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A brief look at Arsenal’s game + Chelsea preview + Lineups

Arsenal vs Chelsea, Emirates Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 12:45 GMT (17:15 IST), 21st April 2012

Hello Gooners. The Champions League football has helped me take my mind off the Wigan defeat, over the course of the week. It wasn’t exactly good to look at, but both the games were tight, and exciting contests, and the second legs can get even better.

But, that’s the week. The weekend is here, and we face a massive tie on Saturday, against an in form Chelsea. Let’s not beat around the bush, with a few abusive words towards our history-less (Oops!) rivals. They are a completely different team under Roberto di Matteo.

I don’t know what the sly looking bald Italian, with a wicked smile has done to the Chavs, but they have really picked up. While their league form is still a bit jittery, they have progressed quite comfortably in the FA Cup, humiliating another club, so lacking of history, Tottenham, by a margin of 5-1. And, by the way, they also managed to beat the world’s best club, thanks to Didier Drogba’s acting lessons to Sergio Busquets, by a 1-0 scoreline.

News poured in this morning, that Mikel Arteta, one of our more influential midfielders this season, is out for the remainder of the same. This is actually quite a blow. We have pivotal games coming up. If Chelsea at home was hard enough, we have to play our bogey away side, Stoke Rugby Club, Norwich at home, who will be playing just for the fun of it, and a tricky last day game at West Bromwich Albion.

While Arteta has been pivotal, he will be replaced by a player, much criticized this season, Aaron Ramsey. No, I am not going to hop on the bandwagon. I really like Aaron Ramsey. He is a good young player, but probably a bit naive and inexperienced. I see a lot of blogs and posts coming out in support of the Wales captain, and I am one too. You just cant be captain of your nation, if you aren’t good enough. While Ramsey may not be the midfield orchestrator like Arteta, or a pass-master like Fabregas, I feel has the quality to become both at once. Yes, he may attempt the odd backheel, or miss a goal, which Harry Redknapp’s missus would have scored, or just give away the ball to the opposition, like he just wasn’t interested. C’mon, that’s part of being young. You make mistakes, you learn from the, and you move on. I have watched almost every Arsenal game this season, and of course seen a lot of Ramsey in the centre of the park. And he runs around a lot, busting his lung. Give the boy some due.

While Arteta’s injury is some concern, another player Arsenal won’t be able to use, for the crunch game will be Israel midfielder Yossi Benayoun. According to rules, a player on loan can’t play against his parent team. He will be another miss. When he has played in the big games, against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, he has been immense. This, of course will give Arsene Wenger a selection headache, as to who to choose on the left hand side of midfield. Does he go for everyone’s favourite, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or does he opt for the at-times frustrating Gervinho.

Chamberlain was given the free role against AC Milan, where he played in the centre of the park, and used the full breadth and width of the pitch, to produce a game, far too ahead for his age. The role of Alex Song, and the adventure-minded Rosicky allowed Chamberlain to dictate play, and what a fine job he did. On the wings, at times, he seems a bit suffocated, due to probably, a lack of space, to play his game. And, unfortunately for him, most of his appearances come after the 80th minute, when the team is in dire need of an equalizer, or when we just need to hold on to a precarious lead.

Robin van Persie will hope he will be in the same nick in the game, as he was back in October against the same opposition. Chelsea do have some defensive worries, when it comes to really quick forwards. Barcelona managed to expose it time and time again, but they just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, owing to their own wastefullness, and the brilliance of Cech.

Much has been spoken about the defence in recent weeks, and its susceptibility to counter-attacks. Wigan exposed in the space of 2 minutes, the frailties, which have hampered our campaign. ¬†One swift counter attack off a corner, and another well taken goal, gave Wigan the impetus to close down the game. The problem lies in how Arsenal go forward. Far too often, we see Vermaelen bomb down the midfield, and while our full-backs all love going forward, there needs to be a bit of balance here. It just leaves our defence too open to an attack or too less in numbers. This is where, Laurent Koscielny has been vital this season. I personally feel he is a better defender than Thomas Vermaelen. His nimble movement and pace allows Vermaelen to give that extra bit going forward. However, no such risks can be taken against a Chelsea side, who can put on pace when necessary. Left back will be occupied again by Brazilian Andre Santos, as I suspect Wenger wouldn’t want to risk Gibbs.

The final talking point of Arsenal’s play will be Alex Song, who probably played his worst game this season against Wigan. He gave the ball away far too many times, and he just couldnt balance between attack and defence, probably due to the loss of Arteta. He needs to be at his absolute best tomorrow.

The pressing game suits Arsenal best, and has served us well this season. Manchester City couldnt muster a single shot on target, and Sp*rs couldn’t manage any either, after they got their 2 goals of course. A high defensive line was the norm on both the days, and will prevent Chelsea from completing swift counters.

Let’s have a look at Chelsea then. While we have had respite in between league games, since our exit from Europe and the FA Cup, Chelsea have had a relentless round of fixtures, and they still have a minimum of 7 games left to play in the season. Roberto di Matteo is expected to rotate his squad around a bit, and why not, with the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals against Barcelona coming up, on Tuesday.

Arsenal fans will be happy to hear that Didier Drogba, so often Arsenal’s tormentor in the past is ruled out. And, with the exertions of the past week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Malouda, Essien and Torres getting a run about. Even Ryan Bertrand being selected ahead of Cashley (Oops!), I mean Ashley Cole wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit.

Ramires has been a real workhorse in midfield. His darting runs can pose a threat to Arsenal’s defence. He has been consistent throughout. Another man to watch out for is Spain winger Juan Mata. He got just 9, yes, 9 touches of the ball against Barcelona, and has been the Blues’ best player this season. His goal in October, against us, was, in the least, sensational.

