Alexis Sanchez: The Brilliance Without The Biting


The signing of Alexis Sanchez has left me elated, but it shouldn’t leave anyone surprised. Looking back at the Read more

2013/14: Arsenal's Season Blogged - Sagas, songs & a cup


As the enthralling World Cup comes to a close and eyes begin to turn towards next season, I thought Read more

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2014


It’s that time again. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The results are in. PLAYER OF THE SEASON In a season Read more

A Party 9 years in the Making


A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in Read more

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish


I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun. Don’t Read more

2004-2011

Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 293 Guns

Because sometimes, the scoreboard is the headline.

Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona (Villa 26, Van Persie 78, Arshavin 83)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The Emirates Stadium was born in 2006. Last night, we baptised it with one of Arsenal Football Club’s greatest nights.

I was incredibly privileged to witness it in person. Fans who have been thrown together by the stadium move, who take their seats among strangers without a greeting or a handshake, were arm-in-arm. A club is a community, and a community is built on shared experiences. Last night, we all shared a remarkable one.

Arsenal beat the best team in the world. The best team of a decade, a generation, and maybe more. And what makes it all the better is that we didn’t triumph over a weakened Barcelona line-up. They didn’t fail to perform. Far from it: they were superb. Their possession play and ability to split the defence drew gasps of admiration from the Emirates crowd.

And yet we beat them.

And we did it our way. We didn’t batten down the hatches and hope to catch Barca on the break. We went forward and tried to outscore the greatest attacking team in living memory. We did it our way: The Arsenal way.

If there was any dark corner of the world where our team was still regarded as the functional war machine it was in the early 90s, then that preconception was consigned once and for all to ancient history last night as we took the very best on at their own beautiful game, and won.

I’ve tried to avoid the newspapers, and tv punditry. The reason is simple: this is our victory. Every Arsenal fan I’ve spoke to since full-time seems to understand that. What other people say and think doesn’t matter. To a degree, what happens in the second leg doesn’t matter. Whatever happens in Barcelona, the significance of last night will continue to reverberate.

The bits of punditry I have seen have been predictable. BBC Breakfast news just told me that Barcelona ‘outclassed’ Arsenal. What tosh. I’ve admitted already that Barcelona were outstanding. As last year, I was in awe not only of their tiki-taka pass-and-move style, but also at how hard they work to win the ball back. At times our centre-backs had no choice but to go back to the rookie goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny. There was no way forward.

That feeling was compounded when Barcelona took the lead. A through-ball from Messi found David Villa, played onside by Gael Clichy. His finish was typically cool, but in the stadium blood was boiling. Fans were convinced Villa was offside – a suspicion compounded by the fact no replays of the goal were shown in the stadium.

That led to a fractious finish to the first-half, in which Alex Song walked a very fine tight-rope. Having been booked for a tactical foul on Leo Messi in the first five minutes, he was arguably lucky to stay on the pitch for a succession of late tackles. Barcelona move the ball so quickly, that drawing fouls is an inevitable consequence of their style.

Despite Barca’s lead, we’d shown plenty in the first half to suggest the second would remain an even contest. Robin van Persie had forced Victor Valdes in to a save at his near post, whilst only a flying header from Eric Abidal prevented the Dutchman from nodding in to an empty net.

Arsenal have plenty of ability, but when you’re up against players of this class you need to earn the right to show it. Not only that, but you have to gamble. Arsene Wenger took a serious risk by removing Song and bringing on Andrey Arshavin. Our midfield was now one of Wilshere, Nasri, and Fabregas – none of which are defensive players. We were taking the game to Barcelona.

It was an all-or-nothing strategy, and this morning it really feels like we took it all. We had to be patient in our quest for an equaliser, but when it came it was a stupendous strike from Robin van Persie. Gael Clichy clipped a right-footed (yes, I know) pass in to the penalty area, but the ball seemed to be running away from Van Persie and out of play. Incredibly, he lashed the ball form the narrowest of angles in to Valdes’ near-post. The keeper was perhaps at fault, but it was an audacious strike.

Robin celebrated by running down the touchline and embracing his manager, Arsene Wenger. This was, in many respects, Arsene’s victory. His substitutions were perfect, his philosophy was enforced, and his academy players flourished.

