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Stoke City Preview and Lineups – Time to Build!

So, Saturday is here. A December Saturday and that, which means games are going to come thick and fast. The festive period is the most busy one when it comes to football, and there will be a glut of games from now till the New Year.

Stoke City are the opponents today, and as we all know, how much we hate those ogres. It’s a tough place to go to, given the hostile nature of the crowd, awful weather, more awful playing conditions, and despicable football players. Oh, and their manager is Mark Hughes. Stoke have had a mixed season so far, languishing in 13th place in the Premier League, having lost 7 of their 14 games so far, winning only 4 in the process. And they will be looking to avoid a 4th consecutive loss this evening, after suffering defeats to Burnley at home, Liverpool and Manchester United away.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are somehow managing to chug their choking, coal-filled engine along. After some setbacks, the Gunners have made some ground with 3 consecutive wins, and in the process keeping 3 clean sheets as well, something that bodes really well. Mood in the camp should be positive now, given the recent performances, where the Gunners have had to battle it out for their full share of points.

However, fatigue will be a major concern, with Arsenal having played 7 extra Champions League games, as well as an increase in the traffic jam in the medical room. Some players have been overplayed. Take for example, Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey whose performances in recent games have been average to under-par. However, considering the paucity of options, it doesn’t look ideal to give rest to any of the players. Against a Stoke side playing at home, it will be extremely difficult for a tiring side to cope up with the physical presence of the Potters. Arsenal’s record in the last 8 games at the Britannia includes just one win, and last season the Gunners put up an apalling performance in a 1-0 defeat.

There are injury concerns for both sides. Jonathan Walters (knee), Glenn Whelan and Germany international Robert Huth have calf problems. Stephen Ireland could miss out because of illness while Steve Sidwell, Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses and Dionatan Teixeira are all sidelined. As for Arsenal, Nacho Monreal is out with an ankle injury, Tomas Rosicky has a thigh problem, Laurent Koscielny an Achilles problem, while Yaya Sanogo will undergo a late fitness test. Sigh! Wojciech Szczesny will be back though and will replace Emiliano Martinez, who has played commendably.

With Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere still out, there’s no option but to start with Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey in midfield. I expect a start for Olivier Giroud this time round, with the dynamic trio of Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez behind him. Defense will be a major concern if Koscielny and Gibbs both fail their fitness test. That would mean Chambers playing at centre-back alongside Mertesacker, Bellerin coming in at right-back and Flamini at left-back probably, leaving us short in midfield. This could cause an entire reshuffle, with Ramsey having to play deep, and either of Podolski or Welbeck starting. Under ideal circumstances, this is how I expect the teams to line up.

jNnjNo

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in 2014-2015, Match Previews

 

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Battle of Manchester – A preview

Manchester City vs Manchester United, Etihad Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (00:30 IST), 30th April 2012

So, it has all boiled down to this. The largest game of the season is upon us. A city waits with bated breath with the world watching on as Manchester City host Manchester United, in the title decider.

This season, has been one of the best I have witnessed. There has been so much pace, so much passion, so much craziness, so many incidents, so many unexpected results and a horde of drama. And, there’s still more drama. What better can it be than the title clash, between the long standing rivals in Manchester.

By December, Manchester City were literally steamrollering their way in the Premier League. They just had to turn up and demolish teams it seemed. And why not. Bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi group, and armed with some of the most fearsome attacking talents on display in the league, everyone’s favorites to win the title, was Manchester City. In the summer, Mancini used all the cash reserves at his disposal, to prise Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy from Arsenal, to already add to the impressive array of players such as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure. The power battle in Manchester seemed to have completely swayed, towards the rising blue tide, when in one destructive balmy afternoon in October, City managed to put 6 past a hapless United, to record their biggest win at Old Trafford in nearly 56 years.

