So we here it goes, we are officially out of two cup competitions within a week, we all knew too well it would be Mission Impossible to beat Barcelona at Camp Nou. We did give it our best shot and if our players were ruthless in front of goal it could have been a different story, however it wasn’t the case as it hasn’t been for few months now.
We started brightly and in the first 15 minutes I thought we could really do some serious damage, but that didn’t last and we paid the ultimate price for the same old defensive mistakes. This time Koscielny tried to bring the ball forward and lost his duel with Surez who fed the ball to Neymar who side footed it beyond Osipina. We looked a bit shaken for a bit we bounced back fairly quickly and created some real scoring opportunities.
It has to be said that our conversion ratio is rather scary we had 20 shots with only 3 shots on target and that is a rather shocking statistic if you ask me. When you play a team like Barcelona you have to take your chances and some of them were sitters that we couldn’t convert. We also did have a penalty shout when Iwobi was clipped by Mascherano by the ref didn’t see it. We did mange an equaliser with a superb goal from Elnany and when it did look like we could get something out of this game Barcelona scored the second with an exquisite volley from Suarez. We didn’t give up though we created many chances but we couldn’t find our shooting boots, I can’t complain with the amount of effort that we put into this game, it was certainly an improvement that we need to take to Everton on Saturday. Messi scored towards the end to make it 3:1 and the game was over by then so no complaints here the better team won and deserved to go through.
It was certainly good to see us play with dedication and desire and I’m hoping we can take this to the last 9 remaining games in the Premier League, football is a funny old game and things can change around very quickly so you never know what might happen between now and the end of the season. Anything is possible as long as Spurs wont win it, we would never hear the end of it.
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Up to 7th and within touching distance of the Champions League places again…Crisis? What crisis?!?!
Of course, we all had our doubts at one point or another. We all had to listen to the media screaming about the end of Arsenal. We all had to listen to other “fans” crying out for the head of Arsene Wenger. We even had to sit through protests at the stadium before games (just what is needed when you have a team desperately low on confidence!). But, in the end, that “mentul strengff” that we have heard so much about and has been questioned so very much in seasons past, really has shone through.
1-0 down away to Norwich. Hhmmm. five weeks ago we would have been hoping that we managed to keep the score respectable but when a team is in the kind of form that we are in, when the captain is in a run of games like he is (more on him later!) and when the general levels of confidence around most of the players appear to be sky-high, anything is possible.
And possible it was! Another fantastic showing from van Persie, ably supported in yet another starring role by the also in-form Gervinho and Walcott who in turn are being given a backbone of extreme strength by Arteta, Song and the fabulous Ramsey and before you could say 2-1 to the Arsenal it was, well, 2-1 to the Arsenal!
Another three precious points in the bag on a weekend that saw Chelsea, Aston Villa and Newcastle all lose and BOOM there we are in joint 5th (I know, I know, we are 7th on goal difference, but joint 5th sounds so much nicer!), seven points clear of 8th place and looking straight up the backsides of the Toon and the Lillywhite Shite and toying with the idea of being 3rd when we were being asked if we were in a relegation fight only weeks ago!
On top of all of this exciting news, we could see a few shocks next weekend too with West Brom unlikely to make things easy for the Spuds for their visit to The Hawthorns, Newcastle away to the yet again smash and grabbing, 1-0 winning, lucky feckers United and Liverpool hosting Citeh. With us at home to the currently woeful Fulham, I expect to see us climb to 5th or even 4th by the end of Sunday. Seriously?! Did I just say that the same Arsenal team that lost all of its creativity and its best players in the summer, replaced them with a bunch of unknowns and rejects after being thrashed 8-2 by the eternally indebted, could actually be in the Champions League places with about two-thirds of the season left to play?!
And that is how fickle the football Dennises are and how even more fickle football fans can be.
But that is next weekend and we have the small matter of Dortmund at home in the Champions League first.
