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Arsenal 3-3 Norwich City

Arsenal 3 (Benayoun 2, van Persie 72, 80) – Norwich City 3 (Hoolahan 12, Holt 27, Morison 85)

Man of the Match – John Ruddy (Norwich City)

The chances of having St. Totteringham’s day celebrations, this year, seems pretty bleak now. In what can be described as one of the matches of the season, and one which never ceased to amaze and entertain, Arsenal garnered only a point, to move 2 points clear of Tottenham and Newcastle, albeit having played a game more.

There were no surprises in Arsenal’s lineup, with the same squad that played against Stoke being used. Norwich, however stuck to their policy of rotation, and made several changes. Simon Lappin came in place of the injured Adam Drury, while there was also place in the lineup for Canada striker Simeon Jackson. Also named was the Irish Messi, Wes Hoolahan.

Within no time, Arsenal were in the lead, after birthday boy Yossi Benayoun opened the scoring, with a fine curling effort, into the top corner of the net. Just 70 seconds had passed by at this stage.

However, contrary to what I had predicted earlier, Norwich didn’t seem like they were too keen on an early holiday. They almost equalized immediately, but Grant Holt’s strike was blocked by Kieran Gibbs. They didn’t have to wait long though. An unconvincing moment from Szczesny later, Norwich capitalized as Kyle Naughton’s ball was turned towards the goal by Wes Hoolahan. Szczesny fumbled, as the ball ended in the back of the net.

What was required from the Gunners on the afternoon was some impetus to gather the 3 points that they so required. However, they looked edgy, lackadaisical and lethargic in their approach. Norwich, playing for nothing, after having secured their top flight status, looked like a real menacing outfit.

An Arsenal attack fizzled out, and Norwich got hold of the ball, and chested and headed it around neatly, to set up Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan, who were up against Laurent Koscielny and an backtracking Kieran Gibbs. Holt’s shot took a big deflection off Gibbs’ and looped over a stranded Szczesny into the net.

Arsenal almost equalized, but van Persie failed to get to the end of a low Sagna cross. Moments later, the French right-back suffered an injury, and was replaced by his compatriot Francis Coquelin. He almost conceded a penalty, moments after coming on, as a cross from the right was met with a tangle of legs between Coquelin and Howson. Replays clearly showed Coquelin had fouled the Norwich midfielder. However, the referee refused to oblige.

Norwich were wrecking more havoc in Arsenal’s penalty box. Russel Martin was hauled down by Koscielny, and should’ve gotten a penalty. A furious Paul Lambert certainly thought so. Soon after, Grant Holt nearly gave the Canaries a 3-1 advantage going into the break, but for Koscielny’s brilliant last ditch challenge.

A chorus of boos echoed round the stadium, as the two teams trudged off the pitch at half-time. Surely a hairdryer treatment would do the trick.

Arsenal came racing out into the second half, but it was Norwich who created the first real opportunity, when Jackson almost did a Taraabt, with a shrug of shoulders to beat Vermaelen, who slipped, but his poor effort was saved by Szczesny. Moments later, Benayoun headed right into Ruddy’s hands, with Koscielny being impeded by Holt, but the referee clearly was in no mood to give penalties.

Right back Kyle Naughton, and then Simeon Jackson missed further chances for the Canaries. Arsenal responded with two misses of their own, van Persie and Ramsey the culprits. Rosicky and the impressive Gervinho both had shots on goal, but failed to score.

Arsenal almost had their equalizer, when substitute Marrouane Chamakh’s shot was blocked by Elliot Bennet, only to fall to Alex Song, who played his trademark assist to van Persie. The Dutchman didn’t dissapoint this time, and leveled the scores.

8 minutes later, the comeback was complete, when van Persie, brilliantly placed again, scored off a Rosicky through-ball, under John Ruddy, into the back of the net.

By this time, the adventurous Paul Lambert, had 3 strikers on the pitch, with Anthony Pilkington, Aaron Wilbraham and Steve Morison. It was Morison, who scored the final goal in the match, as he took the ball into his stride, and beat Szczesny at the far post.

What followed next was a frantic end to the game, with Arsenal creating numerous openings. First, van Persie was clearly pushed over by Naughton, with the goal wide open, in the penalty box, and the ref again refused to budge. Soon, Song attempts a backheel, Gibbs has a header, Song has another header, van Persie sent clear on goal, but all of these attempts were kept out by a brilliant John Ruddy.

As the final whistle blew, Arsene Wenger, clearly fuming, just about managed to shake the hands of his counterpart Paul Lambert. It was in our hands, but now it is not. And it is all down to us. We can just hope Manchester City and Aston Villa can do the business for us tomorrow.

The parting shot of the day was Robin van Persie waving at the crowd. Could they be goodbye waves? Only time will tell. For now, the team should just get back to thinking how to beat a West Brom side, keen on giving their boss Roy Hodgson a final hurrah, before he heads on to take the England job.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (6.5) – Looked nervous throughout the game. Nervy clearances, poor handling, bad distribution.

Sagna (7) – Slowed down too many attacks for me. Suffered a bad injury though.