However, the story has not been all smiles. Cue the culprits. Messrs Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. With big names come big egos they say. And it was inevitable. Carlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini had a public outburst in a Champions League group game against eventual finalists Bayern Munich, a game which they went on to lose 2-0. Supposedly, the Italian manager asked the Argentine hotshot to get ready for warmups. Tevez refused to oblige and faced the wrath of the Italian. Tevez posted a completely different version. According to him, Mancini took out his frustration on the striker, and hence his revolt. Yes, revolt. A revolt, which saw him jetting off to his native, without serving a notice to his employer. For months, Manchester City remained clueless to the whereabouts of Tevez, until he posted a picture of him on the internet, visibly fattened, enjoying a round of golf with his buddies.

If that was not it, City had internal squabbles to deal with. First, there were players who were publicly remonstrating against the manager, on being subbed, more so out-of-favour Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko. While he scored two late on at Old Trafford, in the 6-1 hammering, his form of late has waned, and he has had the temerity to display audacity, on being replaced. Another example is that of Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov, who has never been able to hold on to his place in the squad. While this was going on, Mancini had to deal with another man with a light fuse, Mario Balotelli. While his fight with Jerome Boateng last season, was quite widely publicized, it did little to change the attitude of the enigmatic striker. He has had constant duels on the training ground, with right-back Micah Richards, captain Vincent Komapny, and with Aleksandr Kolarov, in a league game against Sunderland, and Yaya Toure, thereafter.

This has seen the title almost fall out of grasp from the Sky Blues, into the hands of the opportunistic Red Devils. While Carlos Tevez has returned and lost quite a bit of his belly, there were still problems with City, as they went on a poor run. They lost at Swansea, 1-0, and quickly made a comeback, in the next game, to rally and beat Chelsea 2-1. After that, they were held to a draw by Stoke City, thanks to a wonderful goal from Peter Crouch. In their next game against Sunderland, they looked like they were down and out, trailing 3-1, with barely 10 minutes to go. After the Balotelli-Kolarov push-and-shove, City managed to eke out a point, before completely being outplayed by Arsenal in their next game, and losing 1-0 thanks to a late Mikel Arteta goal. To compound their woes, Balotelli got a red card. They have, however pulled themselves back into contention, with a 4-0 thumping of West Brom, a 6-1 away win at Norwich, and a 2-0 win at Wolves.

While the ‘noisy neighbours’ have been, well, noisy, Manchester United went about quietly picking up the pieces since the 6-1 home humiliation. Having started the season, in a more emphatic fashion than their cross town rivals, early games indicated United’s dominance. They first brushed City 3-2 in a thriller at Wembley in the Community Shield, before garnishing it with results like the 3-0 beating of Spurs, the 8-2 crushing of Arsenal, a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton at the Reebok and a 3-1 win over Chelsea, before it all came crashing down to earth in the Manchester derby.

Like I said, they slowly picked up, eking out results. They edged Everton, Sunderland, Swansea and Aston Villa, all 1-0, before coming into their stride, come December. Consecutive 5-0 wins over Fulham and Wigan were sealed, but then it seemed to go horribly wrong. United, who had earlier crashed out of Europe, finishing 3rd in what seemed to be a straightforward group, suffered two losses, at the hands of lowly Blackburn at home 3-2, and a 3-0 loss, away to Newcastle.

When doubts were raised if Fergie and his men were up for it, they responded in typical fashion. First they knocked out Manchester City from the FA Cup, 3-2 at the Etihad, in a controversial game. Then, they went on a fine run in the league, winning 11 of their next 12 games. This included 2-1 wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, and a comeback at Stamford Bridge, after going 3-0 down, to secure a point. This has seen them overturn in what was once termed an unassailable lead, to a 8 point advantage of their own.

However, the unpredictability of results this season has been such, that nothing can be taken for granted. Wigan Athletic outplayed and deservedly beat Manchester United, and then, Manchester United gave away a 4-2 lead, with minutes to go against Everton, to draw 4-4, and tip the scales somewhat equally in favour of both Manchester clubs.

3 points is the difference. The permutations are massive. If Manchester City win, they will go on level with points with United, and ahead on goal difference With games against a topsy turvy Newcastle and relegation threatened QPR, you can almost see them through with winning the title should they win tomorrow.