Fernando Torres has been piss poor in front of goal this season, but hey, never write him off. He can come up with the goods in the big games. Daniel Sturridge’s form has waned a bit of late, but they still have the Ivorian Salomon Kalou, whose incisive runs can be dangerous. A host of different options is what Chelsea have.

Defensively, the ban for Ivanovic means a start for Portugal right-back Jose Bosingwa. They really don’t have a choice, but to play Terry and Cahill in defence. There will be a lot of tired legs, as the match wears on.

Here is how I feel the two teams could line up.

There is no doubt about the importance of this clash. A loss here, for Arsenal would mean, that we would be just 2 points ahead of Sp*rs and Newcastle, having played a game more. A loss for Chelsea will all but end their hopes of a top 4 finish, with so little to play this season. A win would of course keep them in contention for Champions League qualification. A win for the Gunners would almost seal a top 4 finish, of not 3rd spot.

All in all, the game promises to be an exciting battle of tactics and nerves.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Jai Arsenal ūüôā

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

 

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Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona -Drogba powers Blues to vital win

Chelsea 1 (Drogba 45) – Barcelona 0

Yet again, the Champions League didn’t dissapoint us as Chelsea and Barcelona played out an enthralling semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

In the end, the difference was Chelsea’s resolute defending, and Didier Drogba’s rather decent acting skills. A match touted to be ruled by Barcelona turned out exactly that way. Barcelona were far superior in ball retention than the London club, and their pressing game was being demonstrated at its best.

There were no surprises in team selection. Raul Meireles, Frank Lampard, Ramires, Juan Mata and Mikel Obi all started in midfield. Fernando Torres, who has 7 goals against Barcelona to his name, all during his time with Spanish club Atletico Madrid was rumuored to be a surprise selection by Roberto di Matteo, but the in-form Didier Drogba started.

Barcelona, on the other hand, started with ex-Arsenal skipper Francesc Fabregas, probably for his knowledge of English teams. Gerard Pique, surprisingly was on the bench, with Brazil international Adriano Correia given a start at left-back. Javier Mascherano partnered Carles Puyol at the back. Alexis Sanchez started up front with Lionel Messi.

Barcelona, as expected attacked from the word go. Alexis Sanchez lobbed effort hit the crossbar in the 8th minute. Lionel Messi then set up Andres Iniesta, but his shot was saved by Petr Cech. Off the rebound, Fabregas only managed to miscue his effort. Messi then attempted a header of a Sanchez cross, but it was again well saved by Cech. Barcelona almost scored, when Fabregas rounded Cech, but was denied by an off-the-line clearance by his ex-teammate at Arsenal, Ashley Cole.

When it seemed both teams would go into the break scoreless, Chelsea took their chance. Lionel Messi lost possession to Frank Lampard, who released Ramires on the left, with the Barcelona defenders, who had played a high line all night, scrambling back. His perfectly weighted cross was met with the left foot of Drogba, who ambled the ball past Valdes to send the crowd into raptures.

Barcelona came into the second half, with the same attacking intent. Another Adriano shot was pushed away by Cech, and Sanchez missed a sitter, after being set up by Fabregas. Chelsea rarely mustered an attack, but it was rather down to Barcelona’s expert ability in holding on to possession. On the rare ocassion, when they didnt get forward, Drogba displayed his full range of playacting, to break up Barca’s momentum.

Barca did have enough opportunities to equalize though. Cech again managed to save a Puyol header off a Messi free-kick. Speaking of which, Barca squandered all their free-kicks in good positions. Late on, in injury time, Spanish striker Pedro struck the post, with Cech completely beaten, but Sergio Busquets’ effort managed to reach the top row in the stands.

The final whistle bought palpable relief at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea 90 minutes away from their 2nd Champions League final in 5 years. All they have to do is, prevent Lionel Messi and Co. from scoring in their own lair, the Camp Nou, and arena famous for refereeing decisions favouring the home side.

For now, Chelsea can celebrate a famous night.

Match Ratings (Chelsea)

Cech (9) – Fantastic saves all night.

Ivanovic (7.5) – Barca rarely threatened from the left. Had a good game.

Cahill (8.5) – A fantastic game. Put his body on the line plenty of times.

Terry (8) – Led from the front.

Cole (8.5) – One of his best games in a Chelsea shirt. Tireless.

Mikel (7.5) – Seemed naive. Caught out in possession.

Ramires (7.5) – Set up the vital winner.

Meireles (7.5) – Hassled Barca in midfield.

Lampard (8) – Set up the all important goal.

Mata (6) – Rarely got the ball to threaten.

Drogba (8.5) – Won the free-kicks at the right junctures, and scored the winning goal.

Match Ratings (Barcelona)

Valdes (7) – Barely got to touch the ball, thanks to his defenders.

Alves (8) – Bombed down the right all night, but kept quiet by Cole.

Puyol (8) – A good defensive display, but was a bit out of position in the lead up to Chelsea’s goal.

Mascherano (6.5) – Drogba had him in wraps through the game.

Adriano (7) – Lacklustre last night.

Busquets(7.5) – Should have scored at the death. His workrate in midfield was good, however.

Xavi (7.5) – A bit anonymous, and never really got into his groove.

Iniesta (7.5) – Like Xavi, he too didn’t get into his groove, which makes you wonder, whether they operate only in tandem.

Fabregas (7) – Didn’t have a great return to London.

Sanchez (7.5) – Missed a sitter.

Messi (7.5) – Uncharacteristically quiet. The goal machine was under Chelsea’s radar all night.

Overall Team Ratings

Chelsea – 7.86

Barcelona – 7.36

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in General, Match Reports

 

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Capello, Terry, Redknapp, ex-Wives, Cats, Bungs, Poorer cousins, The OX, Dench, Djourou and Sunderland

Sunderland vs Arsenal, Stadium of Light, Premier League

Kickoff – 15:00 GMT (20:30 IST), 11th February 2012

Hello again Gooners!

