So, just 3 days after the International break we emerge for yet another big game for Arsenal. This time the trip will take us north to Anfield.
To say both teams had a bad international, injury wise, would be fair. Arsene Wenger was angered by the Belgian FA after Thomas Vermaelen, who was injured after the North London Derby last week, was ‘forced’ to play the full 90 minutes against Greece. Arsene has since threatened to report Belgium to FIFA regarding the matter.
When asked about the situation Wenger said ‘It looks like Belgium has made a decision which I still do not understand and we will look to see if we can put a complaint in. Firstly they forced the player to travel. Then they forced him to play 90 minutes after being injured and had a centre-back on the bench who did not play at all, in a friendly game knowing they do not even go to the European Championship.‘I never asked any player not to go 100 per cent for his country when it’s a qualifier or big competition, but friendlies are becoming more and more difficult especially in this period. We were the only team in the world who had that schedule so it’s very difficult to understand that our players had to go injured to Greece and to play 90 minutes for Belgium.
While I agree with the principal of Wenger’s grounds for complaint, I don’t agree with the way he has blasted Belgium for their treatment of Vermaelen straight to the media, before lodging a complaint. He should of written a letter directly to FIFA and never mentioned this to the press at a vital point in Arsenal’s season and only a few months before the European Championships start. The complaint will start a debate about whether international friendlies should be player during the season anymore. I think this is wrong. International teams do not have enough time as it is to gel together and work on tactics. Fair enough clubs pay the players’ wages but the greatest honour of all for a footballer is to represent his country.
The other players to return from international duty injured were Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie and Liverpool Skipper Steven Gerrard.
A Thrilling Encounter
The game against Liverpool, for Arsenal, never really reached the highs and lows of the North London Derby but there was plenty of drama.
On 17 minutes Arsenal goalkeeper Szczesny conceded his second penalty in his last two Premier League games. This time Suarez, like Bale, seemed to tumble over Szczesny before contact was even made. Also, despite the referee having no chance of seeing through the crowd of players, he awarded the penalty to Liverpool. Kuyt, one of Liverpool’s Carling Cup penalty shoot-out scorers, stepped up only to find Szczesny equal to his penalty and the young pole then got back up to make a fantastic second save to deny Kuyt’s tame follow up.
6 minutes later, however, and Arsenal fans around the country breathed a collective sigh as Koscielny wildly hacked the ball into his own net from a Henderson cross, a move which was start by the passing abilities of Downing and Spearing.
The next 8 minutes were completely dominated by Liverpool and Arsenal were being played off the park until, against the run of play, Robin Van Persie stepped up to head home a brilliant cross from Sagna. Sagna was given too much room by Enrique, who tipped Walcott as his biggest threat before the game, and Van Persie showed he was too strong for Carragher who failed to get goal side.
Liverpool could of had been 3-1 up by half time thanks to brilliant work by Suarez and Kuyt. It was Suarez with the first when he jinked past 4 Arsenal players only to be denied by Szczesny. Then the Dutchman, Kuyt, was unlucky when he turned a cross towards goal only to be denied by the post before an Arsenal player hacked the ball clear.
The half ended 1-1 and neither manager had a right to be happy with their team. The performance of both teams was below what should be displayed.
It wasn’t long into the second half before we had another bit of drama. This time it wasn’t a goal or penalty. It was Mikel Arteta down on the deck after a collision with Henderson, which I thought was more malicious by Henderson than the commentators wanted to admit. Either way, Arteta had severe concussion and had to go off to be replaced by the fit-again Abou Diaby. It was long before Diaby warmed Reina’s palms with a 20-yard strike which was comfortable for Reina.
The next big chance of the game came on 71 minutes when Gibbs got in behind the Liverpool defence before playing in Walcott who was denied by a wonderful save from Reina.
Arsene Wenger then opted to make his second substitution of the game on 74 minutes. Benayoun, brilliant against Tottenham and non-existent today, replaced by Gervinho. Then Liverpool attacked.
Downing broke clear of the Arsenal defence and only had to roll the ball to Suarez for an easy tap in but the out-of-form winger got it hopelessly wrong and the chance was gone.
The same man again, Downing, had a chance to right his earlier wrong a couple minutes later only to sum up his dreadful season by dragging a volley dreadfully wide.