However, anything but a City win, and one can be sure of the Red Devils coasting towards a 20th league title. They face Swansea at home and Sunderland away on the last day of the season, and with both of them in holiday mood, it could be rollover.

Let’s have a look at the teams then. While Roberto Mancini says, he could play Mario Balotelli, to induce that surprise factor, I feel he will stay on the safer side and play the Argentine duo of Aguero and Tevez, who have 9 goals between them in the last 3 games. What has been a feature to City’s game is the way they have played their midfield of late. Having played James Milner and Adam Johnson on the wings, for most of the campaign, they have narrowed down their play in the last 3 wins. Now, they play a rather more central 4-2-2-2 formation, with Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure/Nigel de Jong in defensive midfield, David Silva and Samir Nasri in attacking midfield, and of course Tevez and Aguero in attack. While this system is quite open for Manchester United to attack on the wings, City’s defensive midfield will hold the key, to help out Richards and Clichy. Vincent Kompany has been majestic this season, and so has Joe Hart. They will have big roles to play tomorrow.

Manchester United, on the other hand, will look to the brilliance of Wayne Rooney, the astuteness of Scholes, and the pace of Valencia and Nani to counter City’s threat. Defence is a major worry for the Red Devils, having leaked 4 against Everton, all of them being the result of poor defending. Rafael looks a major liability, and Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans are yet to convince everyone that they are a good defensive team. David de Gea seems to have overcome all the early criticism of him, to become a fine shot stopper as of late. It will be interesting to see if Fergie goes with two upfront in Rooney and Welbeck, or he aims to win the battle in midfield.

It is going to be much more than a game tomorrow. It could be the turning point in City’s history. A moment for them to finally emerge out of United’s shadow. Their turn to have bragging rights in the city. Or will a certain Scot again brand his iron fist and paint the town red.

It is going to be a treat and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss it.

Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in General

 

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Complete Post-Milan, Podolski usuals, Newcastle lineups + Preview

Arsenal vs Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (01:30 IST), 12th March 2012

Hello Gooners out there. It has been quite an uneventful weekend. Oh wait! Spurs just got mugged, and it seems there will be St. Totteringham’s day after all!

Niklas Bendtner did us a favour again, by extinguishing the dying embers of Liverpool’s challenge for the 4th spot. Chelsea struggled against 10 man Stoke City, who lost Ricardo Fuller, after his rugby style challenge on Anna, I mean Branislav Ivanovic. And, a well taken strike from Nevica..Nikita..Namibia..Everton’s costliest signing, means Arsenal can cut the gap to Sp*rs to just 1 point.

The match also marked the 10th anniversary of the reign of David Moyes. Everton is everyone’s second favourite club, except the Liverpudlians. They generate a cracking atmosphere, and at times can play some real good football. Arsene Wenger was full of praise for David Moyes.

My compliments, he has done a massive job there,For knowing how much effort you put in on a daily basis, when a guy lasts 10 years somewhere you have to give him credit. “We suffer a lot and he has put a lot of effort and dedication in. Our job is a real sacrifice of your life, so when a guy makes that at a club for 10 years and gets the results that Moyes has made, he deserves a huge credit.

David Moyes has done a fantastic job at Everton. He even finished 4th once at the expense of arch rivals Liverpool in the 2004-2005 season, and has consistently finished in the top 10, which is no mean feat, considering how competitive the Premier League has become these days.

Complete Milan Post-match Reaction

Arsene Wenger

We put in a performance in with fantastic spirit and restored some pride after the first leg. Unfortunately we are out but we had the chances. Overall we keep our winning run going, which is important, but unfortunately we paid the price for a bad first game.Overall we have given everything, after you can accept the result even if it is disappointing.