It’s been another eventful week in the world of football. There’s just no day without any football headlines.

Let’s start off with the biggest news in English football this week. England boss Fabio Capello has resigned from his post! It comes as no surprise to me! Fabio was never the man for the job, and England never did anything notable of sort under him. Instead, they went on to make more bizzare headlines.

After Steve Mclaren was shown the door, for not qualifying for Euro 2008, Fabio Capello was appointed with a huge pay packet to lead England to its next 2 major competitions, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. And all of it had its fair share of drama! Of course, there was the 2-1 win in Berlin over Germany, and the 4-1 beating of Croatia, Theo Walcott scoring a hat-trick. Then, John Terry was stripped of his England captaincy, after he was involved in a sexgate scandal with ex-England and Chelsea teammate Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend. It became a huge media sensation, with Wayne Bridge refusing to shake Terry’s hand in a game between Chelsea and his new team Manchester City. This affected their World Cup preparations, as they huffed and puffed their way through an easy group comprising the likes of United States, Algeria and Slovenia. After that, they got spanked by the Germans 4-1. Capello was heavily criticised for his methods.

First, he was accused of employing fascist rules in their training camp, with a strict regime. Players weren’t allowed to voice their opinions over tactics and formations. Steven Gerrard was played on the left side of midfield. Moreover, Capello had selected mediocre internationals like Ledley King, Emile Heskey and Robert Green, the latter guilty of a high-profile keeping error against the USA. The FA decided to stick with the Italian manager, as they bid to qualify for the 2012 Euro. John Terry was reinstated as captain, as England managed to seal their place in the competition. On the way, Wayne Rooney recieved a suspension that will see him most of the group stages.

Coming to the resignation, again there was the involvement of messrs John Terry. He was alleged to have racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, in a Premier League game at Loftus Road. This lead to him being stripped of captaincy yet again. And, also an interview by Capello in the Italian media stating that Terry shouldn’t have been punished until he was proven guilty in the court. However, this was a decision, the FA say they had taken with the full consent of Capello himself. The FA saw this as a breach of contract and that’s that. England seem to be heading to another tournament, courting disaster.

The man who is leading the contender’s list to take over the job is none other than another man embroiled in controversy, the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. The burly manager, whose wife is supposed to have better finishing skills than Darren Bent, was recently¬†acquitted¬†of all charges. First, he was accused of illegally tapping up players. He was secretly filmed to have tapped up Blackburn player Andy Todd. Then, there was the tax evasion trial, where ex-Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric is alleged to have transferred enormous sums of money into Redknapp’s Monaco bank accounts. Let’s see where this circus moves on to next!

Moving on to another part of the world then, to the Africa Cup of Nations. Arsenal had two representatives in the games. While Marrouane Chamakh has returned back to London, without as much as a goal, Gervinho has been putting impressive performances for Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast have now reached the final, where they will play the surprise package of the tournament Zambia, who beat African giants Ghana. Gervinho netted a wonderful goal against Mali in the semifinal. He picked the ball near the halfway line and ran unchallenged to slot the winner. This would mean Gervinho will start for his nation in the final on Sunday. Meaning, he could be in the team for the FA Cup 5th round game at Sunderland on 18th Feb.

Speaking of which, Sunderland took 113 minutes to beat Middlesbrough in their 4th Round FA Cup replay at The Riverside Stadium. This can only bode well for the Gunners, as they hope to face a physically drained Sunderland side, in their search of 3 points. What goes around, comes around. In a weeks time, Arsenal face the Black Cats again, on the bounce of their mammoth Champions League clash with AC Milan.

Yes, now we are just jumping topics. Speaking of cats now, the Anfield Cat has become an internet sensation after its short stint on the Anfield pitch! ‘Kop Cat’ was even subject of a Sky Sports enquiry, after the channel went in search of the feline in surrounding areas of the ground. The club even went on to say that this cat has an uncanny resemblance to Moglet, the unofficial Liverpool mascot in the 80’s.Moglet was adopted by the club’s ground staff after being left outside the stadium gates and was considered a lucky omen by the players and staff. Could this be the long-lost relative of Moglet? ūüėÄ Makes you wonder, doesn’t it! Meanwhile, the Twitter account of ‘Kop Cat’ has attracted nearly 25000 followers! And there have been plenty of funny tweets too! ūüėÄ

Mancini said he rues the day he signed Tevez instead of me, explaining he could at least put lost posters up when I go missing,

Milk is so expensive at football stadiums, it’s an epic swindle,

Think it’s time for a cat nap, I ran my legs off tonight in true.

Me and¬†Manuel Almunia¬†have something in common, we both don’t really belong on a football pitch

‘In my 3 minute cameo I’ve ran past more players than¬†Stewart Downing¬†has all season

I live in Anfield and am fastest than Gareth Bale

Fernando Torres reportedly jealous I got a bigger cheer than he has all season!

What’s more, it seems like cats are going to take over the world. Just a day earlier, a black cat ran the length of the pitch at Nou Camp in a game between Barcelona and Real Socidead! Of course, it was no bad omen, as Barca beat Sociedad 2-1. Carlos Vela scored Sociedad’s goal.

Legends in their own right! One Catalan and one Liverpudlian! ūüôā

And now we jump topics again. Carlos Vela says he prefers staying in Spain rather than return to London.

I am happy and the people support me. I owe Arsenal affection and gratitude for the opportunity that they gave me, but I was not happy there and this affected my work. It was hard day to day and, when it came to training, I was thinking about going home. Here, however, I am happy and have made good friends.