Bad news followed Downing’s chance. Arsenal’s Diaby looked as if he had picked up another injury and was replaced by The Ox on 80 minutes. Gutted for him.
The game dragged on as Liverpool began to take control before the fourth official indicated on his board that there would be 8 minutes of added time, an omen for two teams who have scored 6 goals after the 90th minute in recent games.
Then it happened. It was like a replay of another Merseyside team, Everton being split open by the same two players in similar fashion. Song was again played a chipped ball over the top for Van Persie to volley a placed shot between Reina and his near post. For the second time in 7 days RVP had sent the Arsenal away fans into raptures, 2-1.
The win leaves Liverpool all but out of the Champions League next season but more importantly it leaves Arsenal just 4 points behind Tottenham. Although, Tottenham have a game in hand.
In the post match interview Van Persie was asked how significant the win was for the club and he said ‘It means a lot. To score at Anfield is big, because Anfield is a massive ground. I’m proud of that, but even more proud of this win. I don’t think we really deserved it, to be honest, because Liverpool played better.”
He added: ‘I think we are 10 points ahead of Liverpool now and we can wait to see what Spurs do tomorrow. It’s a big win, a massive win.’
Robin’s performance earned him the MoM champagne but the striker opted to give it to, in my opinion the real MoM, ‘Szczesny. Of his penalty save, Szczesny said: ‘I got a little bit of stick from the boss yesterday for not saving the previous three penalties. I went the right way every time and did not get anywhere near them. So there was pressure on me today to save the first one. I did not really believe I could save the second one. But I think he (Kuyt) scuffed the rebound a little bit and it was not actually that difficult a save.’
Wenger’s interview, however, was a bit bleaker. The manager said ‘The bad news of the day is that Diaby is injured and did his hamstring. Benayoun has a small hamstring problem, Gibbs has a problem. We look decimated after the game. I don’t know who will be available on Tuesday night.’
A vital three points away from home from Arsenal today in their fight to finish third. They also became the first team this season to take all 3 points away from Anfield, making it 4 straight Premier League wins for Arsene’s boys.
Next up is Milan and Arsenal face an uphill challenge. Wenger was quoted as saying ‘Maybe I will play with six strikers, as we have to score goals!’
That’s all folks, hope you enjoyed and don’t forget to follow me @leeodonovan
For Arsenal fans’ the lead up to the North London Derby delivered its first sucker punch when it was announced by Robin Van Persie in Arsenal’s official match day programme that he will not consider extending his contract until the end of the season.
The Flying Dutchman’s current deal expires in 2013 and has attracted large interest from Barcelona, according to newspapers in Spain.
Robin clarified the situation in the programme by saying, ‘there have been a lot of stories, generally contradictory ones, about my contract situation recently so I’d like to make it clear,’ he said.
‘There’s nothing complicated or sinister – the Club and I have both agreed to speak at the end of the season and see how things stand. The boss, Ivan Gazidis and I are all comfortable with it. ‘I need all my focus to be on football – on captaining this team, improving every day, doing extra work on the training pitch and preparing for the very busy schedule of fixtures we have. If I look down the list, there’s not much time to sit down and think about anything else! For me, this is a time to play football and not speak about personal things. All of my energy needs to go on getting this team where we want it to be this season.’
That was just a taste of things to come. Just 4 minutes into the game, the stadium erupted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Arsenal celebrating. Spurs had taken the lead after a deflected Saha shot seemed to take forever to loop over Chesney’s head a bounce into the young ‘keepers empty net. The simple move had made Arsenals defence looked exposed like it has been all season. Song was out of position, Vermaelen was in no man’s land and Gibbs was out of his depth.
Then it got worse. 34 minutes Gibbs was beaten for pace and strength by Bale down Arsenal’s left before the Welshman distastefully dived over the sprawled-out arms of Chesney. Mike Dean, however, took the bait and awarded Spurs the penalty. Surely a red card for Chesney, right? Wrong. Mr. Dean confided with his assistant before deciding not to book the Arsenal keeper. Up stepped the much hated Adebayor. Emmanuel had scored 3 out of 4 penalties so far and his run up exuded confidence as he placed the ball just out of the reach of Chesney who dived well to his left. 2-0. The faces of the Spurs fans said game over. Arsenal’s players had other ideas.