We were a bit short with no midfielders at all on the bench, we suffered a little bit when we got tired in the second half, as I hoped to keep the ball better and get them more fatigued.We knew we had given a lot and had players not used to that level in midfield, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Some players had knocks, I knew it would be difficult. Chamberlain was sick last night, so we were not sure if he could play, as he had flu. We checked him in the warm-up, but he was outstanding. Of course to last at that level for 90 minutes is a different game.

You need to score goals and not concede against a team like that. Our defenders were absolutely outstanding today and we have given everything, that is all you can do.

I felt he (van Persie) wanted to chip the keeper because he was down, but Abbiati got up very quickly and unfortunately we couldn’t score. I hoped in the last 15 minutes we could create some dangerous situations in front of goal, unfortunately it didn’t happen, as we didn’t have enough drive anymore.

Robin van Persie, too spoke, telling that there is still room of improvement in his game.

I don’t really sit down and reflect on the figures,There’s too much else to do, and you can’t dwell on things because there is always room for improvement.I lost a couple of balls in the midfield area on Saturday that I shouldn’t have, so I’m more interested in focusing on how to avoid that next time.

You always want to get the maximum out of your game – to make assists, to score goals, to be strong on the ball, to combine well with your team-mates and bring all these things together.It’s rare that you can achieve it, but it has to be what you aim for and it’s more important than pursuing one target.

Robin van Persie, Wojciech Szczesny, and former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, meanwhile were all praise for Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who has hit top form of late.

RVP on Rosicky

I just love playing with him,because he’s so quick in his mind, so clever in the way he sees passes and so adept at completing them.He’s just football-clever, and that’s something you can’t pick up later in your career. You either have it or you don’t.

Szcz on Rosicky

He has been fantastic for the last few weeks now, scored a great goal against T*ttenham and was my man of the match in that game,He was great again here and hopefully he can keep going because when he plays like that he is a fantastic player.He can take people on in the middle of the park too. I think we dominated the midfield in the first half and he made the difference. He is fantastic.

Cesc on Rosicky

I have spent a lot of time with him and I know how he feels,I know what he wants and I have never seen a guy being so committed, so professional and never giving up. If this happened to me I probably wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, I would be always down and angry.But he’s unbelievable. He’s the type of player you enjoy playing alongside and as a guy he’s amazing. He has been through a lot. I told him to be strong and to keep believing in himself and that he could play football again.

It is not just a mere coincidence that Arsenal are hitting top gear, with Rosicky being instrumental. He has shown bags of energy in midfield, throughout the course of games, often picking up balls in the deep, and spraying them about. He may have been stolen of his best years of his career, but he still has enough in him to be an influential player for Arsenal for the next 2-3 seasons. He was proud of the way the team performed against Milan.

Tomas Rosicky

We’re very disappointed,ometimes miracles happen and you could see we came very close today. Weknew that we had nothing to lose so we just said to each other: ‘Let’s go for it, let’s give our best and we’ll see what happens.’We said [at half-time] to keep playing the same way, You could see in the second half there was a drop because we had given so much in the first half but all the same we had a chance to score the fourth one.It’s difficult, though; you can’t blame anyone after tonight’s performance. I’m very proud of my team and what we produced today. We’ve beaten AC Milan 3-0 and we’re going home disappointed. It’s a bit funny. But we blew it in Milan.

Staying with the Champions League, Kieran Gibbs thanked the Arsenal fans for creating a crackling atmosphere at the Emirates. Often branded, as a poor atmospheric stadium, this season, Arsenal fans have created a fantastic atmosphere, in all games, probably justifying the ‘Arsenalisation’ of the stadium, which was undertaken to give the Emirates the same character as Arsenal’s old ground, Highbury.

Kieran Gibbs

We gave everything in the first half and if anything we ran out of legs a bit in the second,We couldn’t give as much as we wanted to and maybe we ran out of steam.We had a point to prove. We were hurt by the result in Milan and we wanted to show who we are and restore some pride.They defended better in the second half but we had our chances, but in the end they did their job and they’re the ones who will go home happy. It’s probably worse to come so close and not go through. It hurts, but we did ourselves proud.