Vermaelen (6.5) – Poor game. He may score a lot of goals, but he is a defender. Needs to concentrate on his defending. Was found wanting on many opportunities.

Koscielny (7.5) – We may have conceded 3, but he was brilliant. Without him, it could’ve been a rout. Sadly, he was partly at fault for the 3rd Norwich goal.

Gibbs (7.5) – He had a good game, I thought. Very good going forward, and almost scored what would have been a precious winner.

Song (6.5) – Failed to get in a single tackle in the game, as far as I remember. He too seemed to slow down the pace of the game at times, but he played a delicious assist for the equalizer.

Rosicky (7.5) – Worked hard in midfield, constantly running at the Canaries defence.

Ramsey (6.5) – I really like the lad, but he hasn’t been at his best of late. Hopefully the close season will give him a good break, and he can return an improved player. He worked hard today, but nothing going his way.

Benayoun (7.5) – Scored a fine goal, and was involved in some fine work in midfield.

Gervinho (7) – A much improved performance from last week at Stoke. His dribbling looks much better, and so does his confidence. Created some good chances today, and switched flanks well, too.

van Persie (8) – Where would we be without him. Scored two important goals. Hopefully, this was not his last game at the Emirates in Arsenal colors.

Subs –

Coquelin (7) – Injected a bit more pace than Sagna on the right, which was good to see.

Chamberlain (7.5) – Provided some much needed creativity, as soon as he came on. A good few minutes.

Chamakh (7) – There is still some life left in him, isn’t there.

Overall Team Rating – 7.10

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal

Stoke City 1 (Crouch 9) – Arsenal 1 (van Persie 15)

Man of the Match – Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal)

If last week’s result bought as much as a frown on my face, today’s result, or rather results did much better to my anger management. A 1-1 draw at a rugby team, is not a bad result, at the end of the day, or in this case, towards the end of a campaign.

With just 2 games left now, Arsenal will need all 6 points against Norwich and West Brom, to be completely sure of 3rd spot. But, with Newcastle faltering, like they did today, losing 4-0 to Wigan, and Sp*rs own bad run, which has seen them lose to Norwich and QPR, it seems sealing 3rd spot could all but become a formality for the Gunners.

There were no surprises in team selection for Arsenal. With Arteta and Walcott out, Benayoun and Ramsey both started, with Gervinho on the wings. Surprisingly, for Stoke, Jermaine Pennant recovered in time, to start the match. Stoke have had a long and hard campaign, which has seen them play 52 games, including Europa league ties in locations as far as Split in Croatia, Thun in Switzerland, Kiev in Ukraine, Tel Aviv in Israel, Besiktas in Turkey and Valencia in Spain. However, their fitness levels remain appreciable.

It was, infact the home side, that made the brighter start to the game. However, Arsenal carved out the first two real chances of the game, with Benayoun timid’s shot and van Persie’s header both being saved by Begovic. Stoke got the early breakthrough, as Mathew Etherington, in acres of space, crossed to Peter Crouch and lanky striker had to just direct the ball into the net, despite the challenges of the Arsenal defence.

6 minutes later, scores were level, as Yossi Benayoun robbed Ryan Shotton off possession, and setting up Tomas Rosicky to delightfully cross for Robin van Persie, who headed in this time. It was the Dutchman’s 28th goal of the season.

Arsenal created more opportunities, but failed to trouble the scores. Gervinho should’ve gotten on the end of a fine Sagna cross. van Persie had a shot blocked, while Koscielny blazed his header over. It ended 1-1 at half-time.

The second half began, in the same fashion as the first with Stoke doing some early running, and Arsenal easing into the game. A van Persie header was easily held by Begovic. And there were more chances, as Gervinho and Vermaelen both skied their efforts. Aaron Ramsey almost scored, in the same stadium, where two years previously he had been struck with a career threatening injury, before he was bought off.

Arsenal had penalty claims turned down, when it seemed Glen Whelan had pushed Yossi Benayoun, but the referee didn’t oblige. It was Stoke, though, who had the better of opportunities to win it late on. Cameron Jerome almost did a Kevin Prince Boateng, but Szczesny produced a fine save. And in the dying moments, a Delap rocket, was almost turned in, but for Sagna’s alertness.

Now that Stoke away is out of the way, it is but natural to say that Arsenal simply must win their last two games, to be completely sure of that 3rd spot.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (8) – Had a fine game. His decision making was spot on.

Sagna (7.5) – At fault for the first goal, but otherwise a good game. Supported Gervinho well.

Vermaelen (7.5) – A good game from him, but again seems to get caught out far too often. Lucky for him, he is partnered by Koscielny.

Koscielny (8) – Another consistent game. Rarely put a wrong foot.

Gibbs (7.5) – Was given a good run around by Pennant, but never really looked troubled.

Song (7.5) – A good improved performance after the last two games. BTW, what are his shins made of? Metal? First, Balotelli and now Whitehead!

Rosicky (8.5) – Worked hard through the game, in pressing forward and tracking back. His clever cross proved to be vital.

Ramsey (7.5) – His work rate can’t be faulted. Had a decent game overall.