On 40 minutes Arsenal’s comeback started. Van Persie’s right footed shot struck the post before the ball fell to Arteta who crossed for Sagna to head home with a beautiful, controlled header. Three minutes later Van Persie curled a superb shot beyond the helpless Friedel and equalise for Arsenal to the amazement of the fans. Game on.
The second half started with Redknapp making two changes to try and steady his shaky midfield. Sandro and Van Der Vaart came on for Kranjcar and Saha and Spurs went from a 442 to a 451 formation.
The changes made no difference, though, and after 6 minutes of the second half Arsenal had taken the lead for the first time in the match. The brilliant Rosicky scored his first goal in over 2 years and sent the fans into raptures. The comeback was complete. Arsenal was where they wanted to be.
It didn’t stop there though. Arsene’s faith in Walcott, despite fans’ pleas to take him off, paid off and the young forward, starting in his favoured striker role, went from zero to hero with a quick fire brace. His first came on 65 minutes when the striker coolly clipped the ball over Friedel, despite miss-controlling the pass from Van Persie, to finish off a superb ‘classic’ Arsenal move. His second came in a similar fashion as Theo raced away from the Spurs defence before slotting calmly into Friedel’s right-hand corner.
It went from bad to worse for Harry’s men as Scott Parker was sent off for a second bookable offence. The game, for Spurs, was over. The fans’ headed for the exits and Harry and his coaching staff could only sit and watch in misery.
The final whistle sparked pandemonium from the home fans’ and something Arsenal fans and players really needed to see, an Arsene Wenger smile.
Arsene Wenger later described the performance from his players as ‘perfect.’ He said ‘It was a performance full of everything you want from your team. It had team spirit, technique, resilience. It was an exciting game. We had a difficult start but kept going and showed great character again today. When you’re 2-0 down against a team in front of you with the quality they have, you need something exceptional.’
‘We refused to lose today, we kept going and in the end I think we had too much quality and drive.’ Asked if it is still a foregone conclusion that Spurs will finish ahead of them in the league, Wenger said: “I don’t think so. Mathematically we can come back. If we’re consistent, anything is possible.’
Van Persie had time to heap praise on the largely criticised Walcott. ‘If I speak about my friend, Theo, I think it is quite funny that he gets so much criticism,’ said the Dutchman. ‘He gave me loads of assists and I know, and everyone knows, that he can score, and he showed that today.’
There was, however some bad news for Arsenal injury wise as it emerged that Vermaelen picked up an ankle injury and Rosicky picked up a back injury.
It doesn’t matter though. This was the greatest victory in my living memory. This definitely beats my old favourite, the 5-1 victory against Inter Milan.
Leave a comment and follow me @leeodonovan
We all know Alex Song the tenacious, tough tackling defensive midfielder. Yesterday, however, he showed us a side to him that we had only glimpsed before. Song, 24, showed us that he’s not just a tough-tackling, knuckle-headed dm. In fact, he showed such incredible craft and vision so precise that he is on level terms with David Silva for most successful through balls. Defensive midfielder? Let’s see.
We shall start at the beginning, where did he come from? Well, he was born Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong on September 9th 1987 in Douala, Cameroon. At the age of 3 Alex was left fatherless when his father sadly passed away. His cousin Rigobert, however, stepped up to the plate and took it upon himself to give Alex a father figure and nurtured him. Rigobert was a major factor in Alex looking to football as a career. Unfortunately he was unable to find a club or academy where he could play regular football and improve his ability.
At the tender age 16 of Alex moved to France and joined SC Bastia’s youth team. In 2004 François Ciccolini took charge of the club and was so impressed with the 16 year old he decided to promote him to the first-team. In the 2004-2005 season Alex managed to notch up 31 first team appearances.
During Song’s spell with Bastia he attracted an increasing amount of interest from top European clubs. Bastia, however, regarded Song as a prize asset and didn’t want to sell him so they agreed to loan him to Arsenal for the 2005-2006 season where he made 5 appearances before Wenger decided to operate a clause in his loan contract and signed the Versatile player for £1,000,000 on a four-year contract despite heavy competition from Lyon.
