Messi of Barcelona. His tally of 25 goals in 30 league games, is astounding too.

Bayern’s loss to Dortmund last week, have all but ended their title hopes. The Champions League final, which is going to be held in their impressive home, the Allianz Arena, will just add fresh impetus to the Bavarians, to make it to the final. It will be no easy task, as they face a resilient attacking force, masterminded by Jose Mourinho. All in all, we can expect two brilliant games of football.

Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in General

 

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Top 15 Thierry Henry Arsenal goals

Finally, we have got the news that we have been waiting for, with bated breath, for the past couple of weeks. Arsenal’s all time goal-scorer, and the greatest player to have donned the famous red-and-white strip is back. Thierry Henry, who lit the English game  with his fine individual talents, is back after signing a 2 month loan deal from New York Red Bulls. Freak, he’s so good, he has a best 15 list in a top-10’s category. 😀

15. vs Manchester United, Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 21st January 2007, W 2-1

With 92 minutes gone, and score levels, Thierry Henry heads highest over a to prod home a Emmanuel Eboue cross. This was his second last goal.

14. vs Juventus, Champions League Quarter-Finals, Highbury, 28th March 2006, W 2-0

On a famous European night at Highbury, Thierry Henry collects a delightful pass from Cesc Fabregas, stumbles, but scores in front of an empty net, despite being off  balance, leaving the world’s best goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, thoroughly embarassed.

13. vs Aston Villa, Premier League, Highbury, 1st April 2006, W 5-0

A sublime long-range effort. Henry takes a fine backheel from Adebayor, gauges the position of Villa custodian Thomas Sorensen and lets in an unstoppable shot.

12. vs Manchester United, FA Community Shield, Millennium Stadium, 10th August 2003, D 1-1, Lost on penalties 3-4

This free-kick was taken, like from 100 yards out. Yet, it was perfectly placed to the right side of the keeper. Tim Howard was beaten comprehensively.

11. vs Manchester City, Premier League, Highbury, 1st February 2004, W 2-1

A scorcher. Henry gets a pass from Robert Pires, right outside the penalty box. He senses his chance, and unleashes an unstoppable thunderbolt.

10. vs Manchester United, Premier League, Highbury, 28th March 2004, D 1-1

Henry plays a skillful one-two with Spaniard Jose Antonio Reyes, and unleashes another of his scorchers. The ball swerves on its way to completely beat United keeper Roy Caroll.

9. vs West Ham United, Premier League, Upton Park, 24th August 2002, D 2-2

Henry receives a pass from Patrick Vieira, with his back to goal. But, he ghosts past a defender and smashes one past David James. Speak of awareness.

8. vs Sparta Prague, Champions League Group Stage, Generali Arena, 18th October 2005, W 2-0

Henry came on as a 15th minute substitute, replacing an injured Jose Antonio Reyes. Minutes later, he bagged an amazing goal, shooting from the outside of his right-foot, to equal Ian Wright’s club record of 185 goals.

7. vs Watford, Premier League, Vicerage Road, 23rd April 2000, W 3-2

Henry bamboozled 4 Watford defenders en route to scoring this one. Martin Tyler’s exact words – “The opposition just melted away from him!”

6. vs Inter Milan, Champions League Group Stage, San Siro, 25th November 2003, W 5-1

On one of Arsenal’s greatest nights, where Italian giants Inter Milan were humbled, Henry scored one of his best goals. Sprinting half the length of the pitch, under the stern challenge of Javier Zanetti, Henry scored off his left-foot.

5. vs Charlton Athletic, Premier League, Highbury, 2nd October 2004, W 4-0

A true underlining of the man’s ability. With Jonathan Fortune all over the Frenchman, Henry has the tenacity to make a cheeky backheel, that ended in the back of the net.