Dortmund are actually in great form in the league of late, having dispatched Bundesliga leaders Bayern 1-0 away from home on Saturday to continue an unbeaten run that stretches back to the 18th of September, scoring 20 goals in their last seven outings and conceding only three goals in the process. They do seem unable to replicate anything like the same form in the Champions League though, with only four points from four games scoring three and conceding seven!
So a win is to be expected, but is far from guaranteed. Any team with players in the creative positions like Gotze, Großkreutz and Kagawa are capable of beating anybody on their day. It just seems that their day isn’t, hopefully, destined to be in this seasons Champions League. Another reason that the Germans should be taken very seriously indeed is that, should they fail to get something from this game, they will be out of the competition. They have nothing left to lose and everything left to gain and that is exactly what Jürgen Klopp will be telling his team.
So, with this game offering us the opportunity to guarantee qualification in the event that we win it, or even draw it for that matter, and Dortmund realistically needing a win to stand a chance of advancing in the competition, one expects that Arsene will put out something like his strongest side. With the injury list growing faster than it is shrinking (Rosicky – Thigh, Chamakh – Knee and Miyaichi – Ankle now added to the long-term injuries to Wilshere, Sagna, Jenkinson and Gibbs), I would imagine the team to look something like this:
OK, I know I have put Arshavin in over Gervinho on about three occasions so far this season only for Wenger to surprise me and leave the Ivorian in and, more surprisingly, the Russian out, but I really do think that this time he will get the nod, if for no other reason than Gervinho is playing a lot of games for us at the moment and is currently in a run of form that would allow him the luxury of this being a rest and not being dropped in favour of Arshavin. If you see what I mean?!
Predictions are tough for this one as with only a point needed to guarantee qualification one would think that a tight defence and a cat and mouse game of counter-attacking would be on the cards. There is, however, the small matter of Marseille playing Olympiacos at home thus almost guaranteed the three points, which would mean that a draw would leave us in 2nd place and hoping for a result away in Greece or Dortmund doing us a favour at home to Marseille in two weeks time, all of which sounds like the hard way to go about things…But this is Arsenal and the hard way IS the Arsenal way!
In truth, the best way to go about this is to get at them early, try to get an early goal and then keep going. Dortmund will be dangerous on the counter, of course, but then again, we are dangerous from just about anywhere right now! And can anybody really see us trying to grab a goal and then sit on it for the remainder of the game?! No, me neither. So, with all that in mind, I am going for a 3-1 win and a good performance to go with it. If Song can put in the kind of shift that he has been of late, we may even see the likes of Gotze struggle for the time and space that his game needs and we could even get away with a clean sheet! Arsenal?! Clean sheet?! Are you MAD?!??!
Come Wednesday, we shall find out! Mad or not, I genuinely believe that this is one of the best Arsenal squads for a few years now and one that has the potential to keep going where others have been found wanting. With players like Miyaichi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong and Aneke, Ozyakup and Miquel waiting in the wings, this really could be the beginning of something quite special that could last for years rather than the end of Arsenal Football Club as many were predicting only a few weeks ago.
And with Sagna, Jenkinson, Wilshere and Gibbs all still to return, we may even see a season where the all too familiar self-destruction sequence is avoided and a stronger team emerges after Christmas. Only time will tell, but I know that this is, yet again thanks to Arsene Wenger, a wonderful time to be a Gooner!
Diaby Returns AGAIN!
Since having his leg broken for him some 5 years ago by that knuckle-dragging imbecile Dan Smith, his ability to stay fit has been seriously questioned. Strangely he is not particularly popular amongst Arsenal fans even though his playing statistics show a player of some impact. 20 goals and 14 assists in 158 matches for a box-to-box midfielder are not bad statistics at all, although I am aware that these numbers do not speak the whole truth regarding his at times seeming inability to make a decision in time to not lose the ball in the most dangerous of positions, neither do they show how easy it is to reduce your popularity when getting a stupid and unnecessary red card in a game in which we are 4-0 up at Newcastle only to then see the referee basically hand a draw to the Toon with a couple of unspeakably ridiculous penalty awards, a failure to send off one of their players for a headlock/strangulation effort on “the Pole between the poles” and a generally hideous defensive effort. To place all the blame on the midfielder for all of that seems a little unfair but scapegoats will always be found when needed and his was the most obvious place in which to point the finger.