Song’s Arsenal career had began bright where he had made several league and Champions League appearances in the lead up to the January transfer window. On January 9th 2007 Alex scored his first goal for Arsenal in the memorable 6-3 drubbing of Liverpool in the League Cup. On 30 January 2007, it was confirmed that Charlton Athletic had signed Song on loan until the end of the 2006–07 season. [Although he impressed, Charlton were relegated and Song returned to Arsenal after racking up 13 appearances for the former premier league side.
The 2008-2009 season proved to be Song’s breakthrough season where he made 48 appearances in all competitions for the first team. The following season, however, he played in all but one of Arsenal’s first twelve Premier League games and also finished third in Arsenal.com’s player of the month for October, behind Cesc and RVP. Alex quickly established himself as an integral part of Arsenal’s midfield. His tough tackling, commanding performances allowing Arsenal’s more attacking, creative players to attack more freely. More specifically he was the perfect partner for Fabregas. Two completely different players who complimented each other’s style of play and formed the Arsenal engine for the 09-10 season. The following season saw Alex finish with 42 appearances in total, 5 goals and 3 assists in all competitions.
That brings us up to the current season. Since the departures of Samir and Cesc and injuries to Wilshere and Diaby, Alex has found himself short of creative players in front of him with the fit-again Ramsey and new recruit Arteta being run ragged. Arsene did manage to sign Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea on a season long loan but thus far he has been unable to make a solid contribution to the team, along with Rosicky.
With that stark truth settling around the Emirates unrest started when Arsenal made their worst start to a season for 58 years and it was apparent the team was unsettled and largely relied on the injury prone skipper RVP to provide the goals.
Let’s fast forward to December 10th 2011. The Emirates is packed with over 60,000 expectant fans. After over an hour of play the scores are still level at 0-0 and the game looked destined to be goalless when up steps the Cameroonian Commander Alex Song. After seeing Ramsey, Arteta, Walcott and Gervinho all fails to play through a decisive ball to create a real chancee for Van Persie, Song leapt from the darkness to play a 20-yard chipped pass, from 15 yards into EFC’s half, over the head of Phil Jagielka for Van Persie to volley home brilliantly. Yesterday was much to same story, Alex was continually probing away at the Blackburn defence and played a huge part in Arsenal’s flamboyant success.
In my opinion, Song is one of the best players in the premier league and to compare to him to a player like Vieira is something that would be totally unfair. Alex has developed his own style of play and is beginning to master it, he has been trusted to fill a void left by the departure of four creative midfielders and I believe he has the talent to do so. He will be the perfect midfield partner to a fit again Wilshere. The future can only get better for a player who has maturity beyond his years and I think coupling his performance alongside that of Coquelin, Chamberlain and Walcott, not to mention those who didn’t play a part, I believe it is fair to say that the future is very bright under Arsene. All he needs to do this season is let the players do what they do best. Their confidence levels are brimming so a good run of form looks to be on its way.
AW has his philosophy to follow, I have mine. In Arsene I Trust.
Thanks for reading, please leave a comment on your views of everything Arsenal. Hope you enjoyed my debut article for ArsenalTalk and don’t forget to follow me. @leeodonovan
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!
Chelsea…Wasn’t it? Really…Lesson in football. Jumpers for goalposts…!
But seriously folks, if we ever needed a heavy landing from the heady heights, the 0-0 draw with Marseille certainly provided us with that. A draw we really didn’t need given the number of games we have over the next few weeks, maybe. A return to old habits, for certain. Our inability to convert large chunks of possession and great play into goals is a ghost that has haunted us for the past few seasons and one which I am sure many of us had started to believe had finally relinquished its hold on us. Have the last few games been the new Arsenal with profligacy a thing of the past or have they been a juicy hiatus only to see us return to “form” after giving us a sense of new hope?!
So, with all that in mind, there has never been a better time to show a level of consistency and, more importantly, the ability to ensure that the “minnows” of the Premier League don’t have some kind of “hoo-doo” over us, as some would have us believe. And I think that is exactly the kind of game we need to restore a little of the confidence that we had so carefully and lovingly built up in recent weeks. Stick a few past the Baggies and leave a sweet taste in the mouth ahead of the international break and we could actually start really believing in ourselves rather than worrying about flashes in pans. Games like Chelsea drive things forward at 100mph but games like Marseille create that horrible smell in the car that only a handbrake left on can do. We need to remove the handbrake permanently but only a run of free-flowing Arsenal performances can do that and whilst we were in that particular groove, there has been a faint whiff permeating the air and threatening to derail the Gooner Express at any moment. Will Tuesday prove to be nothing more than a short-lived signalling failure and will today present us with all the proof that we need that we are still full steam ahead? Let’s hope so!