4. vs Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Highbury, 16th November 2002, W 3-0

Surely this had to be there. Collecting the ball deep into his own half, Henry produced a magical run. Shrugging off the challenge of Mathew Etherington, and then hoodwinking Stephen Carr and Ledley King, Henry shot past Kasey Keller and celebrated in front of the Spurs faithful. And now, that moment is immortalized with a statue outside Emirates Stadium.

3. vs Real Madrid, Champions League Round of 16, Santiago Bernabeu, 21st February 2006, W 1-0

Completely written-off against a star-studded Real Madrid, on another of Arsenal’s great European nights, Henry silenced the Madridistas with an absolute beauty. He took possession, near the half-way line, and then beat Ronaldo, Alvara Mejia and Luis Guti, to shoot past Iker Casillas.

2. vs Liverpool, Premier League, Highbury, 9th April 2004, W 4-2

A classic. With Arsenal having been knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League, by Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, and 2-1 down at half-time, Henry scored this collector’s item to make it 3-2 after Robert Pires’ equaliser. Having dropped deep, Henry had the whole of Liverpool’s defence to beat. Which he did, with panache and pace. Liverpool backed off and Henry calmly slotted past Jerzy Dudek, to score one of the most important goals of the 2003-2004 unbeaten campaign.

1. vs Manchester United, Premier League, Highbury, 1st October 2000, W 1-0

Henry’s greatest Arsenal goal. With 30 minutes gone, and completely against the run of play, Henry collects a pass from Gilles Grimandi, with his back facing goal, and Dennis Irwin keeping a tight leash. In a flash of a moment, Henry loops the ball, and then volleys it into the net of a hapless Fabien Barthez. And yes, it has great commentary to go with it. This goal came second in the list of Arsenal’s greatest ever goals, seconly to Dennis Bergkamp’s masterclass against Newcastle in 2002.

"That's deliberate!That's majestic! " So good, the commentator told "Sheer Brilliance' twice! 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Best of the Best

 

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2008-2009 Season Review – Season of Frustration

Yet another season. More hopes. More pressure. Season 2008-2009 beckoned for a very youthful Gunners side, which had seen much chop and change over the summer.The Invincibles of 5 years back was now reduced to only Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy, as Jens Lehmann and Gilberto Silva left Arsenal.

Jens Lehmann was somewhat of a cult hero at Arsenal. For all his antics, he was a brilliant custodian. He was immaculate in the 2003-2004 season, and anyone remember the 2005 FA Cup Final, where he single handedly won the trophy! But of course, he had his occasional hiccups, none bigger than the 2006 Champions League Final, where he got sent off, as Arsenal crashed to a 2-1 defeat. Gilberto was the lynchpin of the midfield ever since the departure of Patrick Vieira. He was ever-reliable with his penalties and his tackles, and often scored crucial goals for the Gunners.

Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb descended into footballing wilderness as they moved to AC Milan and Barcelona, supposedly to win silverware, but ended up heating benches on cold nights across Italy and Spain.

Meanwhile, Arsenal dived into the market as the compulsory French recruitment policy was fulfilled with the arrival of Marseille starlet Samir Nasri for £12 million. And there were some local cheer, as North London born and bred Jack Wilshere signed a proffesional contract. More young blood arrived in the form of Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who rejected the advances of Manchester United, and Mexican striker Carlos Vela.

Arsenal started their league campaign as they ripped apart newcomers West Brom 1-0, with debutant Nasri scoring after 4 minutes, before themselves being on the receiving end of a 1-0 drubbing at Fulham. FC Twente were dispatched 6-0 on aggregate as Arsenal entered another season of the Champions League group stages.

Newcastle and Blackburn, beaten 3-0 and 4-0; Arsenal made the long trip to eastern Europe to face Dynamo Kiev;in a game which saw the Kiev left back (I forgot his name, ended with -ev for sure! ) trying to chop down Walcott’s legs. William Gallas scored a late equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw.