Benayoun (7.5) – Had a couple of decent opportunities. Industrious performance.

Gervinho (7) – Looks too lightweight for the Premier League, and not brave enough. His shooting is woeful. Wenger has a lot of work to do with him. His game today was overall decent, made some good runs, but then gave most of them away.

van Persie (7.5) – Scored the equalizer, and then had a couple of chances to score the winner. Was always under pressure from Stoke’s defenders.

Subs –

Diaby (7) – Looks well short of match fitness. By the looks of it, he has got another injury. Hope to see him next season!

Chamakh and Santos – Came on too late to get a rating.

Overall Team Rating – 7.58

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

 

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Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

Man of the Match – Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)

I am actually at a bit of a loss of words, right now. Even though its been well over a day since one of the worst games of football I have witnessed, I still can’t find enough words to jot down a match review.

The worst game I saw this season, before this was the 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Liverpool. Both teams played crap, and were just happy to kick the hell out of each other. It also had a little racist incident, by the way. And next was the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Tottenham. Not that I give a shit about them, but the game’s result was important to us. What ensued was piss poor football. But, yesterday’s game topped it all. Here is an attempt at a match review.

Arsenal’s major injury concern before the Chelsea game, was in all obviousness, Mikel Arteta. He has been ruled out for the remaining 4 games of the season. However, there were returns for French defensive midfielders Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin. Also, Yossi Benayoun was ineligible to play against his parent club. Brother of Calamity, (thanks to god’s blessings), was replaced by Laurent Koscielny, who returned after his 2 game suspension. And, a timely return it was. Arsenal started with Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield.

Chelsea, on the other hand, were forced to make wholesale changes to the squad that played in absorbing encounters against Tottenham and Barcelona, in the FA Cup and Champions League respectively. Ashley Cole was replaced by young Ryan Bertrand. Branislav Ivanovic, who is still suspended, was replaced by Portugal international Jose Bosingwa. John Terry, Gary Cahill and Petr Cech kept their places. The midfield looked fresh, with Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Oriol Romeu, all of whom have played sparingly this season, drafted in. In what seemed a 4-3-3 formation, Daniel Sturridge, Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou were picked in attack.

Now, to the actual match itself. The first few minutes were the slowest minutes I have seen this season. Usually, teams like to start off with some fizz. After kickoff, Arsenal were just happy passing the ball in their own half. And the players, were just walking around, like they were taking a stroll in the park with their girlfriends. This is where the tone for the entire game is set.

Arsenal were very lethargic, and thus allowed Chelsea to have much of the ball. And, when Chelsea have the ball, it ain’t a pretty sight. They were spraying around the ball intelligently though, managing to frustrate the Gunners. However, it was Arsenal who made the first real attempt on target. van Persie managed to direct a Walcott freekick on to the post. Then, Fernando Torres had a great chance, after some good work by Florent Malouda, but he was denied by a last ditch interception from Laurent Koscielny. Minutes later, Malouda caused more problems when he played a ball over the top for Kalou, who missed an onrushing Szczesny, only for Koscielny to come to the rescue again.

In the second half, it seemed like Arsenal had gotten a bit of bashing from Wenger, when they got into the groove. (Mind you, only a little bit). Laurent Koscielny hit the post again with his header, and van Persie’s shot was turned away by Cech. Theo Walcott suffered an injury, which meant he was replaced by Le Forehead, Gervinho. A largely lacklustre Tomas Rosicky, and a dissapointing Chamberlain were soon bought off, as well, to be replaced by, surprise surprise, Abou Diaby and Andre Santos. Now, that’s how you win a match, I suppose.

There were no more real attempts on goal, really, after that, as both sides looked like they had already agreed on a draw, and were just creating chances for the heck of it. Towards the end, Alex Song played in Robin van Persie. Unfortunately, for the Dutchman, his right foot isn’t as talented as his left, and he completely miscued it. Before that, he turned in and out, beating Chelsea’s defence, but was beaten to the shot by Cech.

It took another Koscielny block to deny Sturridge later on.

The only reason I was cheerful come 1:30 AM IST, was that QPR managed to beat Sp*rs 1-0, and I saw a really entertaining El Clasico.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (7.5) – Had a good game, preventing a few goalscoring opportunities for Chelsea.

Sagna (7.5) – A decent game again, but still lacks a bit of cover from Walcott.

Vermaelen (8) – Was caught out a couple of times, and had Koscielny to rescue the situations.

Koscielny (9) – Fantastic defending. He is our best defender by a mile. (Country mile)

Gibbs (7.5) – Looked vulnerable to Chelsea’s attack a few times, but a good game overall.

Song (6.5) – He was poor. Just like the Wigan game, gave away the ball far too often, and never really looked like a defensive midfielder.

Rosicky (7) – Subdued by Romeu and Essien, to make any impact.

Chamberlain (6.5) – Can’t fault his effort, as he is still inexperienced at this level. Rarely got out of the traps.

Ramsey (6.5) – I thought he worked hard, but nothing really worked for him. Strange.