In reality, West Brom are not the pushovers they once may have been, although they have been horribly inconsistent so far this season, having pushed Manchester United and Chelsea almost all the way to the finishing line in the first two games of the season, conceding the points in the last 10 minutes on both occasions whilst the same team got beaten 3-0 by Swansea and yet managed to beat Wolves and Villa in the Midlands derbies! All of that said, they were anything but pushovers when they took 4 points from our two league games beating us 3-2 at the Emirates and holding out for a 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns last season, were they and that is exactly why we need to get a result today. Time to put some of the old ghosts to rest and show that we can beat the “bogey” teams.
So, we can expect Van Persie to return, after the blunt attacking force that was presented against Marseille in mid-week that much is certain, but how many people will successfully guess what the central defensive partnership will be or, more importantly, do so with any real certainty?! Aside from Arsene himself, not many I would bet.
If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would go with Vermaelen and Mertesacker again, regardless of how well Koscielny has been playing, as I believe that PM4 ad TV5 represent absolute class whereas Koscienly has, thus far, only managed to prove that form is temporary, in whatever direction. Yes, the Frenchman has played some great matches lately, most of them contenders for man of the match, but his two previous years have shown a frailty that we can ill afford right now. All that aside, isn’t it wonderful that Wenger actually has this selection “nightmare”?! Three centre backs all playing at a near world class level…Almost unheard of! Of course, when they succeed in keeping clean sheet after clean sheet and putting in solid performances game after game, we will have to hear about how Arsene inherited the defence from George Graham! HA! Just like the defence of Lauren, Campbell, Toure and Cole, not one of which was actually at the club when Wenger took over!
At right back I expect Jenkinson to get the nod over Djourou as the latter has done absolutely nothing, barring a decent cross against Marseille that led to the winning goal on that wonderful night in France,to deserve a place in this side and at the very least young Carl has shown a lot of heart and determination and, most importantly, improvement.
I think it may be that time again regards the Gervinho/Arshavin conundrum and the little Russian will probably get a game again, although I personally don’t agree with playing him just because we have him and think that Gervinho is the better choice all round. In days gone by players would happily put in 60-70 shifts a season and whilst I understand that the game has changed, I think that the players are also much fitter than they used to be too. Rotation for rotations sake just doesn’t make sense to me, but there you go.
Gibbs is still out, the most career-threatening stomach muscle injury in the history of the game putting paid to his chances of playing until at least after the international break. Chamakh is out, thank Dennis. Diaby has had another setback and will probably be fit by the morning of April 1st 2015!
I have to say the Gibbs situation is slightly upsetting. It has been blatantly clear over the past three or four seasons that he simply cannot get a run of fitness going at all but it also seemed clear that he wasn’t actually good enough to play for Arsenal either. The few games he has managed to appear in this season have shown that, far from not being good enough, he actually has all the potential to be a top quality left back. Again, the faith Wenger has shown in his ability could indeed be well founded, but his ability to actually stay fit long enough to make an impact is still in question.
I think that Ramsey and Arteta will also keep their places, along with Theo Walcott, another player doing his best to confound his critics! Seriously, Theo was looking more and more like a lost cause until the purchase and, more importantly, introduction to the side of Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it seems that the added pressure of having a back-up that may actually be a decent player who could even threaten his place in the team has worked wonders. His work-rate, his desire, his all-round game have improved since the Ox put in a a couple of great performances in the Carling Cup and Champions League. Yet more proof that competition for places is something that has been severely lacking in recent seasons.
With all that in mind, I expect the team to look something like this:
As for West Brom, they are missing midfielder Paul Scharner and striker Shane Long, both influential players for the Baggies. At the business end of things, so to speak, goalkeeper Ben Foster will be hoping for one of those “games in a lifetime” that he, like so many other “b-list” goalkeepers, seem to have against us! I have to say, I like Foster and I think that, given the chance at a top club, he would shine. The biggest problem he has is being left exposed so often by the fairly limp defence in front of him.