An astonishingly young Arsenal side took to the field against Sheffield United in the Carling Cup. The average age of the 18 man squad was just 18.5 years, and they showed no stage fear as they hit Sheffield for a 6. Wilshere and Ramsey were a class act in midfield, as Carlos Vela helped himself to a hattrick.

Kids, who? 

The Gunners were bought back down to ground few days later, as they crashed to Hull City 2-1 at the Emirates. Geovanni scored from God knows where, in a really drab evening of football.

Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie looked the perfect strike partnership for Arsenal, as they were consistently among the goals that season, and they took a share of the spoils as Porto were dumped 4-0 at the Emirates. And the European juggernaut rolled on as Fenerbahce were thrashed 5-2 in Turkey under hostile conditions.

An amazing night in Turkey! 

The game of the season came few days later as Arsenal faced Tottenham in a pulsating derby. Cunty Spuds took the lead as a traitor David Bentley scored a scorcher. But Arsenal hit back, as the centre backs Mikael Silvestre and Gallas helped themselves to a couple of goals. Adebayor scored off a delightful Nasri chip, before Daren Bent made it 3-2. It seemed Arsenal had sealed the points with van Persie’s goal. But Spuds hit back in amazing fashion, in the dying moments. First, Jenas cut in to shoot a curler, before Luka Modric repeated the same trick;only to hit the post in the path of Aaron Lennon, who gleefully tucked the ball home.

“We are the cunty Spuds, we are the cunty spuds!”

More frustration awaited the Gunners, as they went to Stoke, hoping to face a football team, before they were face to face with a proffessional rugby side. Rugby emerged the winner as Stoke won 2-1 and Arsenal emerged out of the Britannia, and headed straight to the local hospital.

The Premier League champions awaited next at the Emirates for Arsenal. And Samir Nasri announced his arrival on the English scene, as he scored two brilliant goals to hand Arsenal a 2-0 lead. I remember watching the game with one of my best buddies Samarth Kodial, a Manchut in every sense of the word. Rafael scored minutes from time, but Arsenal held their nerve and mine as they clinched the game 2-1.

Nasri does the double over United!! 

And when it seemed the United game was a sign of things to come, Aston Villa emerged 2-0 victors day later at the Emirates.It could have been worse, but for a penalty save by Manuel Almunia. Worse came days later as a Robinho-inspired Manchester City brushed aside the Gunners 3-0 at Eastlands.

The troubled times saw a shift of captaincy as Arsene Wenger decided to strip William Gallas of captaincy and midfield maestro Cesc Fabregas was appointed the skipper. And in other news, Niklas Bendtner revealed his metrosexual side, as he flashed his pink boots to score in a win over Dynamo Kiev.Soon, a van Persie brace was to bring more joy to Arsenal as they beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

van Persie does the double over Chelsea!! 

Bendtner’s flash of pink!!

The Wenger kids were ousted of the Carling Cup, on a cold December night in Lancashire, 2-0 to Burnley, before Emmanuel Eboue was booed off against Wigan, after he gave away the ball countless times, in a 1-0 win. Days later, ex-Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere came back to haunt his former emplyers as he scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough. Liverpool dealt more body blows to Arsenal, escaping with a 1-1 draw, as well as injuring Cesc Fabregas and playing a role in Adebayor’s red card.

With Gallas, Clichy, Rosicky, Fabregas, Walcott, van Persie and Adebayor all facing lengthy spells at the physio’s clinic that season for Arsenal, making you wonder if Arsene would give assistant manager Pat Rice some game time.

Speaking of injuries, Zat Knight dealt an injury time blow to Arsenal’s dwindling title hopes, to level the game at 2-2 at Villa Park. Aston Villa gave Arsenal a long and hard chase for fourth place that season.Twin 1-0 wins over Portsmouth and Bolton kept and a 3-1 revenge win over Hull kept Arsenal afloat.