Walcott (6.5) – Ineffective against Bertrand. Stranger.

van Persie (7.5) – Why you no score with right foot? Beats me.

Subs –

Santos (7) – Put in more pace and creativity than Chamberlain on the left.

Gervinho (6.5) – Crossing needs to improve. I have never seen him once kick a football into the air.

Diaby (6.5) – Collecting a yellow card was his only contribution to a timid game

Overall Team Rating – 7.69

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City

Arsenal 1 (Arteta 86) – Manchester City 0

Man of the Match – Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)

The week of misery has finally ended. It was quite a mixed week, after QPR beat Arsenal last week, in a really drab game. However, the team has made up for it, and how. Arsenal secured their 8th win in 9 league games, as they beat title-contenders, or rather title-pretenders, Manchester City, courtesy a late goal from Mikel Arteta.

There were no surprises in the Arsenal starting lineup, as Arsene Wenger decided to drop out of sorts Aaron Ramsey, and started Israel captain Yossi Benayoun, who has been preferred for his experience, in the big games this season.

Manchester City, on the other hand, had some concerns of their own, as David Silva missed out, with a minor knee problem. This meant a rare start for, who else, $amir Ca$hri.

Arsenal had a fine start, in the opening 15 minutes, with Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky running all strings in midfield. Arsenal were mixing it all up, and making it hard for City in the centre of midfield. Rosicky thumped his shot wide. Then, Arsenal should have taken the lead through a header from van Persie, but unfortunately it hit the back of his own teammate, Thomas Vermaelen and onto the post.

However, the game soon started to get ugly. Yaya Toure was injured in a tussle with Alex Song in midfield, and the latter found himself at the receiving end of a Mario Balotelli high boot, for which the Italian should have been sent off. However, the referee probably missed the tackle.

Balotelli got to the end of a Nasri pass, but it was cleared by left back Kieran Gibbs. Nasri then played provider again, as his long ball was almost met by Balotelli, but was eventually cleared by onrushing Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The game was being played out a frenetic pace with some exciting end to end stuff. Arsenal, clearly were way ahead of the big spending Sky Blues.

The second half started differently however, with Balotelli switching flanks from time to time, and the out of form Aguero playing a more central role up front for Manchester City. Szczesny just about managed to parry away a looping Aguero header.

Arsenal then got a few opportunities of their own. Yossi Benayoun danced his way past City’s defence, but his shot was weak. Then, Alex Song played his trademark long ball through to van Persie, however, the Dutchman’s effort only struck the post.

Then, Laurent Koscielny was booked for a foul on Barry, which means he will miss the clashes against Wolves and Wigan. Off the resulting free kick, Balotelli’s attempted overhead kick proved futile.

Then, Arsenal thought they had scored, when van Persie beat Komapny to shoot past Hart, but his effort was deemed offside. The chance of the game arrived, soon after. Walcott’s effort found the post, again. With the goal gaping at his mercy, Vermaelen made a complete hash of his shot, and Benayoun did the same, off the rebound.

However, despite City’s resolve and determination, Arsenal were not to be denied, as Arteta won the ball in midfield, and unleashed a fantastic shot past Joe Hart, to seal three vital points for Arsenal.

In injury time, Balotelli got what he should have gotten much earlier, as his poor foul on Sagna, attracted a second yellow, and marching orders.

Arsenal still had the time to double the lead, but Ramsey scuffed his shot way off target, with the goal right in front of him.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (8) – Had little to do, but did it well.

Sagna (8.5) – Bombed forward a lot today. Was helped by Balotelli hardly doing any backtracing. Sent in a horde of crosses.

Vermaelen (8) – A fine performance, after last week’s QPR debacle.

Koscielny (8) – Looked comfortable for most of the evening.

Gibbs (7.5) – Like Sagna, he bombed forward a lot too, and didn’t shun his defensive duties.

Song (8.5) – A rock in the centre of midfield today.

Rosicky (8) – Lively throughout. Made a lot of darting runs.

Arteta (8.5) – Fantastic in midfield, and scored a fine goal, too.

Benayoun (8) – Another good game by him. Deserves more chances, than what he gets.

Walcott (7.5) – Well marshalled by Clichy on the evening. His performance in the second half gradually improved though.

van Persie (8) – Seems to be going through a bad phase, ain’t he? 😉

Subs –

Santos (7) – Like the commentator rightly said he is still a liability.

Ramsey (7) – Should have scored the second goal of the match.

Chamberlain – Came on too late to get a rating.

Overall Team Rating – 7.88

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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Load of Wenger, QPR Preview + Lineups

Queen’s Park Rangers vs Arsenal, Loftus Road, Premier League

Kickoff – 15:00 GMT (19:30 IST), 31st March 2012

Good day, fellas. Good day indeed. I was hoping for another dour evening, with no telecast of the Arsenal game,  but ESPN Star India has heeded to our twittion’s again, and decided to telecast the QPR vs Arsenal game, in the process sacrificing the Manchester City vs Sunderland kickoff.