in my opinion his return to fitness (and subsequent inclusion in the squad to face Dortmund), hopefully for more than a handful of games this time, should only be a good thing in terms of squad depth and, if he realises only a fraction of his enormous potential, we could see a great set of midfielders competing for places come January. Imagine this: Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, Diaby, Benayoun, Song, Frimpong and Rosicky all competing for three starting places. Competition for places is often overlooked in the bigger picture, but I believe that Walcott, Song, Koscielny, Gibbs and Ramsey are all showing great leaps in class since their places were no longer guaranteed due to the arrivals and emergences of the Ox, Frimpong, Mertesacker, Santos and Wilshere respectively.
As Arsene has recently said, this is a big squad but also a squad with strength in depth and “those who shall not be pleased” who claim otherwise are ignoring the obvious in deference of searching for more reasons to bleat.
Let them bleat, I say!
Van STILL The Man!
Robin van Persie’s incredible run of form since he finally managed to find a run of games without serious injury now sees him with 31 goals in 29 games in 2011, top of the goalscoring charts in the Premier League and a set of statistics that put him up there with the very best players in the world – 13 goals in 12 league games compared with 14 in 12 for Ronaldo and 15 in 12 for Messi.
Couple this with the obvious understanding developing quickly between him and Theo Walcott and the constantly improving form of Gervinho, we look like we can score whenever we attack, even if the bulk of those goals are coming from the one man.
Of course, without a new contract signed sealed and delivered, there is the fear that our Dutch talisman could be on his way for a fistful of dollars come the end of the season. Personally I do not put much stock in the relentless rumours of his inevitable departure and believe that a combination of the board, Arsene and the fans will do just as much as the team to convince him to stay as any amount of money could convince him to leave. A player enjoying his football as much as he is would find it difficult to leave any team, but one that actually wins something, which I believe that this team is capable of this season, would, of course, make it even more difficult.
The chance that he may go the way of the likes of Na$ri, AdePayMeMore and Clichy exists until that contract is signed but, as we have seen in recent years, signing a new contract doesn’t guarantee that a player will stay anyway. As fans the very best that we can do is get behind him, the team and the manager and show him and all of our other great players that we are the best fans in the world and that this team is one with a glowing future that he would be mad to leave behind.
So, let’s do our jobs and get behind the team and the manager as well as the captain and let’s make that 12th man truly count.
Come on you League Climbing, Champions League Knock-out Rounds Qualifying Bright Future Gooooooonnnnneeeeerrrrssss!
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Well, nobody can say that Arsene Wenger doesn’t know how to pull off a surprise or two after that match, can they?!
The inclusions of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santos and Chamakh were, I have to say, all shocks when the team sheets were announced. The Ox was not the worrying kind of shock in the slightest after he showed against Shrewsbury that he has both the game and the maturity to play in the first XI, but I felt that Wenger would leave it longer before “blooding” him nonetheless, at least until a dead rubber match came up at the end of the group stage. Santos and Chamakh were bigger surprises and, if I am honest, worrying ones to lesser and greater degrees. Surprises aside, Song partnered Mertesacker as expected, filling in at centre-back in the absence of no less than three first XI players in that position which also gave Frimpong the opportunity to continue his steep learning curve in the defensive midfield role.
As if to repay the faith shown in them, two of those surprises, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santos, got us off to an absolute flier with a goal apiece on 8 and 20 minutes respectively. Oxlade-Chamberlain, after already showing some nice touches, passes and a clean pair of heels to their right-back, chested the ball down to himself on the edge of the penalty area, moved inside his marker who actually got a touch only for the ball to bounce kindly back into the feet of the ex-Southampton man who continued into the box before placing a precise finish through his markers legs into the bottom right hand corner to become the youngest ever English player to score in the Champions League, taking that title from a certain Theo Walcott!