The big story weeks later would be the signing of Russia’s EURO 2008 star Andrey Arshavin from Zenit St. Petersburg for £15 million. Another big story was the return of Eduardo da Silva, Arsenal’s Brazilian born Croatian striker, against Cardiff City in a FA Cup 4th round replay. He scored twice as the Welsh side were beaten 4-0. And in the Premier League, frustration was mounting as Arsenal were held to 5 draws on the bounce against Everton, West Ham, Tottenham, Sunderland and Fulham, the last 4 being goalless.

Europe provided some respite for Arsenal, as they were handed a tricky tie against AS Roma. The first leg was nervously navigated through 1-0, with a van Persie penalty. And an audacious goal by Eduardo against Burnley meant progress in the FA Cup as well.

Eduardo scores a cracker!! 

However the sternest test of Arsenal’s campaign awaited in the Italian capital, Rome, more precisely the hostile atmosphere of the Stadio Olimpico. Roma, were efficient in attack all night, scoring in the 9th minute through Juan and keeping the pressure throughout, only for a certain Manuel Almunia to thwart all attempts. After extra-time the game went to penalties. Eduardo started the spot-kick saga, and his penalty was saved. Soon, Mirko Vucinic had his pathetic shot saved by Almunia. It was 4-4 after regulation spot-kicks and it went to sudden death. Tension around the stadium was unbearable. And finally came the moment. Max Tonneto aimed for the top corner of the goal, but had his shot land up in row Z, and Arsenal were through in stuttering fashion.

A magnificent night in Rome! 

The gutsy display in Rome was soon converted to a 4-0 thumping of Blackburn Rovers. Arshavin seemed to have scored the first in the 2nd, but it was credited as an Andre Ooijer own goal. But, the diminutive Russian was not to be denied that evening, as he scored an incredible solo goal from the narrowest of angles.

From Russia, with love! 

Hull City provided tougher opposition in the 6th round of the FA Cup, but were beaten 2-1 by a late Gallas header in an ill-tempered game. A poor Newcastle were beaten 3-1 and so were Manchester City 2-0. It set up well for a Champions League quarter final clash with Spanish side Villarreal. 3 years earlier, the El Madrigal had been a scene of joy for the Gunners as a last minute Riquelme penalty was saved and Arsenal went through to face Barcelona in the Champions League final, which they eventually lost.

Villarreal went on the offensive from the word go, eventually taking the lead through a long range effort from Marcos Senna. However, Arsenal went into the second leg with an away goal, as Adebayor scored a brilliant equaliser, completely against the run of play.

Itzzz Addebbbaayyyoorr!!! 

The return of the ‘Yellow Submarines’ saw the return of one of Arsenal’s greatest midfielders ever, Robert Pires. However the pleasantries stopped there. Arsenal were unstoppable that night. Walcott opened the scoring with a delicious flick. And Adebayor doubled the lead, as he scored past Diego Lopez, even inspiring a little hop from Mr. Arsene Wenger. van Persie’s penalty sealed a win and a semi-final showdown with Manchester United.

Wenger performing ‘The Hop’! 

3 days later, Arsenal made the short trip to Wembley, to face London rivals Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. Early Arsenal pressure told as Theo Walcott fired the North Londoners into the lead. But, Didier Drogba ghosted upon Arsenal yet again, as he pounced upon a howler from goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to score with an open net ahead of him.

The game of the season came 3 days later, on a pulsating night in Liverpool, at Anfield. The game was described as a ‘modern classic’. While Liverpool desperately needed 3 points to keep pushing Manchester United for the title, Arsenal weren’t in much desperation for points but a win would effectively seal 4th place. Both teams created a flurry of chances, before Andrei Arshavin opened the scoring in the 36th minute and the Gunners went into half-time with a 1-0 lead. The second half was a completely different animal from the first. Liverpool hit back with two quick goals through Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun. Carragher’s poor pass was tracked down by Arshavin and he let in a peach. And moments later, he completed his hat-trick at Anfield after Nasri put him through. The game got more exciting as Torres brilliantly turned to make it 3-3. It seemed all over for Liverpool’s title challenge, as Walcott made most of a weary defence to unleash the beast in Arshavin as he lashed in for his 4th goal of the night in the 90th minute. Liverpool found the last bit of energy to grab an equaliser, but their title tilt was nearly over.