When the stadium is like this, teams struggle against us because it lifts everyone,The place was electric tonight. After the first one went in we could sense that we could get back into it. We have to thank the fans for that because they helped us get our goals. Unfortunately, though, we just fell short.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger had accused the referee of handing Milan too many free-kicks in the middle of the park. Wenger said that the Milan players would fall over at the slightest of touches, fully knowing that the referee would oblige. UEFA has charged Wenger over his comments. Supposedly, Arsene had followed the ref down the tunnel, in a way to speak to him, but the referee Damir Skomina refused to speak. In the post-match conference, Wenger had this to say.

I was not happy with the referee tonight because I felt he gave many free kicks in the middle of the park. Every time [Milan’s players] went down a free kick was given to them, and they sensed that very quickly and used it very well.

Arsenal have every season to feel hard done by. Last season, at this same stage, Robin van Persie was sent off in the 55th minute against Barcelona, at the Nou Camp, for almost no reason at all. And to add insult to injury, Wenger was handed a touchline ban. Fucking cunts, released this statement after the Milan post-match conference.

UEFA has opened a disciplinary case against Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger for improper conduct in relation to last night’s UEFA Champions League round of 16 second-leg match against AC Milan in London.Arsenal won the match 3-0, but Milan progressed to the quarter-finals on a 4-3 aggregate scoreline.The case will be dealt with by UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body on 29 March.

Bacary Sagna

We are fourth now and we have a bit of an advance on Chelsea,We want to put Arsenal back [in the Champions League] and we are only four points behind Tottenham now. We know we can do it and now we have to win the next game against Newcastle, which is as important as the one against Milan. If we want to qualify for the Champions League we cannot let it go now.[The second leg against Milan] can be a reference game. It was not easy because AC Milan are a good team. We lost 4-0 away and we managed to beat them 3-0 here. That is football, we have to take it as it is and we have to learn as well. We did well from the front to defence, the goalkeeper too. We have to keep on fighting until the end as a team and show the same performance again.

Thomas Vermaelen

It’s really important because Arsenal is a team that belongs in the Champions League,We will try to achieve that in the next games and get into the top four. At the moment, after the way we played in the first half against Milan, I am really confident.It’s hard to be consistent in top-level football. The team that is the most consistent will win prizes, I believe in that. But we have to be confident that we have the quality in the team and that is what we showed against Milan. The way we played in the first half, if we can do that consistently all season I am not worried because we will be in the top four.Of course we are disappointed because we are out of the Champions League but we need to take the great feeling out of this game, and take that into the next game [against Newcastle].

Laurent Koscielny

It was difficult because we were tired after 45 minutes,We gave everything on the pitch and that is that. We learn and it is the first game that killed us. Every player fought together to help his team-mates. It is good for the team and now we must do that in the championship too. We want to play in the Champions League next year so we have to finish in third or fourth place.It was important to score quickly in the first half. I scored and I was happy because my family were here. For the team it was good because soon after the second goal came. It was good but now we turn to the championship where we want to win the next game. When you play a game like that you just want to play another and it is exciting. Every player is focused on the next game against Newcastle and we want to win and finish in at least fourth place.

Carl Jenkinson

In the Liverpool game we pulled off a fantastic result and Milan speaks for itself,It was a very proud day for everyone, whether you are part of the Club or a fan. Even though the end result was not what we wanted there was a definite sense of pride.It was strange afterwards; the disappointment was etched on everyone’s faces. We all believed we could do it. To come so close was hard but the performance the lads put in was amazing – I was incredibly proud of all of my team-mates for the way they battled.A lesser team would have thought, ‘we are four goals down against AC Milan, it’s not going to happen,’ but we went out there and gave everything.

We have really found our feet in the past few games and had some tremendous results,From the Spurs game to Liverpool to Milan, the momentum has been building and building. It is fantastic the way we have been playing, but we need to keep that going. Newcastle are a good side so we need to take what we have been doing well into that game and go from there.