And that leads us on to the key to today’s game, our attack and its ability to actually create chances. Against this West Brom defence we should really be looking to put a few goals away, but that all depends on which attack turns up. The one against Marseille would struggle to open a can of beans if left to it for a fortnight, whereas the attack that showed up for the Chelsea match could probably eat the beans without even opening the can, if you see what I mean!
I am going to plump for the fact that the players were tired in mid-week and thus the blunt attack that we presented was merely a blip and not a return to old habits. Thus, the cutting edge that was so clearly lacking will return and a few goals should be expected. 3-0 is my prediction with a defensive performance that will compliment the attacking one.
And on that positive, goal-laden note I shall leave you.
Come on you Solid Defence, Thrusting Attack, Midlander Destroying Gooonnnnnnneeeerrrrrrssssss!
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Marseille at home offers us the opportunity to guarantee our place in the knock-out phase of the Champions League. OK, it depends on the result between Dortmund and Olympiacos too, but with two games left to play in the group, it would be a nice touch to add to a fantastic couple of Arsenal weeks!
Having already sneaked a cracking steal the points victory in France two weeks ago, one assumes that our confidence will be high heading into the return home match. Add to that the demolition of Chelsea at the weekend, the fact that we are on a run of 8 wins in 9 games and we are rightly considered favourites heading into this game. However, discount the French at your peril. They are a team that suffered a similarly bad opening to their season as we did but are also a team that appear to be “turning the corner”. Since we last met on that emotional night in Marseille, Didier Deschamps’ side has won three on the bounce, scoring nine goals and conceding only two. On top of that he has reverted the side to a 4-4-2 which seems to be making all the difference in terms of creativity.
So, a lot of what goes on tonight will depend as much on our players ability to keep doing what we have been doing as it will on which tactics Deschamps employs. If he goes for another defensive line-up and performance like the last time out, we may see However, should the French side turn up and play the way they have did in the last match between the two clubs, we may see a fairly similar result although the danger exists that the scoreline could go 1-0 either way under those circumstances. If Marseille come to play the way they have been since the last time the two teams faced each other, we could see a repeat of the weekend’s game against the team from the bus stop in Fulham.
In truth, this result predicting dilemma leaves me a little stuck. Whilst I believe that, on recent evidence at least, we are capable of beating anybody, I also think that confidence plays a big part of that and confidence is something that the French side are also riding a wave of right now. If Deschamp tinkers that confidence may well be lost in some part but if he lets his team go out and play the expressive flowing football that they have been of late, well, we could be in for a cracking match for the neutrals!
So, I have to make a decision, and rather than go with the 1-0 win that my head is telling me, I am going to go with my heart, meaning a 4-2 win to the mighty Arsenal and another European night to remember!
In the pre-match press conference Wenger was asked if he was tempted to stick with the same team that won in such style against Chelsea at the weekend. His response was this:
“I am tempted to do it.
“Sometimes if you take a team on a roll there is no need to change it. You can defend any [decision] but when a team is on a positive experience, why not? That is what I have to decide.
“I [changed players] away from home at Donetsk last season and got punished.
“First we want to qualify of course. But then I did it when we were qualified and we paid a heavy price [by finishing second in the Group]. But you could finish first this season and still play Barca!”
Which is of course all true and valid although I don’t think that getting Barcelona would be quite the disaster that many believe with the team on the high that it currently is and with, I am sure, a fair few players in the team more than willing to put in that little bit extra to show Cesc why he made the wrong choice! I am not entirely sure of the wisdom of Wenger in basically telling the players that we don’t want to play Barcelona either. What if we DO draw them? What will he tell them then? I was just kidding, you can thrash this shower?!
Anyway, back to reality and I think that Wenger will be fairly true to his instincts and so the line up for tonight will probably not change a great deal from the weekend. I think that Jenkinson will return if he is fit enough to play and not just fit enough to train and I think that Arshavin will probably again take the place of Gervinho when he has done little to deserve to do so and I also think that Vermaelen will probably replace either Koscielny or Mertesacker to give him some game time and one of them a rest. In truth the choice of who to leave out has become something of a delicious and very unusual problem for Arsenal with Mertesacker being a simply world class defender now finding his feet a little in the Premier League whilst Koscielny has recently shown why Wenger has so much faith in the lad and turned in some quite stunning shifts, overshadowed only by Robin van Persie in the hunt for man of the match awards.