Five minutes later we had the winner. It felt inevitable by then. A red-and-white tide was sweeping back the Catalan Armada. In the first half I’d been impressed with Barca’s work-rate and stamina. But they’re not used to keeping it up. Most teams flounder and roll over under such sustained pressure. Not Arsenal.

We smelt blood, and we went for it. And if Barcelona had scored our second goal, then it’d be revered as a great. Fortunately, they didn’t: it’s ours.

Cesc released Samir Nasri down the right, the Frenchman showing no signs of the hamstring injury that had forced him to miss two weeks of action. As substitute Bendtner charged in to the box, Nasri held on to the ball and checked back inside, laying it in to the path of the onrushing Arshavin. As the Russian’s curled effort hit the net, I have to admit I welled up with pride. Arsenal had done it.

There was still time for a few moments of panic, but Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny saw us through. Both are in their first season of Champions League football – this was Szczesny’s European debut – and yet you’d never know it. Commanding and calm, they gave assurance to a back-line missing the oh-so-reliable Bacary Sagna.

There were fantastic performances all over this pitch. Xavi has talked a lot about Barca DNA. Well, Cesc might have Barcelona in his blood, but he’s got Arsenal in his heart. Last night, he led his team superbly, cajoling his team-mates and the crowd in to raising the tempo ever higher.

And what of Arsenal DNA? In Jack Wilshere we have a young man who is Arsenal through-and-through. He was incredible last night – the best player on the park. I have never seen an English player so comfortable receiving the ball in tight spaces. His passing was immaculate and his commitment as wholehearted as ever. It is true (and the ultimate compliment) that if he had been playing in the red and blue of Barca, he wouldn’t have looked a jot out of place. At 19.

I’m so proud.  Proud of Jack, proud of the team, and proud of the fans, who were also fantastic.  Granted, there’s a big game coming up at the Nou Camp, but for now let’s savour one of our finest hours.

By far the greatest team, the world has ever seen.

And it’s Arsenal.

-

To celebrate last night’s win, we’ve got a couple of free desktop wallpapers for you, one denoting Jack Wilshere and his ‘Arsenal DNA’, and another in Praise of Songs.


Simply click the image above and then download from the link at the bottom of the page.

I know the Jack design has been particularly popular in the light of last night, with some people asking if we could get it in to production as a shirt. We’re working on it – keep your eyes peeled for more news later today.

-

Go, enjoy your day. You don’t get a trophy just for beating Barcelona. But you probably should. That’s how good this feels.

Thankyou Arsene, and thankyou Arsenal.

Note to Xavi: This is what Arsenal DNA looks like…

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 305 Guns

How To Beat Barcelona

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 1,017 Guns

Congratulations to Spurs on their outstanding result last night.  Granted, it’s not as good as our 2-0 victory against a stronger Milan side a few years ago, but it certainly raises the stakes a little ahead of tonight.

As if it were needed.  This evening was already set to be an incredible occasion.

Arsenal and Barcelona are two clubs whose recently history is helplessly intertwined.  Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Gio van Bronkhurt and, of course, Cesc Fabregas only tell half the story.

This team share more than a handful of players.  They share a set of footballing principles: a desire to play the game right way.  And they’re both, I’d venture, rather good at it.

In their current incarnation, Barcelona are the best.  In the world.  Possibly, and I don’t say this lightly, ever.  They are an extraordinary team, with some remarkable players.  The heartbeat of the side, Xavi, described their style thus:

“It’s attacking football, it’s not speculative, we don’t wait. You pressure, you want possession, you want to attack. Some teams can’t or don’t pass the ball. What are you playing for? What’s the point? That’s not football. Combine, pass, play. That’s football – for me, at least.”

Arsene Wenger would agree.  Last year in this tie, his team were outclassed for long periods.  It would be easy to approach tonight with trepidation.  But Arsene feels that this time, things will be different:

“The only thing I can say is we are in an ideal condition to face them.  We cannot complain. We have the belief, the confidence and the players available. We are 90 per cent in February and that was not the case last year. I feel we are in an ideal position to face them.”