The week has been fairly quiet. Yes, there was the Champions League, but the interest of following it goes away once your beloved team is knocked out. Real Madrid had a routine 3-0 win over Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia, who have done fantastically well to come so far. I think they will go the Santiago Bernabeu and have a good day out, and tell their grandchildren about the day the played Real Madrid. Barcelona and AC Milan provided quite a dull affair, a world away from those hugely entertaining group games. The pitch, surprisingly, was much better than the cabbage field, which the Arsenal players ploughed on. Chelsea have made a decent head start as they look to reach the semi finals of the Champions League, which I think they will, with a 1-0 win in Benfica. I, however, do not expect them to go any further. Bayern Munich, too had it easy against the completely out of sorts Marseille team. A Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid semi-final is on the card. The other semi-final is still far away from being decided.

Matters closer to our hearts then. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spoke about his teammates very recently, and they are Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Robin van Persie.

Chambo on Song

I can’t remember the last game he didn’t play – he is always there. Sometimes you don’t notice the stuff he does, the defensive side of the game, but he is always there cleaning up,Obviously he has been bringing assists to the team as well. Some of the passes he has been putting in, like for two of the unbelievable volleys Robin has scored, reminds me technically of watching Fabregas put those balls through.For a holding midfielder to do that, as well as the defensive side of the game, is brilliant. You can’t ask for anything more.He has been brilliant for us all season and he is a really good guy to have in the dressing room as well. He is always happy and putting smiles on everyone’s faces – he is a massive part of the squad.

Chambo on Arteta

I watch them every week in training,I look at the movement they have off the ball, and when they have the ball they are always positive and looking to find Robin or a winger. I can take that into my own game.You always try to learn off anyone in the team, especially top players like Alex Song and Mikel, as well as Aaron and also Jack when he is back.

Chambo on van Persie

Robin has been the main man for goals this season, he is a fantastic player and we see it week in, week out,But the fact that we can bring goals from other areas of the pitch and from different boys does help to take the pressure of him. That will in turn help him relax and play the way he wants to play, and he will end up scoring anyway. It has been good, especially with people like Thomas [Vermaelen] scoring from the back. It always helps to score from other areas of the pitch so long may it continue.

Moving on, Arsene Wenger had a lengthy interview on a host of issues, ahead of the clash with QPR. Before the interview, news as out that UEFA had banned Wenger for 3 games, and handed him a hefty fine. It seems one of the most stupidest decisions made by UEFA. Arsenal had to contend playing on a joke of a pitch, and then given a below par referee in the second leg, and the manager is handed a ban because he touched the referee after the match, while trying to speak to him. Last time round, Wenger was banned for his comments over the most horrendous decision’s in football history, when van Persie was sent off for no reason at all, at the Nou Camp. And, UEFA showed they are muppets when they launched an internal investigation immediately, after Barcelona complained about the substandard San Siro pitch, but no action was taken, when Arsenal played on an even worser pitch, last month.

AW on the captains

I don’t believe in coincidences,Certainly it is impossible to measure but they have certainly been an influential part in that with many other players who have a good spirit as well. The captain is the leader of the team and of course they have played a vital part in that.I believe that the whole team dynamic was very strong, very positive and that had a massive impact. We were going through difficult periods and we recovered because the players never gave up in the dressing room and that was a vital part. I feel overall this has been one of the best seasons in the dressing room. We will see where we finish but I am sure of one thing; we will give our best until the end of the season.They know how difficult it is to be successful and how difficult it is to be consistent,We forget players like Sagna, Walcott is maturing now and they have all played a big part. I must say that the spirit has always been good but the results have not always been as good as expected, especially at the start of the season. The spirit was never in doubt for me. What could be questioned was how good we could be and what was the quality of the team. I am happy now that we have answered this question in a positive way.

AW on the goalscorers

I don’t deny that we rely a lot on Robin van Persie but it is good to see [that we have contributions from elsewhere],It shows you that when the confidence of the team is a little bit higher, suddenly the goals can come from different people. There is more initiative and that is very positive for us because for long parts of the season it is true that we were too dependent on Robin’s goals. The fact that goals now come from everywhere is certainly just a result of a bigger confidence level in the team.

AW on overtaking Manchester City

We will try to give our best,What we can hope for is to be third. We can be fourth, we can be fifth, we can be sixth – we want to be as high as possible and that depends on our consistency now.We are in a position that nobody expected us to be in and we want to strengthen that position from now on. That depends on our performances.I see us fighting like mad on Saturday to win the game. That’s all I see, I don’t see further.We are focused on QPR, believe me. We know that is always a tricky game for everybody and that is what is important to us. After that we focus on the next one and our capability to finish the season in a strong way depends on just how much we focus on every game.Things can change very quickly. Our sport is fragile and we have learned something this season from a very difficult period. Urgency and focus are vital to keep your level up.

AW on new deals

[We will try to arrange new contracts] very early,” he said. “Yes I am [confident that these players will commit]. To say that I am always confident, yes I am. Of course we want to keep our best players.These players want to win things and they want to be in a team that has a chance. Our end of season will help that to help me convince them that they can [here]. It depends now how well we finish.Newspapers open talks now. They should inform me how much they offer and for how long because I would like to know!We are in the situation [with him] as we are in with Van Persie – it will be sorted out at the end of the season,He is playing very well. I think he has improved his technical level a lot, his links with other players and his calmness in front of goal. For me he is developing very well.