Wojciech Szczesny

I think we have sent a message to all the other teams that when we play at our best we can beat anyone in Europe,I think teams will struggle against us if we keep playing like that. Hopefully next season in the Champions League we can achieve a little bit more than we did this time. It has been a great experience for many of us. For some of us it is our first season in the Champions League and I am sure we will use that next year to get a little bit further. For the players our ambition makes us really want to be there. This club deserves to be in the Champions League and we showed here that with performances like that we should be here every single season. I am confident we will get there in the end. The aim is to win every single game and if we can do that then good things will come for us.Our momentum keeps going,We have won a couple of good games in the Premier League recently against Tottenham and Liverpool and we got a great win here.It wasn’t enough but we still have the momentum and believe that we can play really well for the rest of the season.

Moving on, Pat Rice, is slated to retire as assistant manager at the end of this season. A host of names have been linked to the job, including legends Dennis Bergkamp, and present youth team coach Steve Bould. However, Bould was quick to dismiss the idea of him as Arsene’s right-hand man.

I think when I was asked back then [in the late nineties] I didn’t even contemplate going into coaching, so you never say never, but I feel management is not for me,It’s just too intrusive on all aspects of your life.I enjoy what I do. I get a massive satisfaction from seeing my players improve and make careers out of the game. The ultimate is seeing players we have worked for running out of the tunnel playing for our first team.I honestly feel I have the best job in the world. Doing what I love, with the facilities and footballing philosophy we have at this club, I have a fantastic job.You could not step up with your arm out and scream offside like we used to. That is not an area you can really coach any more. Also, you cannot get away with going to ground or any real aggressive tackling the way we used to nowadays.So, while there are some principles that persist, passing on what I used to do as a player has to be adapted.

Transfer news, then. Of course, the biggest news of the week was that Lukas Podolski has signed a pre-contract agreement with Arsenal for a reported £10.9 million. Though all three parties, Cologne, Podolski and Arsenal have denied it, the news spread all through the internet, including one of the most trusted sources, the BBC. According to an interview which Podolski gave to German tabloid Bild, the German scuffed a big money offer from rich Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala.

Money is not the most important thing for me,What is crucial is the development of my game.

If it is to be believed, then Podolski adds more firepower to our front line. At the moment, we are over reliant on Robin van Persie to score the goals. The addition of Podolski will reduce the pressure on the captain, and he also provides a great backup for van Persie. Podolski has 43 goals in 95 games for Germany, which means he has bags and bags of experience, at the age of just 26. He is also teh top scorer for Cologne this season, with 16.

Other players linked to Arsenal are Ajax cntre-back Jan Vertongen, an international teammate of Thomas Vermaelen, with Belgium, and, yet again, Borussia Dortmund hotshot Mario Gotze. If the Daily Mail is to be believed, Arsenal will ship out Squillaci, Chamakh, Park and Arshavin to secure the services of Gotze. Anyways, I don’t believe in rumours, because they are meaningless. None of this news is true, unless its on the Arsenal website!

Arsene Wenger was quick to point out that, the arrival of Podolski wouldn’t necessarily spark a transfer away from the club for Robin van Persie. Roberto Mancini, who has spent billions of cash on players, who just can’t seem to win a trophy, says he wants to add to the list by adding Robin van Persie. Wenger reacted to this by saying,

Our plan is to keep Robin van Persie even if we buy any player.What is said of you by other clubs is part of the job.What is important is how much you want to win the next game. All the rest is basically not important.Robin is the leader of our club. He is under contract until 2013. You do your job, which he does very well, and enjoy your games.

I don’t have a lot to say about that because, if we sign a player, we will inform you. At the moment we have not signed anybody.There is still no agreement. Podolski is a good player. I wouldn’t deny that.

On being asked if van Persie is disturbed by these rumors, Wenger said,

At our level we are professional people,I believe if you are to have one quality it is not to be unsettled because what is said of you by other clubs is part of the job. What is important is how much you want to win the next game and all the rest is basically not important.”I cannot stop that [others talking about Van Persie]. In an ideal world maybe, but it doesn’t bother me too much.Robin is the leader of our club and I would just like to specify that he is not at the end of his contract. He is under contract until 2013. So do your job, focus on your job which he does very well and enjoy your games.