As usual, he’s talked up the ability of his players. Now they have to prove him right.  They did it against Chelsea in December, and the return to fitness of Samir Nasri means that 9 of that XI will play – Emmanuel Eboue will replace the suspended Bacary Sagna at right-back, whilst Wojciech Szczesny is arguably an upgrade on Lukasz Fabianski.

The task remains an enormous one.  And that’s where we get to the real subject of today’s blog: How To Beat Barcelona.

I don’t claim to be any great tactical authority.  I’m not Zonal Marking, Jose Mourinho, or Andy Townsend.  I do not own a tactics truck, or even an ipad.  But a bit of research and a bit of common sense tells us just where we’ll need to get it right if we’re to come out of tonight ahead in the tie.  Here we go…

Never give Busquets or Pique time…

“The key idea we had was to pile the pressure on their defenders and not allow them to bring the ball out of the back.”
Manolo Jiménez; Beat Barcelona 2-1 on 5 January 2010 with Sevilla

Pressing high up the pitch was key in the victory over Chelsea, and will be so tonight. We can’t afford to sit back and let Barcelona have the ball – once they get it in to the likes of Xavi, Messi, Iniesta and Villa, serious damage can be done.There will be a huge onus on Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas to get in and around Pique and Busquets to stop the flow of Barca’s game at source.

Shoot from long range….

“Xavi and Andrés Iniesta – key players in the team – almost never drop back to their own penalty box. This style of play in the midfield creates free space for shots from the middle range.”
Kurban Berdyev; Beat Beat Barcelona 2-1 on 20 October 2009 with Rubin Kazan

We’re not a team who look to do this often, but with Barcelona open to leaving gaps around thirty yards out, it will be more necessary than ever to heed the crowd’s cries of “shoooooot”. If Nasri is fit to start then he, Cesc and Robin all have the potential to test Victor Valdes from range.

Run the channels…

“Their full-backs, Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, tend to play wide and leave some space in the centre.”
Kurban Berdyev; Beat Beat Barcelona 2-1 on 20 October 2009 with Rubin Kazan

Aaron Lennon’s success in roaring past AC Milan last night is a timely reminded of how effective sheer pace can be on the European stage. A friend close to the squad told me last night that the players are in no doubt about who is best placed to get at Barcelona: Theo Walcott.

Last year, Theo didn’t start the first game. When he came on, he turned the match on its head and terrified Maxwell. An injury to Carlos Puyol means the Brazilian will be starting again, with Eric Abidal switched in to the centre. Whilst Abidal has had a good season, the gap between he and Maxwell is arguably the most obvious weak-point in the side. Walcott’s movement could be crucial.

Be compact…

“We had to try to keep our shape short and narrow to make it hard for Barcelona to find players between the lines.”
Quique Sánchez Flores; Beat Barcelona 2-1 on 14 February 2010 with Atlético Madrid

Alex Song and Jack Wilshere will have to curb their attacking instincts to keep track on Barcelona’s floating wide men, Pedro and Messi. Both players enjoy going forward, but tonight more than ever they’ll have to make sure they don’t leave the back four, featuring the reliably unreliable Eboue, too exposed.

Give everything…

“We were very compact and we fight for every metre and give everything. That is what we said to each other before the game.”
Wesley Sneijder; Beat Barcelona over two legs with Inter Milan in April 2010

It’s not a very academic point, is it? You can’t illustrate it with a Guardian chalkboard. And yet we all know it to be true. Arsenal will get nothing out of tonight without leaving everything on the pitch.

Don’t be scared. Not even of Messi. We can’t afford to be intimidated. This is just another game in what has, thus far, been a rather good season. Barcelona might be the world’s best, but we are a proud club. We Are The Arsenal. Let’s show them what that means.

-

I don’t think it’ll be easy, but I think we can win tonight. Why not?  Whether we can win over two legs is another question, and one we won’t be able to answer for a couple of weeks yet. Whatever happens this evening, it’s only half-time.

Just enjoy the occasion. This is what being a football fan is all about.