4 of the best from Arshavin! 

Games were coming thick and fast for Arsenal, and after a 3-0 win over Middlesbrough, they made a daunting trip to Old Trafford. The game was one of the dullest I watched, as both teams failed to show up. But, United scored the winner in the 18th minute through John O’Shea. Optimism was high around the Emirates for Arsenal fans, for the second leg. However, soon Park Ji-Sung capitalised on a slip by young Kieran Gibbs in the 8th minute to hand United the lead. You had to feel for the boy. United showed their class, 3 minutes later, as Ronaldo unleashed a rocket of a free-kick. And passage to the final was sealed by Ronaldo again, in the 61st minute, taking advantage of flak defending. Robin van Persie’s penalty was a mere consolation as Arsenal lost 3-1, making it their second semi-final loss of the season.

A disappointing exit..

Chelsea heaped misery as they ran out 4-1 winners over a beleaguered Arsenal team. Days later, another trip to Old Trafford, saw United picking up a point and the title. And the campaign was rounded off with a 4-1 dead-rubber win over Stoke.

Nearly there, but not quite. That was the story of another trophyless season for Arsenal. Despite the mounting injury list, Arsenal managed a 21 game unbeaten run in the Premier League and a run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and Champions League.

That made enough case for optimism for Gooner fans world around.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – Semi-Finals

Carling Cup – Quarter Finals

Champions League – Semi-Finals

Top Scorer – Robin van Persie (20 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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2007-2008 Season Review – So close, yet so far again

23 June. I still remember the date. I had just returned home, and was logging on to BBC, to check the latest headlines, and was met with the worst headline, Gooners around the world could hear.The headline said, Arsenal star Thierry Henry joins Barcelona. It was a really sad moment for all Gooners, as Arsenal’s French talisman had left for Catalonia after 8 years stellar service for the club, scoring 226 goals and providing 92 assists. He was not only a spectacular goal-poacher, but his vast array of skills had made him the finest Premier League players of his time. More on him later.

Another player who left Arsenal, was the Swede Freddie Ljungberg, to West Ham, whose transfer was less talked about after the Henry saga. Ljungberg also had been a fine player, and had adorned the Arsenal crest on his chest for 9 years, scoring 73 goals.

LEGENDS

Anyways, now that the long protracted transfer saga of Thierry Henry had done, Arsenal had the 2007-2008 season to look forward to. Arsenal had come inches close to winning the Carling Cup, the previous campaign, and surely the young guns had loads to look forward to.

Arsene Wenger was,. characteristically quiet in the transfer market. His only major signings were Croatian striker, Eduardo da Silva; and the French duo of Bacary Sagna and Lassana Diarra. Eduardo had a big reputation in Croatia, where the Brazilian-born player had netted 73 goals in 104 appearances for Dinamo Zagreb. William Gallas was made Arsenal captain.

Post-Henry Arsenal had started their campaign against Fulham, at home. The game, as I remember was increasingly frustrating as Arsenal created bucketloads of chances, but trailed Fulham 1-0 for most part of the game, after David Healy’s goal. Hleb found himself free in the box, in the 93rd minute, and he scored, to hand Arsenal a winning start.