I am not too sure, what Arsenal could miss, should Vela not return to Arsenal. He has not lived up the earlier potential he showed, and has so far been the poorer cousin of Javier Hernandez. Speaking of poorer cousins, there seems to be lots of connections between Manchester United and Arsenal here. Park Chu-Young just can’t seem to get a game at Arsenal, and has been dubbed the poorer cousin of Park Ji-Sung. Even when the Gunners were leading 6-1 against Blackburn, Arsene Wenger decided him to leave him on the bench. With just one year of a proffessional footballing career left for the South Korean, after which he has decided to join the military, spending it on benches or¬†occasionally in Arsenal reserve games is not what the South Korea captain has in mind. His agent revealed that he could be on the move this summer. And why shouldn’t he? He is the captain of his country, and was snapped up right under the noses of Lille from Monaco in a last-minute deal, only to be a makeweight. He has been one of Le Proffeseur’s¬†most puzzling signing.

Speaking of signings, Arsenal have been linked with two more players in the French Ligue 1, more notably Eden Hazard, with the other being Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud. Giroud is being closely watched by Arsenal’s scout in France, former Arsenal defender Giles Grimandi, who says the club is closely monitoring nearly 20 players. Speaking of 20, it is the number of games Giroud has played this season, scoring 15 times.Speaking of 15 and 20, it is that number when converted into millions of pounds, that Arsene Wenger says Arsenal should be making as profits, if any summer move for Eden Hazard is to be made. Recent rumours of Thomas Vermaelen and Eden Hazard being cousins (not poorer) have been quashed. (From where do these come anyways?), with the manager saying he likes the Belgian winger for his pace, vision and his ability to unbalance opposition defences. It remains to be seen which club Hazard will turn out for next season, after saying he sees himself playing in the Premier League come August.

Hazard should he arrive, will be vying for a place in the first-team with the vastly talented Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has come out recently in the media stating that he is happy to learn new things in training from Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.

I listen to everybody. People like Thierry and Robin who score goals and are attacking players like myself, you can always learn a lot from them. That’s all I do, I listen and learn.I have belief in myself and in my own ability. I just know that I have to keep working hard and learn off the boys, and then hopefully the rest will come. At the moment it’s going quite well for me so I’m just going to keep working hard.

His captain and manager insist on keeping a low profile for the England youngster, in a way to try and protect him from the hype that may turn him into another Pennant or a Bentley or a Bendtner. However, the players’ recent performances have attracted interest from lots of quarters, with many pundits claiming he can be the surprise package for England in the European Championships.

Speaking of highly talented Arsenal youngsters, another one that springs to mind is Emmanuel ‘Dench’ Frimpong. The young defensive midfielder made himself a crowd favourite after he hassled and harried $amir Ca$hri in a Carling Cup game against Manchester City, so much so that Ca$hri wanted to go off when the fourth official raised his board, for a different City substitution. He was then loaned out to Wolves, to make sure he gets some first team Premier League action. However, despite ‘Frimponging’ Rafael van der Vaart, he has been the receiving end of ‘Frimpongs’. First, he suffered a facial injury when Stilian Petrov. After initial fears that he could be out for 3 months, he returned to action. But, again, he ruptured his anterior cruciate knee thanks to Joey ‘Brute’ Barton against QPR. This injury means he could be out of action for nearly 8-9 months. He was a crowd favorite at Wolves too, with constant chanting of ‘Deeench’ and ‘Frimpong’. Both Wolves and Arsenal released a statement.

Everyone at Wolves would like to thank the midfielder for his efforts whilst at the club and join Arsenal in wishing him a swift recovery.

Speaking of recoveries, Johan Djourou, who had returned from a long-term injury last season, has supposedly signed a 2 year contract extension, if Swiss newspaper reports are to be believed. I am not too sure how to react, but then again, it doesn’t sound so bad. Djourou has been played out of position, more often than not, this season. He has nearly 130 Arsenal appearances under his belt and is a Swiss regular, so it won’t be bad to have a international defender in reserve. Hopefully, his best years are ahead of him.

Moving on to the big game of the weekend then. No, I am not talking about Sunderland vs Arsenal. I am talking about Manchester United vs Liverpool, in the early Saturday kickoff. I am expecting a lot of handbags in this game, considering how much tension there has been between the two rivals off late. First, Liverpool fans have all been quiet for a while now, considering they are off the perch, now occupied by their fiercest rivals. And to put salt to wounds, they had their best striker handed a ban, that could have affected their entire season. The Patrice Evra-Luis Suarez row has been one of the major talking points this season.

Whether Suarez racially abused Evra or no, I am not sure, but about the match being a feisty clash I am sure. The earlier Premier League match between these two teams at Anfield, was one of the worst matches I saw. Both teams stifled each other out. The FA Cup 4th Round clash was quite exciting, and Liverpool put one over United, by scoring an 88th minute winner at the Kop, through Dirk Kuyt. Suarez is expected to start this one, after he came on as a substitute against Tottenham.