AW on favouritism

On the evidence of the numbers, at least you can say that Arsenal doesn’t get any advantage from anybody because we have zero penalties,That is what comes clearly out – on our side, not only do we not get penalties but we get penalties against us that are not penalties – this season – so that at least keeps us out of that fight.Man United have got seven penalties at home, Man City got seven penalties at home and Arsenal got zero [at home in the Premier League]. So we come out of that with no advantage from anybody, so we are very happy.He [Vieira] spoke with his heart,It was after the decision on Monday night where Fulham didn’t get the penalty and in fairness it was a penalty. It just shows one more thing – that the referees need help, video assistance, and then they will gain credibility and there will be no suspicion. If the referee has a difficult decision to make, if he has any assistance from video he would have given a penalty or not a penalty but it would have been a decision that would have had no suspicion. The referee is certainly honest but you expect him to make a decision in a fraction of a second. You can understand it is difficult. He has not time to check if it is right or wrong. That is why, for years, I have been for video assistance.

AW on his ban

If I am [suspended] then it is not justified and I will appeal straight away,I believe that when you have 25 years [experience] in Europe you can still ask the referee that you can have some discussion with him. It is very difficult to understand.At the moment I have difficulties with UEFA and I can take what is wrong on my side but in these different situations I think they go a little bit overboard if they suspend me.

AW on Manchester City

It is not easy, it is demanding,You always go through a period where you are a bit hand-braked, then when you feel you can do it and suddenly it goes [well] again. Man City have gone through a little bit that moment for the first time this season. What will be vital in the title race is the game they play at home against Man United.[They could slip] if they technically lose the championship but that’s not decided yet. They play Man United at home, the goal difference is very similar and Man United don’t look untouchable at the moment. You cannot say Man City are on the way down. It is a little bit uncertain. If they lose the championship it can happen but it’s still 50-50 at the moment.

AW on Milan

We would have gone through against Milan had we played them now because Milan are not better than us,When we played the home leg, if we had more players available I still think we could have qualified.I think that in the first leg we were very bad. On top of that we lost our defenders and conceded a third goal at the start of the second half which placed us in a very difficult position.They had the perfect game on the day, in return we had no game and in the home leg we were different. We have more confidence today.

AW on the summer

A big part of our starting [business] will be done inside,We will do the job we have to before the Euros, for sure.We need to get Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby back and then look at the number of players we have. Then we have Chamberlain, Diaby, Wilshere, Song, Rosicky, Coquelin, Arteta, Gervinho, Walcott, plenty of players. The most important part is to get our players fit and back and then hope in the Euros we have a positive experience with our players.

AW on Mark Hughes

We have a rivalry. But in fact I discover I have this kind of rivalry with many managers,Maybe it’s me, that’s exactly the conclusion I have come to!I respect every manager because I know they all suffer. That’s part of the job. He was a passionate player, he didn’t give anything away and that comes across in his management.We know QPR are a side with quality players and are in a difficult situation,I expect them to fight not to go down.However the key will be on our side, no matter what QPR’s quality or problem is. It will be important for us to go out and show how much we want another win.

That’s a piece of Wenger, there. Team news, then. Laurent Koscielny is expected to return to first team action after he suffered tendinitis, minutes before the Aston Villa game, which means brother of calamity, Johan Djourou is back heating the bench. Apart from the squad is fully fit. Abou Diaby, apparently, had a bit of pain in training, and could be expected to be on the bench, next week, against Manchester City.

QPR, on the other hand, have a host of injuries, and suspensions to deal with. Strikers DJ Campbell and Heidar Helguson are doubts and so is defender Fitz Hall. Former Arsenal left-back Armand Traore, midfielder Kieron Dyer and Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin are all long term absentees. January marquee signing Djibril Cisse will start his 4 match suspension after his crazy tackle at the Stadium of Misery. QPR have picked up 6 red cards this season, which is the highest for any team this season.

What we can expect, for sure, is a really tough and physical encounter. QPR will look to contain Arsenal rather than be adventurous. They do not have too many players who are great going forward. They do have the Algerian Adel Taraabt, and former Manchester City and Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips, but both have been largely inconsistent this season. I expect QPR to be looking to win the battle in midfield, by deploying the hard-tackling trio of Joey Barton, Samba Diakite and Shaun Derry. At the back, they have a decent defence. Former Aston Villa captain Luke Young, and on loan AC Milan left back Taye Taiwo will take their places on the flanks, while they have the young, but experienced Anton Ferdinand former Manchester City defender Nedum Onouha. Up front, of course, is Arsenal’s nemesis, Bobby Zamora, who has netted winners against the Gunners, whilst playing for other London clubs, West Ham and Fulham.

Arsenal might have to work the flanks a lot more, to get away with 3 points. QPR play a very narrow game, and cannot be taken lightly. They may be in a real slump, and played poorly against Liverpool, but they took their chances, and beat the Reds, right at the death, with Jamie Mackie scoring in injury time to make it 3-2.