Arsenal had safely negotiated through the Champions League qualifiers against Czech outfit Sparta Prague, and only a 81st minute screamer from Cesc Fabregas gave the Gunners all points against Manchester City, after Schmeichel junior had saved a Robin van Persie spot kick. Arsenal then went on a rampage of wins, beating Portsmouth 3-1 at home. Next up, the North London Derby at Shit Fart Lane. A certain young Welshman, Gareth Bale, had scored an exquisite free kick to hand Spurs the lead and false hopes of getting the better of their more accomplished neighbors. Dimitar Gergatov, yes, that’s his stupid Bulgarian name; had the chance of his life, when he went clear, only for a brilliant Kolo Toure, with a last ditch tackle. Arsenal missed many chances, hitting the bar and skying their efforts or being saved by an in-form Paul Robinson. Emmanuel Adebayor equalised through a header, while Gergatov then had another attempt cleared off the line by Gael Clichy.  And minutes later, Fabregas got the ball from half a kilometre out, I guess; and let in a dynamite. Absolute dynamite.  The action was getting frantic, as Darren Bent missed a sitter, which Harry Redknapp’s missus would have scored.  And, in the 90th, the Gunners sealed all points as Adebayor scored a peach, to leave Shit Fart lane as silent as, yes, a fart.

Absolute Dynamite

Oozing with confidence, Arsenal brushed aside Derby County 5-0, and then beat Juande Ramos’ Seville 3-0, Newcastle 2-0 in the League Cup, West Ham and Steaua Bucharest; both away 1-0, thanks to solitary van Persie strikes, and finally Sunderland and Bolton 2-0 and 3-2 respectively.

That’s a netbuster

Fabregas was in brilliant form, contributing with 7 goals from midfield, and Arsenal were sitting pretty at the top, come October. And they were taking plaudits in Europe, after thrashing Slavia Prague 7-0 at the Emirates Stadium. The commentator’s exact words after Fabregas scored the 6th goal was “This is perfect football!! Arsenal are playing the heavenly game!!”

The scoreboard paints the picture

The brilliant run continued, as Fabregas scored a 80th minute equaliser at Anfield. Manchester United were next in the Premier League, and again I was watching the game with Suraj Sathyanarayan. Wayne Rooney scored again at the Emirates, just before half time. And Fabregas had equalised for Arsenal, before Ronaldo looked to have scored the winner in the 82nd minute. Arsenal made a barrage of attacks, before William Gallas’ chance goal, in the 94th minute or something, made it 2-2. I can still remember Fabregas screaming into Ferdinand’s ears after the equaliser!!

Gallas pokes the ball home

Arsenal’s incredible run of 28 games unbeaten in all competitions was finally halted in Spain, as Seville beat Arsenal 3-1. While Fabregas was clearly running the show, there was another unsung hero in the team, who goes by the name Matheiu Flamini. He was immense all season, and provided the perfect foil for Fabregas to go ahead and perform his playmaker role to perfection. After his near error-free season, Flamini inexplicably decided to leave for AC Milan.

Flamini and Fabregas

Another player to step up to the plate, was Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese striker, was turning out out be a goal machine. He contributed 30 goals in all competitions that season, and scored many spectacular ones in the process. He was later to change his surname from Adebayor to Greedybayor.

He was pretty good too

Arsenal managed to hold on to top spot,even though they could only muster a point out of their travels to the North East, to face Newcastle and Middlesbrough. However, the Gunners bounced back as William Gallas’ solitary strike was enough to see of a largely dissapointing Chelsea.

Cech is bewildered as Gallas scores

A very young Arsenal side made the trip to Blackburn in the Carling Cup, with the oldest player being Eduardo, aged 24. The young guns, down to 10 men, emerged 3-2 winners on a chilly night, in extra time, thanks to the goal from their oldest player. And more plaudits were heaped upon the young team, as they won the North London derby, 3 days before Christmas 2-1, after Nicklas Bendtner’s goal, 2 fucking seconds after he came on as a sub!!

Bendtner beats Spuds and gravity to score!

1-0 down at half-time at Goodison, Eduardo turned the game on it’s head as his craft delivered two brilliant goals, before 3 points were sealed with a 4-1 triumph.