Ok, that’s enough talk about Liverpool, racism and the Ku-Klux-Klan. Now to the other big clash at the Stadium of Light between Sunderland and Arsenal. While Arsenal are riding high on the 7-1 mauling of ¬†hapless Blackburn, Sunderland, themselves are on a high, after ousting neighbors Middlesbrough in the FA Cup 4th Round, and having won 7 of their last 10 Premier League matches, which included beating leaders Manchester City, since the arrival of Martin O’Neill. They have a team, mixed with experience and youth of the right amount. They have lot of ex-Manchester United players, the likes of John O’Shea, Fraizer Campbell, Phil Bardsley, Kieran Richardson and Wes Brown, who is injured, as well as former Arsenal midfielder, Sebastien Larsson, who has been their star performer this campaign. Martin O’Neill could make some changes, considering their midweek exertions against Boro, where they played out 120 minutes of draining cup football on a chilly night. But, then again, he wouldn’t want to change his winning formula. It will be interesting what team is put out on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger is cautious about the return of Kieran Gibbs. He is still probably a week away, and will not be expected to start at the Stadium of Light or at the San Siro. He is however expected to feature in the 5th Round, again at the Stadium of Light. Thomas Vermaelen will continue at left-back, and Bacary Sagna will take his place at right-back, replacing Francis Coquelin. It will also be interesting to see whether Aaron Ramsey or Tomas Rosicky will start beside Mikel Arteta in midfield. My hunch is Aaron Ramsey, after his 10 day rest. It must have surely rejuvenated the young Welshman, who has started most of the games this season, and will keep him fresh during the business end of the campaign.

It is going to be a tough game for both sides. And, this is probably Arsenal’s most important week of the season. We face Sunderland again in the FA Cup, and in midweek AC Milan at the San Siro. Hoping we kickstart a good week on a positive note with 3 points.

Thanks for bearing with the ‘Speaking of which”s!!

Jai Arsenal ūüôā

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2012 in 2011-2012, Match Previews

 

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10 Best Arsenal Matches of 2011

2011 has been a roller-coaster ride for Arsenal, a mixed-bag of emotions.Here is a list, of what I think were Arsenal’s 10 best games of the year, also in footballing terms.

10. Arsenal 3 Р0 Ipswich Town (Carling Cup Semi-Final, Emirates Stadium, 25 Jan)

(Arsenal-Bendtner 61, Koscielny 64, Fabregas 77)

One of the most important games of 2010-2011 season. Arsenal had already been beaten by Championship side Ipswich Town 1-0, just a fortnight earlier, in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final, and also drawn Leeds United at home in the FA Cup, to pile an already congested fixture list. It seemed like Ipswich would hold out for a win, after frustrating the Gunners in the first half. Eventually, the pressure told, as goals from Bendtner, Koscielny and Fabregas sealed passage to the final.

9. Arsenal 2-1 Huddersfield Town (FA Cup 4th Round, Emirates Stadium, 30 Jan)

(Arsenal- Clarke (O.G) 22, Fabregas (Pen) 86; Huddersfield- Lee 66)

A typical Cup game. Everyone had predicted an easy passage through to the next round for the Gunners, after they had been drawn with League One high-flyers Huddersfield. But, it seemed the men in blue and white would emulate Leeds’ feat in the previous round and take Arsenal for the replay. After a Bendtner opener in the 21st, Alan Lee powered home a header in the 66th. Only a late penalty from Cesc Fabregas spared the blushes and another unrequired fixture.

8. Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United (Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 1 May)

(Arsenal– Ramsey 56)

Arsenal had endured a frustrating season, after being knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of United, losing the Carling Cup Final, unfairly losing to Barcelona in the Champions League and a stuttering league campaign, which saw them 9 points behind United coming into this game. A win would keep their faint title hopes alive. Meanwhile, United were rampant, having almost reached the Champions League Final and having one hand around the league title. But, there was no stopping Arsenal that afternoon. The Gunners put in a determined effort and Aaron Ramsey’s 56th minute strike proved to be the difference between the sides.

7. Udinese 1-2 Arsenal (Champions League Qualifier, Stadio Friuli, 24 Aug)

(Udinese-di Natale 39; Arsenal- van Persie 55, Walcott 69)

Probably the most important Arsenal match of the year. Having lost two of their most ¬†influential players in the summer, Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Manchester City, many had predicted a downfall in Arsenal’s fortunes starting with qualification to the group stages of the Champions League. However, the first leg won 1-0 at the Emirates, it was a nervous 2nd leg in Italy. Antonio di Natale headed the Italian side ahead, 6 minutes before half-time to cancel out scores. It took all of Arsenal’s resolve in the second half to seal the tie. First, Robin van Persie scored the all important away goal. Then, Szczesny brilliantly palmed away di Natale’s penalty, before Theo Walcott killed the tie in the 69th.

6. Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 17 Apr)

(Arsenal- van Persie (Pen) 90+8; Liverpool- Kuyt (Pen) 90+11)

This was the game, Arsenal needed to win so badly. A win here meant the gap at the top, between them and Manchester United would be cut to just 4 points, with 6 games to play; and also United coming to the Emirates in two weeks time. But, it was not to be as the game was decided by two penalties in the very dying moments of the game. In a quite even contest, it took Arsenal 98 minutes to break the deadlock. Jamie Carragher’s earlier injury meant an extra time of 8 minutes. Jay Spearing clumsily bought down Fabregas. van Persie scored in what-should-have-been the last minute of the game. However, lady luck seemed to have deserted the Gunners, as Eboue was harshly judged to have bought down Lucas. Up stepped Dirk Kuyt, to slot home the equaliser and a near-death to the Gunners’ title hopes.

5. Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Champions League Group Stage, Emirates Stadium, 23 Nov)

(Arsenal- van Persie 49, 86; Borussia Dortmund- Kagawa 90+2)

The game takes 5th position, purely because of the effort and determination put in by the Gunners on the night. Knowing that a win against the German champions would seal top spot in the group, Arsenal engrossed in a truly¬†exhilarating¬†contest with the young German team. Both chances had plenty of opportunities. On show for Dortmund, on the night were their two most prodigious talents, the Japanese Shinji Kagawa and the German ‘Messi’ Mario Gotze. However, a brilliant ‘Messi’esque run from Alex Song ended up in a header from Robin van Persie. And he headed in the second in the 86th off a Vermaelen flick-on.

4. Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal (Premier League, St.James Park, 5 Feb)

(Newcastle- Barton (Pen) 68,(Pen) 83, Best 75, Tiote 87;Arsenal- Walcott 1, Djourou 3, van Persie 10, 26)

This game is purely here for footballing reasons. A delight for the neutrals. Having taken an seemingly unassailable 4-0 lead at half-time, few would have predicted the Magpies to emerge with a point at the end of it. 3-0 up in 10 minutes and 4-0 by the 26th, Arsenal were steaming away to victory. Then, Diaby got himself sent off, stupidly. That seemed to have infused some sort of superhuman powers into the Newcastle players. Barton converted a 68th minute penalty. Leon Best made it 2-4 minutes later. And, Barton scored again off a penalty in the 85th, before Cheik Tiote’s 87th minute screamer completed an amazing comeback.

3. Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal (Premier League, White Hart Lane, 20 Apr)

(Tottenham- van der Vaart 7, (Pen) 70, Huddlestone 44;Arsenal- Walcott 5, Nasri 12, van Persie 40)

Again, here for purely footballing reasons. Also, a pulsating, feisty North London derby. Walcott raced clear to slot the Gunners ahead in the 5th minute, only to be pegged by a fine strike from Rafael van der Vaart minutes later. Soon enough, Nasri let in a screamer of his own. And van Persie made it 3-1 to the Gunners after 40 minutes. The artistic touch seemed to continue on the night, after Huddlestone’s 43rs minute effort. But, Arsenal pressed the self-destruct button yet again, after Szczesny conceded a penalty in the 70th minute, to be converted by van der Vaart. He redeemed himself moments later as he denied Spurs the winner, with a brilliant reflex save.

2. Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal (Premier League, Stamford Bridge, 29 Oct)

(Chelsea- Lampard 14, Terry 45, Mata 80 ;Arsenal- van Persie 36, 85, 90+2, Santos-49, Walcott-55)

The first real test of mettle for Arsene Wenger’s side in the 2011-2012 season, and it was passed with flying colors as the Gunners brushed aside the Blues in their own backyard in a cracker-jack of a match. Having endured a poor start to the season, Arsenal were slowly picking up confidence after consecutive home wins over Sunderland and Stoke. Chelsea offered a major challenge. Frank Lampard headed the West London side ahead after 14 minutes, after the Gunners were guilty of spurning chances in the opening minutes. However, Arsenal stuck to the task, and Gervinho played a one-two with van Persie to level scores. Chelsea regained advantage with Terry bundling home, just before half-time. The second half was a completely different animal. Goal-happy left back Andre Santos marauded the left wing and equalized, 4 minutes into the second half. 6 minutes later, Theo Walcott produced a moment of fine individual skill. He cut inside of Ashley Cole and stumbled. Cole stopped thinking he had conceded a free-kick. Walcott picked himself up, beat two defenders and fired Arsenal into the lead. Mertesacker and Koscielny were particularly impressive that afternoon. Chelsea’s new¬†¬£23 million man, who was under Arsenal’s radar as well, Juan Mata fired a long-range effort, worthy of atleast a point. But, this was Arsenal’s day. van Persie made most of a Terry slip and rounded Cech in the 85th minute. And in injury time, he rifled past Cech again to secure a famous and important win.

1. Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona (Champions League Knockout Phase, Emirates Stadium, 16 Feb)

(Arsenal- van Persie 78, Arshavin 83 ;Barcelona- Villa 26)

Need I say, why this is the winner? Clearly, match of the year, let alone this list. Barcelona were, at the time, and still probably are, the best footballing team on the planet. Barca had won 16 of their last 17 La Liga games, and were hitting top gear.The game started at a frantic pace, with both teams pressing for the opening goal. Both sides, regarded widely as the two best footballing sides in Europe were giving the purists a delight as they indulged in end-to-end stuff. The Gunners, who last season, mustered a 2-2 draw at this stage, against the same opponent, almost took the lead through van Persie, whose shot was parried by the foot of Victor Valdes. Messi missed moments later as he drilled his effort wide. And, in the 26th minute, Messi’s throughball was clinically dispatched by David Villa to hand the Catalans the advantage. More chances were wasted by both before half-time, as Messi was adjudged offside for one, while van Persie slashed an effort wide. Barcelona were enjoying possession. And could have gone up 2-0, only for Messi and Iniesta to hit the sidenetting. The game was played at a very intense level, and the tension was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife. Soon enough, Gael Clichy calmly placed the ball in the path of van Persie. The angle was impossible, but not for Robin. His shot went past Valdes and there was pandemonium in the stadium. But, there was still more to it. A corner cleared, Fabregas released Nasri on the right, who sprinted half the stadium, to patiently set up an on-rushing Arshavin, who didn’t dissapoint, as he crashed home a famous winner. Vintage Stuff!!

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Best of the Best

 

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2006-2007 Season Review – Dawn of a new era

New stadium. New outlook. And a new whole beginning for Arsenal Football Club, as they entered the 2006-2007 season, as they made the switch down the road from their spiritual home, Highbury, their home for 93 years; to the new state-of-the-art 60,000 seater modern arena Ashburton Grove aka The Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal had narrowly missed out on being the first London club to lift the Champions League trophy by 13 men from Barcelona. Well, as if 13 weren’t enough, the Catalans had relentlessly pursued Arsenal’s demigod striker Thierry Henry, over a period of 2 seasons; and Arsenal’s incapability to beat Barcelona in the final had just heightened speculation over the transfer. However,finally came in the news that Thierry Henry had decided to stay at Arsenal as he signed a contract extension.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were in the thick of transfer activity, as Robert Pires, left for Villarreal; where he got what he wanted, a 2 year deal. And finally, Villarreal came to Arsenal’s rescue as they signed the legendary Pascal Cygan for a whopping¬†¬£2 million. Jose Antonio Reyes, who had seen a decline in form, joined Real Madrid, in a straight loan swap with Julio Baptista. Sol Campbell, left on a free to Portsmouth after 195 appearances for Arsenal. And the summers longest transfer saga saw Cashley Cole, who under Arsenal had transformed to being the world’s best left-back, move to Roman Abrahamovich FC, for the sake of wads of money; in a deal that saw William Gallas joining the Gunners.