Wolves thoughts: Goals will come for wonderful Wilshere

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 1,123 Guns

Arsenal 2 – 0 Wolves (Van Persie 16, 56)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was just what we needed after the Newcastle debacle…
Three points, a clean sheet, and no (serious) injuries. Afterwards, Mick McCarthy said:

“They murdered us. From one to 11 they were better than us, stronger than us and quicker than us. I have to admire their class and the way they play. And for us to get better we have to admit we got turned over – we were completely spanked.”

It’s worth noting that McCarthy trots out these comments fairly regularly. It’s a handy way of absolving his Wolves side of blame when beaten by the bigger teams.

On this occasion, however, he was justified in his praise. We absolutely battered Wolves and could have won by five or six.

Goals will be the final piece in the puzzle for Wilshere…
In 32 appearances this season, Jack Wilshere has just two goals. It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability to score. As a 14 and 15 year old, he was bagging hatricks for the U-18s, and earning comparisons with a certain Lionel Messi in the process. And yet that knack hasn’t yet translated to the senior team.

Everything else is in place. Wilshere was outstanding on Saturday, making a mockery of the Makelele comparisons with a display full of invention and imagination. Yes, there were tackles and interceptions, but there were also deft dribbles and pinpoint passes.

The goals will come. As Arsene puts it:

“At the moment I believe he will soon score, he looks very close. He has a hesitation sometimes to finish himself and chooses at the moment to give the ball, but I think when he will be a bit more confident he will score goals. He has not scored yet but Cesc was for a while like that.”

He’s right. For a long time our captain chose to look for the pass rather than the shot. Wilshere did just that on Saturday, eschewing a chance to put his own name on the scoresheet to set up Theo Walcott just ten yards out. Incredibly, Theo missed.

When Wilshere decides to take the chances on himself, he will begin to rack up the goals.

RVP & Theo are forming a lethal combination…
Theo had something of an off day finishing-wise, but the same can’t be said for Robin, who now has 12 goals in 12. Walcott’s four Premier League assists this season have all been for Robin, which suggests they’re enjoying a fruitful relationship.

I suppose it makes sense when you think about it. They’re like two halves of the ultimate footballer. Everything each respective player lacks, the other has. Walcott has the pace and athleticism to combine with Van Persie’s vision and guile.

Perhaps we could convince them to breed. Unconventional, you may think. Impossibly, you might say. But if we left them in a room for long enough then surely nature would, as in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, find a way.

Of course, locking them in a room would mean we couldn’t play them. And there is rather a big game coming up on Wednesday…

The Dutchman made special mention of Johan Djourou…
in a classy interview with the BBC. The Swiss defender was immaculate again. Barca will be the biggest test of his career to date.

Andrey Arshavin is coming back to form…
His performance on Saturday may have been his best this season. As his touch has returned, his work-rate has picked up. The two are clearly quite bound up in his idiosyncratic head.

There is an outside chance of Samir Nasri being fit for Barca, but even if he is I suspect he’ll only make the bench. It’s a chance for Andrey to make a point. Let’s hope he takes it.

It’s a good old-fashioned title race…
United’s victory over City means it’s going to be very tricky for the latter to take the title. It looks to me like a good old-fashioned, late 90s, United vs Arsenal title race. Suffice to say that I would love it (love it) if we beat them.

More on Barca and other things to come.  For now: Happy Valentines to you.  Not, not you.  Yes, you.

Dreaming of Manchester

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 147 Guns

As I hurriedly type this, we’re less than an hour away from the Manchester Derby.  From my Sky-less abode, I have about half an hour to type this up, and then get to a pub if I’m to catch the game.

I needn’t bother.  For, like a footballistic Tiresias, I have foreseen it.  Last night, as I slept an iPlayer and Chinese takeaway fuelled sleep, my mind swilled with visions of what would pass today.

In the dream, I tuned in to United vs City after just nine minutes.  In an intriguing replica of last week’s Newcastle v Arsenal game, United were already 3-0 up. Ryan Giggs had scored the third with a cheeky lob, and pundits were queuing up to name him Footballer of the Year again, primarily because he is old and quite cuddly.

Sadly, unlike Arsenal the previous week, United didn’t completely collapse in the second half, and went on to win 4-0.  As it happens, in reality, the line-ups have just been announced, and neither Dimitar Berbatov nor Edin Dzeko are afforded starting spots, so it doesn’t look (on paper) like a goalfest.