Spuds finally got a win over their North London rivals after nearly 9 years, as they beat a disjointed Arsenal 5-1 in the League Cup semifinals. Arsenal were really poor that night (You have to be, if you are losing to Spurs) and also there was an on-pitch scuffle between Adebayor and Bendtner, which was quickly quelled, but it was a worrying sign that the Gunners were self-destructing after a magnificent campaign, so far.

Soon, that was put aside, as Arsenal beat Newcastle 3-0 twice in 4 days, and then a brilliant Eduardo goal sealed points at Eastlands, before Arsenal took full advantage of their game in hand, as a late Adebayor goal against Blackburn put the North Londoners 5 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester United. I watched the last 10 minutes of the game, and the tension around the Emirates was palpable. When Adebayor scored, I had this feeling that the Premier League was coming to North London. How wrong was I?

A week later, Arsenal failed to turn up at Old Trafford. Injuries seemed to have mounted, as a significantly weak Arsenal side succumbed to a 4-0 loss, and down to 10 men as the ever-stupid Eboue was sent off for a cynical challenge. The season changing game a week later, after a goalless draw against Kaka’s AC Milan, at St. Andrews. In the 8th minute of the game, a certain fucking cunt, named Martin Taylor, who himself was an untalented twat, made a horrendous challenge on Arsenal’s immensely talented Brazilian-Croat, which broke the latters leg.It was an unreal moment. Watching on TV, I certainly didn’t know the extension of the injury. All I knew, was that,it was something horribly gone wrong,if Adebayor’s. Hleb’s and Fabregas’ expressions were anything to go by. Eduardo was stretchered off and that was that. Birmingham capitalized on Arsenal’s mental frailty, as a James McFadden free-kick put them ahead, before a Walcott brace pulled back the Gunners level in the second half. As it seemed that Arsenal would leave the Midlands with 3 vital points, came the decisive moment of Arsenal’s season. Gael Clichy made an inexplicable mistake as he allowed Stuart Parnaby to run into the penalty box, when he failed to clear the ball. He caught him on the run, and it was a penalty, duly crashed home by McFadden, the last kick of the game. William Gallas sat on the half-way circle, as a protest. It all seemed too rosy till now, but in fact it was all spiralling downwards.

Eduardo’s horrific injury

AC Milan was conquered at the San Siro, as Arsenal became the first English to beat Milan in their formidable backyard. A brilliant performance by the Gunners, against one of the best teams in the world, was rewarded in the 84th minute, as Fabregas’ brilliant long range effort, proving to be the icebreaker. Theo Walcott’s darting run was then tapped in by Emmanuel Adebayor, as Arsenal enjoyed a famous win under the lights in Italy.Joy was unparalleled and relief was long-coming.

Milan conquered

But, that signalled a downfall, as Arsenal could secure only 3 points in their next 4 games in the Premier League. A 94th minute equaliser from Bendtner, and a 86th minute one from Toure, rescued 2 points for Arsenal against Villa and Boro, at home, and then they were beaten 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. The moment, where I lost all hope was against Bolton at the Reebok. Arsenal simply had to win this one to stay in the hunt, and 2-0 down at Half-time, to a brace from Matthew Taylor, and down to 10 men, after Diaby got sent off, was hardly the script. I switched off the TV in disgust, and went to sleep. But, I regret that decision, to this day. Arsenal sparked a second half comeback mission. Gallas got one back, before van Persie equalised in deteriorating conditions at The Reebok, under the rain. And,an unprecedented winner came in the 90th minute, as the 10 men brilliantly battled, with all odds stacked up against them. Arsenal were still in the title race.