Let’s end on a poignant note. March 31st marks the 11th death anniversary of David Rocastle, that supremely talented Arsenal midfielder, of the late 80’s and early 90’s. News came out today, that Aston Villa midfielder Stilian Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, which goes to show, footballers aren’t superhumans. Good news, then. Fabrice Muamba was able to sit, and even posted a picture of himself in the hospital on Twitter. Let’s  hope both Petrov and Muamba are back where they belong, on the football pitch.

Enjoy the game, wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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Haircuts, Transfer Rumours, Title Chances and Honest Assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a wrap for today.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in General

 

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Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa

Arsenal 3 (Gibbs 16, Walcott 25, Arteta 90) – Aston Villa 0

Man of the Match – Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

Arsenal secured their 7th consecutive win against Aston Villa, on Saturday, to create some GAP between the London clubs. The earlier kickoff between Chelsea and Sp*rs, resulted in a drab goalless draw, which really didn’t help either side, but the Gunners are now 3 clear of Sp*rs and 8 off Chelsea, as they look to seal 3rd spot.

There was concern, however, even before the game started, when Arsenal’s best defender this season, Laurent Koscielny, injured himself in the warm-up, which meant a place in the starting line-up for the calamitous Johan Djourou. Koscielny, is expected to return back to action for next week’s trip to Loftus Road, to play QPR. There was a return to the starting line up for Gervinho, as both Chamberlain and Ramsey were benched.

Villa’s team selection was a wee bit surprising, with Alex McLeish opting for Gabriel Agbolahor to partner the world’s best striker, Emile Heskey, while they slotted in 4 midfielders.

Arsenal’s defensive woes seemed to expand, when Johan Djourou took a knock off Emile Heskey. However, he soon recovered and the Gunners shifted to top gear. Arsenal had much of the ball, but Villa missed a great opportunity on the counter, when Albrighton’s effort was poor.

van Persie looked in delicious touch, when he fed Walcott, but his shot was kept out by Given, and Sagna’s rebound was poor. Soon enough, Arsenal took the lead, as Kieran Gibbs was in plenty of space in Villa’s penalty box. He shot past Given to hand Arsenal the initiative.

The second goal, came 8 minutes later, when Cuellar’s ball was intercepted by Alex Song, who played a fantastic long ball, not the first time he has done it this season, into the path of Theo Walcott. A couple of touches later, Walcott finished emphatically.

Arsenal never let the pressure die. van Persie missed, what can be called a sitter, in the form he is in, while Arteta forced a fine save from Given. Just before half-time, Villa defender Stephen Warnock managed to make a goal line clearance to prevent Arsenal from scoring the 3rd goal.

The second half was much more even, as Villa tried to get back to the game, but it was very comfortable for the Gunners. The crowd loved a bit of van Persie skill, as he teased the Villa defenders. Rosicky had two decent chances, to close out the game, but one he missed, and the other one saved.

Arsenal then bought on Brazilian Andre Santos, who returned after a lengthy injury layoff. Arsenal finally got their third in injury time, as Arteta unleashed an unstoppable freekick past Given.

Elsewhere, Liverpool lost at home to Wigan, while Manchester City’s title challenge looks to be stuttering after they could only muster a draw at Stoke, thanks to a fantastic goal from Peter Crouch.

Match Ratings-

Szczesny (7.5) – A comfortable afternoon for the Pole.

Sagna (8.5) – Some fantastic stuff from Sagna on the right flank.

Vermaelen (8.5) – A flawless display from Vermaelen, against a tricky Villa attack.

Djourou (8) – Looked like a real defender, for once.

Gibbs (8) –  The goal should do him a world of good. Looks to be coming back to his best.

Song (8.5) – A fantastic long ball capped a fine display by the Cameroonian hardman.

Rosicky (8.5) – Looked really sharp yet again. His thrusts make him look like a 18 year old.

Arteta (8.5) – Never lost the ball, once during the game, as far as I remember. And a fine freekick.

Gervinho (7.5) – Slowly building up his confidence, with some decent dribbles and an assist.

Walcott (8.5) – Constant menace to Villa’s defence. Scored a goal, when played centrally.

van Persie (7.5) – It’s not a one man team, is it, after all?

Subs –

Santos (7) – Almost conceded a silly goal, but happy to see the smiling Brazilian return.

Ramsey (7.5) – Still a few games away from regaining his spot in the first team.

Chamberlain – Came on too late to get a rating.

Overall Team Rating – 8

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Reviews

 

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

Everton vs Arsenal, Goodison Park, Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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

 

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How good is Arsenal’s defence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While, the second choice backline reads,

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

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

Wojciech Szczesny

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

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

Bacary Sagna

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

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

Laurent Koscielny

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

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

Thomas Vermaelen

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

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

Andre Santos

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

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

Lukasz Fabianski

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

Carl Jenkinson

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

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

Per Mertesacker

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

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

Johan Djourou

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

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

Kieran Gibbs

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

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

Nico Yennaris

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

Sebastien Squillaci

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

Ignasi Miquel

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

LOWDOWN

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

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

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in General

 

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Brimming With Pride!