Whatever happens in Manchester, Arsenal will be in a position to benefit.  If City lose, we and United could begin to break away in to a more manageable two-horse raise.  If United lose, we gain ground on the leaders.  And a draw could be the most beneficial result of all.

Of course, it’s all dependent on us beating Wolves.  I also dreamt that we did just that, winning 3-1, but two of our goals were scored by Sol Campbell, who doesn’t play for us, and one was a forty-yard free-kick.  Even for a dream, that’s a fairly unreliable prediction.

Right.  The team news is generally good.  The international break has hopefully allowed the players to forget about that dreadful 45 minutes at St. James’.  Come On You Gunners.

England need to do Wilshere’s talent justice

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 358 Guns

Typical: we give England the next Cesc Fabregas, and they try to turn him in to Denilson.

Jack Wilshere made his first start in an England shirt last night.  Whilst he acquitted himself well enough, there were signs that he’s not exactly the ‘Makelele’ figure Capello is hoping for.  Denmark’s own teenage star, Christian Eriksen, was able to exploit the space between the midfield and back four that Wilshere was intended to guard.

This is no criticism of Jack.  He’s a playmaker, not a water carrier.  You wouldn’t ask Cesc to play the ‘Gareth Barry’ role.  Wilshere is no different.

Yes, he plays deep for Arsenal.  But he does so alongside Alex Song – a far more defensive player than his partner last night, Frank Lampard.  He also does so as part of a midfield three, where he is granted freedom to roam.  The one moment last night when he looked most like himself was when he played a one-two and burst through midfield before almost playing in Darren Bent.  It was a flash of the dynamism, flair and creativity he can offer.  And almost immediately, England were caught on the break.

As an England fan, I’m pleading with Capello to forget this idea of fielding Wilshere as a defensive player.  He’s a square-cut diamond in a grubby round hole.  Give him the freedom he needs to show his talent.

Anyway, all that said, Wilshere did typically well to handle the hype and put in an assured 45-minute display – you can catch a brief interview with Jack here.  Theo Walcott also put in a good hour shift, managing to provide an assist for Darren Bent despite receiving a cut eye in the process.

It seems that everyone else also came through unscathed – praise be.  Hopefully that’ll be confirmed in Arsene’s press conference tomorrow.  Till then…

If Carroll is worth £35m, what is Cesc worth…?

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 865 Guns

Hello all, and welcome to another interlull.  It’s that time of the season when we go through the odd experience of seeing all our players done other colours and pretend to be friends with Frank Lampard.  It’s painful but we have to endure it.

Fortunately, there’s a fair sprinkling of news to distract us from the international nonsense, as well as the ever-encroaching inescapability of mortality. You may have noticed some headlines about Barca and Cesc this morning. The deal (or no deal, perhaps) is thus.

Raul Sanehli, the Catalan club’s Director of Football, was asked about Fernando Torres’ recent move to Chelsea:

“It was overpriced. I know Barcelona would not do that signing. We would not even consider it.”

I take his point.  £50m is a lot for any player.

But in a market where Darren Bent costs £24m, and Andy Carroll £35m, then Torres’ relative worth is about right.  And if an injury prone forward with 9 goals so far this season is worth £50m, then what is a younger midfielder with the same amount of goals and added the capacity to manipulate an entire team’s dynamic from the centre-circle with his conductor’s baton of a right foot worth?

It’s almost impossible to say.  To us, Cesc is priceless.  Barca found that out when they came calling last summer: he simply wasn’t for sale.

If the Catalans consider £50m for Torres so unreasonable, then I can’t foresee any circumstances in which they’d be able to come up with the cash for Cesc.

There’s one club who could, of course, and The Sun put two and two together to make six with this story yesterday:

Absolute nonsense, of course.

There will be a lot more of this in the coming days, especially as the Barca game approaches.  Whilst Barca say their interest is “dead”, I wouldn’t be surprised if their board members talk openly about their admiration for our skipper, like a desperate Blind Date contestant, only with less convoluted innuendos.