A fantastic start and one that would get even better 12 minutes later when, after good work down the left, Santos crossed the ball to Chamakh in the six-yard box. The Morroccan international didn’t actually get to the ball as it was stolen off his toes by a good challenge from his marker, but it found its way back out to Santos who took a step inside the defender and beat the keeper at his near post. A touch of luck in the build-up to both goals, but it is about time we got a little of that and it was certainly nothing less than both players deserved for their determination alone.
The 12 minutes between the two goals were not entirely without incident. Four minutes after taking the lead, Chamakh, a lonely and hapless looking figure yet again I am sad to say, really should have at least tested the goalkeeper when a corner found him at the far post, but his header from only a few yards out went well wide. Two minutes later and Arteta was called into defensive action, clearing off the line after Djebbour got himself free at the back post from a corner. The rebound fell to him again but he could only manage to hit the side-netting with his follow up. In truth the Algerian really should have scored at the second attempt but all credit to Arteta for an heroic stop.
So, 2-0 up, playing some reasonably tidy football, passing fairly well and it began to look like it was just a matter of how many at this point. On 27 minutes the game was turned on its head in a typical Arsenal self-destructing style. A short corner on the left hand side caught us napping in the box and the overall fairly impressive David Fuster was given the freedom of North London and, with all the time to pick his spot, headed the ball into the net from about 10 yards out. A shocking piece of defending from the 9 Arsenal players in the penalty area and one that I hope Wenger will be ramming down their throats prior to the game against the titleless for over 50 years on Sunday.
A minute later Djebbour tested Szczesny with a rasping shot that the once again excellent “Pole between the poles” did well to tip over showing those reflexes that are threatening to make him an Arsenal legend!
The rest of the half was a story told many times over the past couple of seasons. Poor passing in midfield, mainly from Frimpong, and a seeming inablity to hold the ball up front, mainly the fault of Chamakh, neither of whom had games to remember, saw Olympiacos threatening more and more, albeit mostly on the counter-attack. If not for more excellent goalkeeping from Szczesny and some wonderful reading of the game coupled with some great tackling from the ever-improving Mertesacker, we could well have gone in for the half-time break staring down the barrel of 2-2 or worse. The Grek side could have been forgiven for feeling that they should have found that parity at least.
With Wenger banished to the stands for his final game of his absurd suspension, Pat Rice must again take a reasonable amount of credit for whatever he said during his half-time talk, with the start of the second half seeing us play a much more compact game with less space between the defence and the midfield and the wayward passing apparently also dealt with.
On 50 minutes Oxlade-Chamberlain was released by a nice pass in a rare moment of quality from Chamakh, the young winger getting in behind the full-back Holebas, who, after spending the entire game doing little else but kick any Arsenal player he could find, had finally been booked a minute earlier and was thus unable to kick, tug, drag or barge the flying winger. Bearing down on goal The Ox took what was, in my opinion, one touch too many giving Costanzo in the Olympiacos goal time to settle himself, narrow the angle and beat out the eventual shot. A good save was needed nevertheless and the young man once again justified Wenger’s decision to pick him.
A few minutes later saw Holebas blatantly shove Oxlade-Chamberlain in the back after good work on the wing from the eventual Man of the Match winner. The referee, who up until now had been nothing short of pedantic in his constant use of his whistle, quite simply bottled the decision, waved play on and incredibly the left-back stayed on the pitch. The touch of luck we had enjoyed for the two goals deserting us again. Had he gone, as he should have done, the game would have been the better part of dead and buried, As it transpired, there was still some nail-biting life in it yet.
On 64 minutes Olympiacos captain and right-back Torosidis, their best player on the night, unleashed a curling left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area that crashed against the bar. I think that, had it been the couple of inches lower needed for it to go in, Szczesny had it covered, but I have to admit to being relieved that we didn’t have to find out for certain!