My gut tells me that the Frenchman will be the one to get a rest tonight and Wenger will give us the chance to see TV5 and PM4 in play together in partnership for the first time. What a mouthwatering prospect that is!
So, the line up should look something like this:
If they keep it sensible whilst attacking with the same intensity and positivity as we did at the weekend and that team is more than capable of taking the three points that guarantee qualification with something to spare. Get all gung-ho up front whilst regressing into that defensively sleepy mode that brought the disasters of the first few weeks of the season and we may well be on the receiving end of a rude awakening.
I do hope not, I personally like the way this side is developing a lot and I don’t think that any of them or us really needs to give “Those Who Shall Not Be Pleased” the chance to boo their displeasure at this exciting new version of Wengerball thus undoing all the good work of the past 9 games.
Diaby Out Again (was he ever in?!)
Abou Diaby has suffered yet another injury setback and will not be back for at least another 3 weeks. In the pre-match press conference Wenger gave us all the gory details…
“You won’t see him for a while, the next three weeks. He will not play for France either. I am worried but I was more worried three months ago. His ankle was not good but the surgery went very well then. Now his balance has changed so he has to adjust his muscular strength. He has had two small muscular concerns and if he can get rid of them in the next two to three weeks he will be ready. It’s a good time to get him right as we have a two-week break after Saturday.”
This is just getting worse. This kid is either destined to end his career before it even really begins or will take a leaf out of van Persie’s “How To Become A Cult Hero At Arsenal” book and eventually make a comeback that will last more than 2 games and see him play like a contender for World Player of the Year!!!
I do seriously hope that it is the latter as I like Diaby as both a player and a person and genuinely believe that a decent run of fitness would see a totally different player. I am not sure that the Vieira references are necessary or even correct, but I do think that he has something to offer as an attacking midfielder and I personally would enjoy the chance to at least find out.
I think that Wenger’s persistence with van Persie should be a good indicator as to whether or not Diaby has what it takes to make the grade at the top level. How many thought that the injury problems the Dutchman suffered were justification enough to send him packing? Too many in reality. But the manager kept his faith intact, brought Robin back and, be honest, where would we be right now without him? So, if we cannot show some faith in Diaby, we can surely show a little in Arsene, can’t we?
Meet The Muppets
Raphael van der Vaart has decided to let Arsenal players and fans alike what the cheating little fecker thinks of us with a quite hilarious little tirade aimed across North London via the tabloid press!
Seriously, I am not going to devote much space to this, other than to make a point of highlighting the seriously obvious and gaping flaw in the logic here:
“We are better than Arsenal.
“In our last seven games we have won six and drawn once. It’s a long season, but I think we have a bigger and better squad.”
Better than Arsenal?! Bigger and better squad?!!!?! HAHAHA! This muppet has spent way too long listening to the Lillywhite Shite’s fans!
Better than Arsenal involves, for example, actually winning a league title in the past FIFTY YEARS or maybe even an FA Cup in the past TWENTY YEARS!
Cheating by using your arm to control the ball and then NOT getting the bookings you so clearly deserved for the red card you should certainly have been shown to get a win, against the general run of play in your own cack-hole of a ground, is not a solid base from which to start spouting this level of “muppetry” and believe that anybody other than your own agonising blind fanbase will be taking you seriously!
On top of that, one of your half-wit players NOT maiming our right back and putting him out of his job for three months whilst “challenging” for a ball that was almost already off the pitch would probably be a good idea too in the bid to claim bragging rights!
Just wait until we get that Lillywhite Shite at the Emirates in February!
Lest we forget…This is their season. This is the season when they will overtake us and leave us languishing outside of the coveted Champions League places. This is the season where the power struggle in North London will be decided once and for all!
What a load of old pony!!!
And on that note I bid you farewell.
Come on you About To Guarantee Knock Out Phase Champions League Football Yet Again Whilst The Spuds Chase Their Dreams Of Glory In The Europa League Gooooonnnnnneeeerrrrrsssss!!!