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that whilst we’re discussing a £50m+ value for Cesc, he can be yours for a hell of a lot less.  Order in the next couple of days and there’s every chance you’ll have your Cesc We Can shirt in time for the home leg with Barca.  What better time to remind them that “We’ve got Cesc Fabregas?”

On to other matters.

England face Denmark tonight and it will be, like the Bendtner/Adebayor scrap at White Hart Lane, something of an Arsenal vs Arsenal affair.

Bendtner himself has made a few headlines for talking quite openly about his future:

“I have a lot of feelings for Arsenal and it means something great to me. I would be sad to leave it, but you have to think about yourself and, with the career goals I have, I cannot be sitting on the bench.

That’s the way it is. I will do my best for Arsenal throughout the season. Hopefully, I will be there next season as well, but we have to wait and see. But, if my situation at Arsenal doesn’t change, I will have to look at it because I want to play football.”

I don’t see anything wrong with these comments.  He’s 23 now, and the next 4-7 years are going to define his career.  He’s not the sort of guy who will be happy at being on the bench, and if, come the summer, he felt he had to move to get first team football I wouldn’t begrudge him that.  In the meantime, however, he’s a useful and valued squad member.  I think he’ll give John Terry a tough game tonight.

A lot of the focus in this match will be on Jack Wilshere.  Fabio Capello is handing him his first England start in a deep midfield role – so deep that the Italian talked yesterday about Wilshere remaining almost with the centre-backs for large portions of the game.  It’s a role he can play, though not one that gets the best out of his incisive attacking play.

Bendtner has warned England that there are lessons to be learnt from the handling of Theo Walcott, who will also start tonight.  I think that’s undoubtedly true, though Wilshere seems an entirely different kettle of fish, with a more innate maturity and self-confidence.  I think he’ll handle tonight just fine.

Finally, a bit of good news: Johan Djourou’s injury appears to be merely bruising.  Any fears of serious damage to the knee have been dismissed by some positive scan results.  He could be in contention for the weekend’s game with Wolves – or if not, then certainly Barca.

All together now: We’ve Got Cesc Fabregas…

This weekend: The Positives

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 9 Guns

After writing up the disaster of that 4-4 draw, I promised you my next post would be more positive.  So here it is.  Get your smiley emoticons at the ready – the sun is coming out.

We’re in a better position than we were at the start of the weekend…
Bizarre though it seems, we’re actually in a better position than we were on Friday.  Wolves’ defeat of Manchester United (I always liked that Easter Island shaped prankster, Mick McCarthy) means we’re now just four points off the leaders.

Some fans have been suggesting that United’s defeat only makes our slip-up worse.  I’m not sure that’s true – or indeed a valid point.  Knowing that they had the opportunity to go seven points clear may have played in to the United players’ minds and put them under more pressure than usual.

Chelsea’s defeat to Liverpool was both funny and timely: a win for them, plus the added momentum of £70m-worth of reinforcements, could have seen them in back in the title race.  Man City were the big winners this weekend, but assuming Saturday’s game has no long-term psychological repercussions we didn’t come out of it too badly at all.

The Invincibles remain unique in the modern era…
I think deep down every Arsenal fan will admit to having been a little nervous that United might match our feat of going unbeaten for the season.  They’d had so many lucky escapes that you began to fear it might just be possible – or, indeed, that it’d come down to a Cup Final-esque clash at the Emirates on April 30th.

Thank God that they’ve finally lost.  I’d never want any team to match our incredibly achievement – like United’s ‘treble’, there is something unique about it that serves as a badge of honour for what was a truly great team – but for this United team to have done it would’ve been so anticlimactic, so unfair, that I’m not sure I could’ve coped.

If you fancy a reminisce about the good old days of The Invincibles, just to crank up the positivity that little bit more, why not check out this piece from Threeandin.

Wojciech Szczesny continues to impress…
Yes, I know he conceded four goals, but two were penalties and I think it’s fair to say that without him we probably would have lost.  It’s a huge month for Wojciech – the games against Barcelona and at Wembley could cement him as Arsenal number 1 for a long time to come.