3 minutes later and Pat Rice made the first of three changes, taking off Oxlade-Chamberlain to a standing ovation and introducing Aaron Ramsey. I said in the pre-match article that the excellent direct passing we saw from Ramsey against Bolton could play a big factor in the result of tonight’s match, and his introduction almost immediately showed us what we had been missing as he released Arshavin on two occasions, the first of which drew a decent save and the second resulting in a cynical barge from Fuster, rightfully earning himself a booking in the process. A good substitution at exactly the right moment from the assistant manager and it was not his last.
On 70 minutes Chamakh was put out of his misery, as were the majority of the Arsenal fans, and our newest centurion, Robin Van Persie, was brought on. The two Olympiacos centre-backs, Mellberg and Marcano, who had looked so comfortable shepherding Chamakh around, suddenly looked stretched due to the intelligent running and general menace of the Dutchman. Preoccupied with him the again excellent and incredibly hard-working Arteta found a lot more space in midfield and used it to great effect to slow the game down and ensure that we kept much better possession of the ball thus helping to tick down the clock.
Again, a good tactical decision from Pat Rice. I know that there are a few out there who think that he should have left the club in the summer and are already celebrating the fact that he will probably retire at the end of this season, but I believe that his role at the club is very much an unsung one and, after 41 years of the last 45 spent serving our fine club and with all of the knowledge and experience that time has surely brought him, he will leave behind a very large pair of shoes to fill. Tonight his experience showed once again and, should we win a trophy this season, I think that his should be the first hands to touch it in deference to his great service.
On 83 minutes, after a period of about ten minutes that saw Olympiacos threaten on a few occasions down our right side, Mr Rice once again made the necessary change and took off Arshavin, who had a quiet game overall, and bring on Kieran Gibbs to play more as a left midfielder than a left winger as the Russian does. The danger was immediately snuffed out and it was just a case of running down the clock and getting the three points that were needed above all else.
Whilst Olympiacos certainly played their part in this match and at times played some neat attacking football which saw them threaten to spoil the night from our point of view, the pairing of Mertesacker and Song looked as solid a partnership as Arsenal have seen at centre-back for quite some time, certainly in the absence of Vermaelen, and all credit to them for rarely looking troubled, showing good reading of the game and in the case of Mertesacker in particular, stepping out at just the right times to put in some great challenges to close the door on attacks before they got a chance to do any real damage.
In terms of the defence, apart from the terrible lapse of concentration that led to their goal and a couple of occasions where Sagna was uncharacteristically caught in possession, Szczesny had little bellowing to do at those in front of him and yet the general criticism coming from the media and “those who shall not be pleased” is of continuing defensive weakness. Whilst we may not have the best defence on earth right now and they may not have been devastatingly impressive tonight, I do think it is fair to say that they were not anything like as bad as is being claimed in some areas and the general direction they are going in is the right one.
With regard to Chamakh, I am at a loss as to what Wenger can do with him next. Chosen ahead of Park, probably in the hope that he may pick up a goal and the confidence boost that goes with that, from the moment his early header went wide he looked totally bereft of any confidence at all. His touch was heavy for most of the evening, his shooting and heading poor, his distribution presenting countless gifts to the Greeks putting us under pressure from the counter-attacking opportunities these provided and generally looking like the hole large enough to actually swallow him up would have taken the stadium with it. Aside from the one good pass to The Ox, nothing went right for him and he became a more and more tragic figure until his exit on 70 minutes. That said, he never hid and never stopped running and, should January see him move on, I for one hope that he finds better fortune elsewhere.
Many a critic has questioned our ability to “win ugly” and yet now we have done just that people want champagne football again! Tonight was no walk in the park, but it was never going to be and the most important thing was the three points. That was achieved and we can now look forward to getting a few players back from injury for the match against the Spuds on Sunday whilst Ramsey and Van Persie got a decent enough rest tonight too. All in all a good night’s work and the corner-turning continues.
And on that note I bid you farewell.
Come on you Spud Peeling Goooonnnneeeerrrrrsssss!