It’s been over 30 hours since that almost famous match at the Emirates Stadium, and I am still smiling. Smiling, because rival fans are coming up to me and telling “Arsenal were brilliant against Milan, and almost did the impossible. Respect.”

After a topsy-turvy season, that it has been so far, to listen to such words, is heart-warming. Arsenal really played a gutsy game against Milan, and gave its fans real hope. A real sense of joy, that Arsenal is still a force to be reckoned with in the world of football. That dreams are real.

Consigned to the fact that there were no hopes of qualification, I switched on my idiot box at precisely 1:10 AM, on Wednesday morning. The cameras rolled on from the Milan side to the referees to the Arsenal side. You could see the determination in the eyes of the players. Was it possible?

Arsenal attacked right from the moment the game started. There was not a dull moment in the first half. A side, reeling with injuries, nearly 7 injuries in midfield, looked to make the impossible, possible, and overturn a 4 goal deficit, against the Italian champions.

The Italians were quickly put under pressure, as Arsenal’s pacy midfield looked to catch Milan from the start. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, was sizzling in midfield, as World Cup finalist Mark van Bommel tried to get to grips with him. The fact that the 18 year old former Southampton winger was sick the previous night and yet asked the manager to start, speaks remarkable volumes about him. He, didn’t, for a moment look fazed. And, what’s more, he is just 18 years old.

His first corner was cleared comfortably by Ibrahimovic. But, his second corner landed perfectly to the head of Laurent Koscielny, who lost all markers, and was alone to head the ball past Cristian Abbiati. The early goal was all so important to build the momentum.

Milan looked so cocky throughout the game. Ibrahimovic and Boateng had done enough small talk before the first leg, and they justified it in the first leg. However, Milan were so overconfident, that they even named 2 keepers on the bench, a ridiculous decision, for which, Allegri got reprimanded, by Silvio Berlusconi.

Soon, Arsenal created a flurry of chances. Theo Walcott sent van Persie clear of Milan’s defence, but the Dutchman’s effort was saved by Abbiati. Then, a mistake from Emmanuelson, saw van Persie in a great position, but he and Rosicky made a hash of a great chance. Arsenal surged forward again through Theo Walcott, who bamboozled Djamel Mesbah, leaving Rosicky in a great position to score. Score, he did, to the roaring approval of a vociferous crowd at the Emirates.

The defence, I should say was unflinching. Thomas Vermaelen was gigantic, in doggedness, if not in size. He put himself on the line on many a time, and made a number of clearances. Laurent Koscielny, as ever, was composed, and never allowed Ibrahimovic to impose himself. The Frenchman looked all so comfortable dealing with the big Swede. Gibbs and Sagna, too put massive efforts, as Milan lacked creativity to work through Arsenal’s defence. The discipline was for all to see, as they kept a high line, and Ibrahimovic found himself flagged for offside, numerous times.

Chance became real hope, as Chamberlain surged forward, challenging the Rossoneri’s defence, whose best was to concede a penalty. van Persie had to replace the ball on the penalty spot, which may have disturbed his concentration, but not his will. Arsenal were 3-0 up, and Milan probably had their hearts in their mouths.

Milan were a completely different side in the second half though. More so, because Arsenal were tiring out, after having done most of the running in the opening half. They looked lot more composed in midfield. We can go another decade, speaking about van Persie’s miss, but he claims he would do it again, if he was in a similar position.

Chamberlain and Walcott played through injuries, because they had to. Arsenal had no real options on the bench. Park and Chamakh were thrown late on, but by that time Arsenal were out of steam

The final whistle bought a palpable sense of relief among the Milan players’ and fans. They were just happy to reach the finish line, and qualify to the next stage. On the flip side, the Gunners’ looked devastated. Not something you see often, when you win 3-0. Tomas Rosicky and Thomas Vermaelen looked crestfallen as they made their way to the tunnel. van Persie afforded a smile, but the dejection was clear to see.

3 weeks after a humiliating loss at the San Siro, and a painful loss at the Stadium of Light, Arsenal were all but written off as a force to be reckoned with, in the English game. Sites and papers were running amok with articles outlining Arsenal’s frailties, its problems and its shortcomings. And 2-0 down against Spurs’ after 34 minutes, you could almost see the media rubbing its hand again.

No one knows for sure, what happened. But, the team managed to find its resolve, its steel, to turn around things. They demolished Spurs 5-2, in 27 minutes, with some breathtaking attacking football. van Persie’s goal was a peach. Tomas Rosicky’s celebration was passionate. A week later, they came up against the Carling Cup champions, and, despite not being able to control the game, defended admirably well, and escaped with a 2-1 win. 3 days later, the Italian champions were run over by a young midfield.

I have always loved Arsenal, but the performance against Milan, makes me so proud of my team. So proud of my choice of choosing Arsenal as the club I wanted to support. Now, I am doubly proud.

Thanks Arsenal. 🙂

Proud to be a Gunner!

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in General

 

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