Theo Walcott is having his best season as an Arsenal player…
I find myself talking about Theo a lot less these days.  It’s simply because he’s doing exactly what you’d want from a player with his set ofassets.  His opener on Saturday was his 11th goal of the season, and he set up RVP’s first too.  He’s back in the England set-up, and is finally adding that one thing his game has always lacked: consistency.

Andrey Arshavin’s form is recovering…
Form, they tell us, is temporary.  In Arshavin’s case, that’s a blessed relief, as his had been dreadful.  Two assists on Saturday, added to the goal against Everton suggest that he is on the way back.  With Nasri out injured, it’s just in the nick of time.

And finally…
Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas have withdrawn from this week’s round of international fixtures.  Good to know they’ve got their priorities in order.

There you go.  Bet your face aches from all that smiling, eh.  In order to keep up the emotional vascillation, tomorrow’s piece will probably be mourning the season of the crocked Johan Djourou*.

*attempted reverse jinx

Dowd’s bias, Diaby’s stupidity, and another humiliating collapse

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 701 Guns

Newcastle 4 – 4 Arsenal
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

When Cheick Tiote volleyed home Newcastle’s fourth goal and equaliser, I promised myself I would take 24 hours off from football. 24 hours to recover from the sickening churning in my stomach, provoked by yet another Arsenal collapse.

But, as the existence of this post demonstrates, I can’t. I’ve got too many gripes to air. So, here we go.

Arsene’s post-match comments were relatively tame. The reason for that is he doesn’t want to make today feel any more damaging than it already does. If he comes out fuming and spitting, the press will be able to say that he and his team have “lost it”.

If the “it” in question were the Premier League title, they might just be right. Champions do not lose a four goal lead, however circumstances conspire against them.

I understand and agree that the referee was appalling. On twitter, I jokingly suggested that we finally know what Newcastle spent the £35m they received for Andy Carroll on: Phil Dowd. On the subject of bribery, it’s also likely that Cesc’s altercation with the officials in midweek had a part to play – referee’s are known to round on those teams who question their integrity.

Dowd’s list of offences includes ignoring the Joey Barton ‘tackle’ that prompted Abou Diaby’s reaction and sending off, failure to punish Kevin Nolan for grabbing Wojciech Szczesny by the neck, two dubious penalty awards, and the disallowing of a seemingly good goal by Robin van Persie. His decisions were infuriating and often inexplicable. I sincerely hope his performance is reviewed by the powers that be. I sincerely doubt that it will be.

However.

Dowd also denied Leon Best a perfectly good goal. He was also correct to dismiss Diaby. And he only contributed directly to two of Newcastle’s four goals. As much as it hurts, we simply have to look at ourselves. Again.

The fury at the referee is palpable. And understandable. But Dowd was not the referee when we threw away the lead against Wigan.  This happens to us far too consistently to put it down to him alone. Arsenal simply did not do enough in the second half. We were unprofessional.

At half-time, Gooners were rightly crowing about a seemingly insurmountable four goal lead. We were clinical going forward, and Newcastle were dreadful at the back. It was easy.

The terrible, unforgivable truth of it is that Newcastle got back in to it as easily as we had seemingly put them out of sight.

There were warning signs in that first-half. Despite our dominance, Laurent Koscielny had to show concentration and awareness to keep Newcastle at bay. We completely failed to heed that warning, and our start to the second half was almost as awful as our opening to the game had been blistering.

Ill-fortune contributed. Losing Johan Djourou to injury was a real blow. There’s no word yet on how serious his injury is – but to be honest, at 4-0 up withdrawing him could well have been merely a precautionary move. Still, it meant the introduction of Sebastien Squillaci, who is looking increasingly like the natural successor to Mikael Silvestre. Worrying indeed.

The second incident that sparked our downfall was the sending off of Abou Diaby. Let’s go through it, shall we? It started with a horrible, dangerous lunge by Joey Barton. The tackle alone was probably worth at least a booking – albeit one that never came.

Diaby jumped up, grabbed Barton by the neck, and shoved him, before pushing the encroaching Kevin Nolan for good measure. He lost the plot. The referee, in my opinion, had no choice but to show him the red card.

It’s easy to see what contributed to the red mist descending over Diaby. After the injuries he has suffered in his career at the hands of ‘footballers’ like Dan Smith and Paul Robinson, he is understandably sensitive to poor challenges.