In other news, Abou Diaby told in an interview with the club website, that he is not a fragile player, as he is usually quoted in the media as. According to me, he is a highly talented player, who has not fully recovered from that horrific Dan Smith tackle in 2006. Diaby, who played 30 minutes at Anfield, and looked lively, was subbed again before the end of the game. In a candid interview, the French midfielder had this to say.

A lot of things have been said and written about me and I wanted to tell the truth about my situation,People say that I’m fragile and although I understand why, I am not fragile.

I have had three operations on my ankle, all for different problems but the result of that was that my body is unbalanced, especially in my legs. 
I have overused one over the other and to put everything back in place is not easy.

I get injured,It’s a fact but when people tell you you’re fragile, it hurts. Today my ankle is twice as big because of the surgery. My problem is a biomechanical problem. I need to work daily on how to
 rebalance my body.

I am not scared for the rest of my career,I still have a big future. 
Physically, I really feel very good, like a beast. Unfortunately, I had that little problem at Liverpool but it’s nothing serious and I will start running again at the end of the week.There have been times where I thought about stopping my career. You always
 ask yourself a lot of questions in those moments. It’s hard mentally and I had to be strong. But quickly, I went back to a very positive attitude. I know I am going to be fine. I am not a cheat. I have always worked very hard to come back.

I have never had any apprehension playing football but I have to say that last season I feared a bit to play. It was so important for me to come back to my best level and to avoid getting injured again that I had this little apprehension.For me, my injuries are a task sent by God,I need to go through them to achieve the goals and the dreams that I have in my career. It’s my destiny. I am privileged. Some people have worse problems than me so I cannot complain.

I am hungry and strong mentally. All those hard times have strengthened me. I know there is a lot of expectation around me and some pressure but it’s a challenge for me to come back to my best level.I have never been as motivated as I am now. I want to prove to everybody, and especially to myself, that I can do it. I have faith in what I am doing. I will never give up and I know that I will come out of this tunnel.

Moving on to the Newcastle game then, Wenger was quick to praise the rise of Newcastle this season. Just a year after returning from the Championship, the Magpies have defied all odds and remain in the hunt for a Champions League place. They have a top striker in Demba Ba, while the performances of Cabaye and Tiote in midfield have been impressive. Tim Krul looks like a top class goalkeeper, too.

You could say that [I am surprised] if you look purely at the number of points they have. They were not expected there,They have bought very well in a very efficient way. Some players have made a name now who were completely unknown at the start of the season. Therefore when you look at their quality it is not surprising they are where they are.We knew them of course but you know you only have the right to have 25 players in your squad in England,You cannot go for all the players who are good that are on the market.Newcastle lost Andy Carroll last year and they were searching for a striker, so credit to them [for signing Ba and Cisse]. Also Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa are good business for them. That’s why they are where they are.They are a team everyone knows will give you a big game, but what is important is our own performance,We cannot be obsessed by Newcastle. If we turn up with a good performance we will win the game. That is what is at stake: to keep up our run and keep our focus.

The last time, these two teams faced off was the opening day of the season, where Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw at St. James Park. Arsenal were reduced to 10 men, after Gervinho was sent off for slapping that twat, Joey Barton.

Thomas Vermaelen, who was brilliant in the last 3 games, says he is confident Arsenal will land silverware soon, if they keep up the same levels of play.

We had some good results against Tottenham and Liverpool and if we can play the way we did against AC Milan then I am not worried if we will be top four or not,If we play that way then we can beat any team. The thing is you have to be consistent and that is not easy in football. Newcastle are close behind us of course, but we have a few contenders there. Chelsea are still there, Newcastle and Liverpool. They [Liverpool] are 10 points behind now with a game in hand but they are all there and we have to be on the top of our game to fight for fourth and maybe third place, you never know. We can have a lot of confidence after this week with a lot of victories. Of course, a club like Arsenal belongs in the Champions League and we will try to achieve that for the Club, for the fans, for ourselves, for everybody. If we play the way we did in that first half on Tuesday then I am not worried about it at all.