Arsenal’s first game at the Emirates was a testimonial game. A game, which was a tribute to one of the most talented footballers the Premier League has seen, i.e Dennis Bergkamp. Bergkamp had joined the Gunners for ¬£7.5 million¬†from Inter Milan, where he had an uninspiring time, and had turned out to be one of the greatest foreign players to grace the English game. More on that, in another blog post.

There’s only one Dennis Bergkamp!

Anyways, Arsenal had won their first fixture 2-1, courtesy to goals from Henry and Kanu, in a match graced by legends of both his former clubs, Ajax and Arsenal, such as Cruyff, van Basten, Seaman, Dixon, Wright, Vieira etc.

Thanks to their last-minute grab of 4th place from cunty Spurs, Arsenal had the opportunity to play in the Champions League, and faced Dinamo Zagreb in the Qualifying Round. Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners in the away tie, in a game where new signing Tomas Rosicky, who had joined from Borussia Dortmund, made his debut. The first competitive game for Arsenal at their new stadium was a league game against Aston Villa. I still remember, waiting in eagerness for the fixture, to catch a glimpse of the stadium.

Arsenal seemed to be playing like an away side that afternoon, and clearly needed time to get adapted to new surroundings, even though the crowd were quite vocal that afternoon. Olof Mellberg, of all people, had the honor of scoring the first goal at the Emirates.  Arsenal threw on 17 year old youngster Theo Walcott, in search of the equaliser, which eventually was scored by Gilberto.

It’s GILBEERTTOO!!!

Passage to the group stages of the Champions League was secured with a 2-1 win over Dinamo, in the first floodlit and European game at the Emirates. Arsenal were still stuttering in the league 2 weeks later, as a loss away to Manchester City and a home draw to Middlesbrough saw them pick up just 2 points from 3 games. A hard-fought 2-1 win in Hamburg, where Rosicky scored a screamer, was the perfect lift Arsenal needed ahead of a visit to Old Trafford.

It’s ROOSSISSSKKKYYY!!!

An uphill task was in store, as Arsenal were without talisman Thierry Henry for the game. Undaunted, Arsenal took the game to United. I remember watching the game with a couple of United upstarts, Suraj Sathyanarayan and Jaidev. In an almost uneventful first half, Arsenal should’ve taken the lead when Gilberto slipped and his penalty was saved by Kusczak. ¬†Anyways, as both teams pressed for a winner in the second half, United almost had the lead, when Ronaldo’s fierce shot was smashed right bang into the face of Jens Lehmann. Ouch!!That must’ve hurt. And, finally in the 86th minute, Arsenal got their deserved winner when Fabregas played a killer pass to Emmanuel Adebayor, who poked his long leg to slot the ball past the keeper! ¬†I remember the glum faces of my fellow game-watchers, and it gives immense pleasure to a Gooner to watch sulking Manure fans.

Lehmann takes one on the face!!

It’s AADDEEEBBAAAYYOOORR!!!

“Hey Fab, did you see the look on Fergusmoan??”

Off the bounce of the inspiring victory against Fergusmoan’s men, Arsenal picked up victories against Sheffield United;which incidentally was their first league win at the Emirates; Porto, Charlton; where van Persie showed his ‘Robin’ instincts with an airbourne screamer; and Watford.

“It’s Superman!!It’s Batman!! No, you idiots!!It’s Robin!!

A disappointing loss in Moscow was followed by a class display at Reading, in a 4-0 win. However, league form dipped, and Arsenal fell 10 points off the pace after drawing 1-1 at Everton and losing to West Ham, to a solitary goal by Marlon Harewood, which sparked a sideline battle between Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew.

Wenger and Pardew go for it!!

Arsenal’s topsy-turvy form continued as another late Adebayor strike, this time at Goodison, ensured passage to the next round of the Carling Cup, while a 3-0 beating of Liverpool, pushed us to the third spot. Liverpool failed to turn up in the game, which was won by the defensive pairing of Gallas and Toure.

Further 1-1 frustration against Newcastle at home, was compounded by losses, away to Bolton and Fulham. Reebok was one of the worst grounds in the Premier League, to play in the evening. The lighting was so dull, and the crowd was crap. Even Glossop FC have a more vocal home support. And moreover, Bolton was aided by Mike Dean, who simply refused to acknowledge Bolton’s physicality. There were loads of elbows, high tackles, dives from Bolton, and Arsenal had to suffer at the ends of a partial referee. To add to it, ‘The Incredible Sulk’ Nicolas Anelka, who had left behind a promising career at Arsenal, to virtually become an European nomad, scored and celebrated with his stupid butterfly celebration.

The first North London derby at the Emirates was a perfect way to peg back some form, as Gilberto’s twin penalties propelled Arsenal to a 3-0 win over a dismal Spurs side. (When were they good anyways? ) And a trip down London, was nearly fruitful, when Mathieu Flamini had scored in the 79th to hand Arsenal the lead, only for Michael Essien’s shot from planet Mars, to steal it away in stoppage time.

The kings of North London!!

A 6-2 thumping of Blackburn and a 2-1 win away at Watford kept Arsenal at 3rd spot, before Cristian Nade’s goal (this time from planet Jupiter )at Sheffield United, in a 1-0 loss, meant Arsenal dropped to 5th.