However, he is a also professional footballer. He is now 24 years old. He will encounter many more bad challenges in his career – some malicious, some mistimed. If he is psychologically unable to cope with being on the receiving end of those tackles, then that is a problem. A big problem.

His actions were thoughtless. Stupid, even. Because Joey Barton got exactly what he wanted. He got Diaby sent off, and brought his team back from the dead, scoring twice in the process. We might think him scum, but Joey Barton probably doesn’t care. The scoreboard certainly doesn’t care. The only way to exact punishment on these thugs is to beat them. At the point Barton leapt in at Diaby, we were 4-0 up. In their home ground. We were humiliating Barton and his team. If Diaby had kept his head he could have helped rub salt in to already gaping wounds.

Instead, he lashed out, and was rightly dismissed. With both Alex Song and Denilson unavailable, it left us incredibly vulnerable. What followed had was horribly predictable, especially with the referee so inclined towards the home team.

I’m furious with Diaby and Dowd. I don’t want to go through each goal we conceded – suffice to say, two were very soft penalties and another a screamer. But we didn’t do enough to win. A football match lasts ninety minutes, not forty-five.

As I write this, it’s too early to say how big an impact on our league position it will have. At half-time, Wolves are currently beating Manchester United by two goals to one.

I almost expect United to claw it back, and secure victory from the jaws of defeat.

That, after all, is what Champions do. Watch and learn, Arsenal.

My next post will be more positive. I promise.

Szczesny: Some are born great…

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2004-2011 | 149 Guns

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them when more experienced Polish goalkeepers are forced to undergo shoulder surgery.  Woijciech Szczesny would probably claim to be the first, will hopefully become the second, and, as things stand, is very much the third.

I’ll start by declaring my sympathies for Lukasz Fabianski.  It’s easy to forget amid all the excitement over Woijciech that up until his injury Fabianski had acquitted himself rather well this season.  Some outstanding displays (his performance at Molineux is still particularly memorable) had seen him establish himself as Arsenal’s number 1.  Now a goalkeeper five years his junior looks set to take over as the main man.

I suppose if Szczesny crumbles under the pressure of being first-choice, Fabianski might come straight back in to the role in the summer.  But that doesn’t feel remotely likely.  To play at the business ends of the football pitch – in goal, or upfront – you need a robust confidence which means that mistakes are forgotten in an instant.  Szczesny, like Jens Lehmann before him, has that.

Yes, he’s had a bit of luck in getting his break – at least, let’s hope him causing Fabianski’s injury was luck – but what great player hasn’t.  To break through you need an opportunity to seize.  So far, Szczesny has lived up to the not inconsiderable hype.

It’s exciting to have a goalkeeper that everyone seems united behind.  Szczesny seems to allay fans’ anxiety somwhat.  A conceded corner isn’t as much of an invitation to panic.  His mere presence relaxes the supporters and subsequently the players.  One senses as well that, rightly or wrongly, the fans will be more forgiving of him when the inevitable first mistake happens.

Szczesny will start tomorrow’s game at Newcastle, with Manuel Almunia on bench.  Hopefully Almunia is still able to find the momentum to mount a serious challenge to the young Pole. Alex Song will miss out with a thigh problem, but Theo Walcott is fit to play.

In other news, Arsene has made the very valid point that if Cesc Fabregas were guilty of anything in the tunnel against Everton, he would certainly have been charged.  I’ve deliberately steered quite clear of the furore surrounding our captain: ultimately, I find it quite boring.  People outside the club will always take pot-shots at you – especially when you’re doing well.  We should take their bitterness as a compliment.  Sometimes I think we worry too much about being ‘loved’ and not enough about winning things.

Finally, congratulations to Laurent Koscielny on his first call-up for France.  I was delighted for him to nod home the winner the other night, especially having been involved in the controversial Everton goal.  He’s had a funny old first six months in England: he’s look composed, intelligent, and classy; yet he’s also been sent off twice and has contributed to some of our messier defensive moments.  However, it looks as if the mistakes are being ironed out and we might have a good player on our hands.

Enjoy your Friday.