Fab celebrates an amazing turnaround

Arsenal then had to face Liverpool thrice in a week, and it started off with a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in the first leg of the Champions League quarters. Arsenal had a clear penalty shout, when Dirk Kuyt bought down Alexander Hleb, but the referee waved play-on. It was a clear indicator as to how even luck had deserted us in the decisive moments of the season. Arsenal struggled to a 1-1 draw on the weekend in the Premier League, and the gap widened at the top of the table.Arsenal’s dreams were on the line at Anfield. In a pulsating game. Arsenal took the lead as Diaby poked one past Reina in the 13th. Sami Hyppia soon equalised, and a brilliant Fernando Torres goal in the 69th put the Reds ahead. All seemed over, before Theo Walcott came on. A corner was cleared, and Walcott made a pacy waltz through the Reds’ defence, running the length of the pitch, to give a perfect pass to Adebayor to drive home. It was 2-2, and Arsenal were in the drivers’ seat now, on away goals. Alas, it was not to be. After being denied a penalty a week earlier,Arsenal conceded one in the 86th. Ryan Babel dived for a nomination for the Oscars, after minimal contact from Toure. Steven Gerrard scored, and Babel sealed the win when Arsenal put everything forward, in search for an equaliser. Arsenal’s luck had run out, as their European dreams were ended by poor refereeing, on a hard night in Anfield.

How could this not be a penalty?

It’s all over in Europe

And the watershed moment, came at Old Trafford, few days later. Arsenal, by now were 6 points behind United, and only a win here would keep them on United’s back. A loss would signal an end to Premier League hopes, as a 9 point deficit would be impossible to overcome, with only 4 games to go. I was in delirium when Adebayor’s chance effort handed Arsenal the lead, but 6 minues later Gallas was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. Ronaldo stepped up and scored. Arsenal’s fate was sealed, as an Owen Hargreaves free kick meant 3 points to United. I vividly remember that moment. As United were lining it up, I knew this was it. It is one of the worst feelings in the world, for a football fan. Lehmann didn’t even move to save it, and was beaten completely. Just weeks earlier, we had beaten AC Milan at the San Siro, and were 5 points ahead in the Premier League. And now, we were out of both competitions, and we had no one to blame.

And in the league

12 points were derived from 4 dead-rubber Premier League games. There was a sense of failure in all Arsenal players in all of the games, even though they won. There were no animated celebrations, even after a 6-2 thumping of Derby. It had been a long hard season, and a much-deserved trophy had eluded them throughout.

Living through a teams ups and downs is part of a football fans’ life. The 2007-2008 season was an epic season for me, and for Gunners’ fans across the globe.The team had lit our lives and provided many heart-stopping moments, both joyous and sad. However, my unflinching loyalties towards them were only strengthened.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 3rd place

FA Cup – 5th Round

Carling Cup – Semi Finals

Champions League – Quarter Finals

Top Scorer – Emmanuel Adebayor (30 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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2005-2006 Season Review – The Final Salute

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

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

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

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

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

Pascal Zinedine Cygan..A legend of football..

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

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

Henry, Wright and Bergkamp

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

That’s No 186!

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

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

The Pires-Henry penalty fiasco!!

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

Gilberto saves the night!!

And Almunia saves the day!! 

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

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

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

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

The greatest defence ever!!

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

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

Galacticos?? Really??

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

Galacticos up in flames!! 

The German Superman!!

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

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

Vieira, who?

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

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

Dennis Bergkamp scores on Dennis Bergkamp day!! 

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

They are a good yellow lot, they are!!

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

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

He’s a fine little Ivorian, isn’t he?

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

Keane celebrating his scumdom!! 

And Henry saves the day yet again!!

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

German Superman saves a shot from the Argentine master!!

Everyone wants a slice of Superman!!

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

Wenger’s greatest night!!

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

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

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

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

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

Benayoun..gotta love that Israeli!!

Celebrating St. Totteringham’s Day!! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

That heartbreaking moment

Would this be his last appearance as a Gunner??

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

That sinking feeling

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

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – Fourth Round

Carling Cup – Semi Finals

Champions League – Runners Up

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

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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