Then came a resurgent run from the Gunners. Post a 4-0 win over Charlton in the league, Arsenal faced a domestic cup double header against Liverpool, both at Anfield. The FA Cup tie was first up, and thanks to the stupid broadcasters preferred showing Manure play Aston Villa (everyone knew the result beforehand); I had to wait till next morning to know the result. ¬†But, at the end of it, the wait was worth it. Tomas Rosicky’s brace, both goals top-notch, secured a 3-1 win.

Get in there, my son!!And stay stuck!!

3 days later, a young very Gunners side, comprising of 6 teenagers, inflicted further humiliation on Liverpool, as they ran out 6-3 winners. Again, I missed this game, thanks to the cable operator, who refused to put the channel. ¬†‘The Beast’ Julio Baptista, scored 4, and interestingly, could have scored 5, had he not missed a penalty! ¬†Jeremie Aliadiere, was brilliant that evening, and in the mix in all the goals!!

Aliadere, Baptista, and the great Anfield job!! 

The scoreboard tells the story!!

Aliadiere was kind of a strange footballer. He had spent a good part of the 8 years playing for the reserves, since joining when he was a 16 year old. When he did play, he was very unpredictable. At times, he would play like a seasoned centre-forward, like in the game against Liverpool; or would cut a lonely figure, totally out of place. He soon would leave for Middlesbrough, and I haven’t followed his career since.

The amazing run of form continued with a 2-0 win at Ewood Park, Henry scoring a brilliant goal, after sprinting half the length of the ground. Manchester United, up next, at the Emirates; and the Red Devils were supremely sitting at the top of the table; 6 points clear of second placed Chelsea, and 15 ahead of Arsenal. Wayne Rooney gave United the lead, and they looked to be coasting for victory, before van Persie equalised with a shot to the far-post from a narrow angle. Pandemonium erupted in the stands, as Arsenal pressed for a winner. And, they did get it as Henry rose above the United defence, to head home a perfect Eboue cross.

It’s Robin again!!

Henry and Wenger!!

Arsenal’s cup fixtures were piling up as they had drawn the Bolton Wrestling team in the FA Cup, and Spuds in the Carling semi’s. Arsenal snatched draws in both, Toure scoring in the 83rd against Bolton; and Baptista making up for his earlier own goal, to snatch a brace, at Shit Fart Lane. ¬†Both second legs ended positively for Arsenal, who needed extra time in both games to progress.

Meanwhile, Arsenal required a late Henry equaliser at The Riverside. Who would have thought it would be his last in an Arsenal shirt? ¬†Wigan proved to be frustrating opposition, as they scored a screamer through Dutch international Denny Landzaat, and wasted nearly the rest of the match wasting time, thanks to their keeper Chris Kirkland. Arsenal showed desperation, and were rewarded with two late goals, to steal a 2-1 win under Kirkland’s nose.

February 25, 2007.¬†Millennium Stadium. Chelsea vs Arsenal. League Cup Final. Let me correct you. It was Chelsea’s team of handsomely paid (and paid for) stars vs Arsenal’s Youth team. The Gunners had started with 5 teenagers, including a 17 year old Theo Walcott, destined for great things. Add to that, Fabregas, Aliadiere and Senderos, Arsenal were literally playing a very very young team. Chelshit, on the other hand, had the ‘¬£30 million flop in the box’ Andriy Shevchenko and German captain Michael Ballack, their summer signings. Plus, vastly experienced internationals such as Lampard, Carvalho,Terry, Drogba, Makelele, Cech and Essien. There was certainly no stage fright, as the Gunners got on to a rocking start, finding their passing feet in the early minutes. Soon, Abou Diaby played a through-ball to Theo Walcott, and BAM!! The youngster from the South Coast announced his arrival on the big stage as he placed the ball into the top corner to fire Arsenal into the lead. However, the billionaires soon equalised through Drogba. Overall, Arsenal were brilliant throughout the game and looked to be most likely to score, in¬†comparison¬†to their accomplished opposition. And soon, inexperience told as Drogba snatched a 2nd goal in the 84th minute, to leave the Gunners heartbroken. ¬†I was as proud of Arsenal that evening, as proud can one be, after a gallant display of guts and talent from Arsenal.

Walcott fires past Cech!!

“We were crap before Russian moneybags (chorus)!!”

Next few games were tough for Arsenal, as they were knocked out of the FA Cup to a 87th minute winner from Benni McCarthy. A week later, they were out of the Champions League as well, as Alex, who would later join Chavski, scored a 83rd minute equaliser at the Emirates, to earn PSV Eindhoven a 2-1 aggregate victory. More last minute heartbreak at Merseyside followed as Everton dealt a 91st minute blow, with Andy Johnson the culprit. And Liverpool completed Merseyside formalities with a 4-1 crushing at Anfield, Peter Crouch scoring a perfect strikers hat-trick.  West Ham heaped frustration as they scraped a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Rob Green was made of concrete, that particular afternoon, as he emerged with a clean sheet, despite 29 shots on target from Arsenal.

Pride and a 4th place finish was all Arsenal had to play for, and they rounded the job, with 3 wins and 4 draws in the last 7 games of the season, comprising of more late drama; this time at Shit Hart Lane, as Jermaine Jenas equalised in the 95th minute. Gulp!  Also, Arsenal denied Chelsea a hat-trick of Premier League titles, as they held the Blues to a 1-1 draw, and sending the trophy to Old Trafford, after 4 years.

Thus ended Arsenal’s eventful first season at the Emirates. It was a season where Arsenal’s young guns heralded the dawn of a new era in the club’s history, by providing some memorable moments. All that eluded was a trophy.

Jai Arsenal ūüôā

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – 5th Round

Carling Cup – Runners Up

Champions League – Round of 16

Top Scorer – Robin van Persie (13 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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