You can see that if we fight hard then we have a lot of qualities,If we put the effort in then you can see what we are capable of. Milan are top of Serie A and we beat them 3-0 at home, so that is not bad. I believe in this team even though we are missing Jack Wilshere, who I believe is a world-class player, and Per Mertesacker – another great player. We have been missing a lot of players throughout the whole season through all sorts of injuries, so if we can keep the team fit you can see what we are capable of. I am really confident that we can do something in the following years.It is hard to say what has changed. What is important is to not look too far forward, to just take it game by game. If we are going to finish third or fourth you just have to focus on the game ahead of you. The most important thing now is Newcastle and to try and win that game.We are together, we are in the dressing room every day and we talk to each other every day. We talk about situations, we talk about what we can do better of course. Otherwise we would not be professional.

Team news, then. Arsenal will welcome back Andre Santos, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta from injuries. Andre Santos has been out for nearly 4 months, since his injury in the meaningless game against Olympiakos. He will be a vital addition at left-back. Yossi Benayoun, still recovering from illness, which resulted him in missing the Champions League game, is slated for a return next week against Everton.

Newcastle, who looked a formidable contender for the fourth spot, have struggled in the last 3 games, picking up just 2 points. They were smashed for 5, against Sp*rs, before struggling to 2-2 and 1-1 draws against Wolves and Sunderland respectively. They don’t have any new injury concerns as of now.

Arsenal will have to keep close tabs on the strike partnership of Papis Demba Cisse and Demba Ba. Both have a formidable shot on them, and are known for the unexpected. Cisse announced himself in the Premier League with a sublime effort against Aston Villa. Demba Ba, has been banging goals all season, though he did miss a penalty last week against Sunderland in the heated Tyne-Wear derby. Steven Taylor is still injured, which means Mike Williamson continues in the centre of defence with highly improved and a far-relative of Carles Puyol and David Luiz, i.e Fabricio Collocini, who has shown massive improvement in defending this season. Arsenal fans will remember Cheik Tiote as the player who scored the 4th goal in Newcastle’s impressive 4-4 comeback against the Gunners last season. He will play as defensive midfielder. Ryan Taylor, a right-back at trade, with a vicious shot, will take his place on the right of midfield, while French midfielder, formerly of Lille, plays in the centre, with Argentina international Jonas Gutierrez on the left.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will start with Arteta and Rosicky in midfield. The experience that Arteta brings with him, was the difference between Arsenal and Milan, and his presence, could have helped us shape up better in the second half. I expect to see Chamberlain to start, ahead of Gervinho, who didn’t look the sharpest against Milan. The defence picks itself.

One thing, that can be expected, is a tough game. Arsenal will have to play with the same clinical fashion that they demonstrated against Milan and Tottenham, while also keeping the defensive discipline. Arsenal will have to win the midfield, and it will be a closely contested game. Newcastle will be looking to arrest the slide they are in, while Mikel Arteta’s retuen will bolster the Arsenal team. All in all, we can expect a fantastic game.

Enjoy it wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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2009-2010 Season Review – More Unfinished Business

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

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

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

Big Belgian, Little Belgian!! 

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

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

Arshavin scores a belter!!

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

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

The comeback is complete!! 

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

A centre forward in disguise!

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

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

Spuds drubbed again!! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramsey’s horrific injury..

The team celebrate a resurgent win!! 

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

Bendtner and Nasri, brilliant against Porto!! 

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

Bendtner’s 90th minute goal!! 

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

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

El Capitan wins and scores the equaliser! Legend!

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

Bendtner to the rescue again!!

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

A Messi masterclass! 😦

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

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

Dejection! 😦

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

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

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

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 3rd place

FA Cup – 4th Round

Carling Cup – 5th Round

Champions League – Quarter Finals

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

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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