Archive for February, 2007

His real name is “Leslie”

196 comments February 28th, 2007

I hope we beat Blackburn tonight, largely because of their odious manager, Mark Hughes. I found Cesc Fabregas’ “Did you really play for Barcelona?” insult absolutely hilarious. Almost as hilarious as Hughes’ real name: Leslie.

Pictured on the right is the real Leslie Hughes. Macquarie University biologist Dr Hughes believes global climate change will wipe out some species of plants and animals, and has already caused some birds to start migrating earlier. She also manages Blackburn Rovers Football Club, operating as a Welshman she calls “Mark”.

How Hughes has managed to keep this dark secret from the world is beyond me. But now I’ve put the truth out there, and tonight Arsenal must win for the sake of honesty and all that is good – yes, we may have many players out for various reasons, but we’ve fighting the good fight. The only time I want to see Miss Hughes referred to as “Sparky” is when we’ve connected him to a very high voltage mains supply.

Come on Arsenal.

Carling Cup Final: The Chelsea View

44 comments February 27th, 2007

Today is a little bit different on Gunnerblog: we’ve got one piece on the Arsenal players at the Millenium Stadium, and this one: a chance to see the game through opposition eyes.

Prior to the Carling Cup tie with Liverpool, arseblogger turned to his mug-smashing Liverpool-supporting brother for a few analytical words. In the aftermath of the Carling Cup Final, I’ve asked my Chelsea-supporting brother to give his opinions of the game (at least, what he saw of it). Read on:

“It was a great match – end-to-end stuff. I think a little too much has been made over the fuss at the end of the game. If Webb had kept his cards in his pocket it would have been Drogba’s face on today’s backpages, not Adebayor’s. What is to be gained by brandishing three red cards? The only player who merited a red didn’t get one: Eboué. The rest was handbags. Although the intentions were good, Mourinho running onto the pitch (with Wenger reluctantly joining him) didn’t help – it played right into the press’ hands.

The trains were such a joke that I didn’t get into the stadium until the 36th minute of the game. Although it was 1-1, the Chelsea fans were silent, so it was pretty clear that things hadn’t been going to plan. Moreover, José was in his seat (and remained there for the rest of that half), which either means he’s pissed off or doesn’t know what to say to his players. Yesterday it was a bit of both. When I finally saw the first half highlights, I was alarmed at how frequently Arsenal were able to expose us, and it seemed like we were quite lucky to be level at halftime.

For the umpteenth time this season, we were playing too narrow. Robben’s introduction was both inevitable and influential, and the decision to start him on the right was for two reasons: 1) you didn’t really have a left midfielder and 2) Traore is 17 and better going forward then backward. It was interesting that Robben stayed on the right until Eboué came on. He then moved over to the left. This was to stop Eboué getting forward too much – Hoyte was never going to hurt us down the left, but Eboué can be dangerous (especially with Walcott doing so well in front of him), so Robben switched wings to peg Eboué back, and it worked.

I thought Walcott was excellent. Alex Ferguson says that wingers have the hardest job in football. Obviously, as a wide-man you’re not going to be able to beat your man every time. You play with a direct style: you either beat your man or you lose the ball. If the latter happens too frequently, then you’re judged to have had a poor game, but Walcott caused Bridge a lot of problems. He showed confidence (something he’s lacked in recent weeks) and every time he got the ball he headed for goal (like the SWP of old). His goal was superbly taken – the last touch quite Henry-esque – reminiscient of the two he got for England U21s in September. He will be a top player. He’s quite mature for a 17-year old, and people forget how much that counts. In Henry and Wenger he has two personalities that will really help him in the next few years and I’m sure he’ll continue to improve.

Diaby, however, was the outstanding young-gun. Being played out of position, he terrorised our midfield, often storming past the likes of Ballack and Lampard. There was one point in the second half when he tackled Lampard, took it past Ballack and then bounced right off Essien. It was insulting. A guy to my left looked at me as if to say “who the hell is this kid?” In March 2003, Patrick Vieira gave the best individual performance I’ve ever seen in 13 years at Stamford Bridge. When Vieira was 19, he was not as good as Diaby is now. Barring the missed chance, it was a frighteningly good display from Diaby, and yesterday perhaps unearthed a potential France midfield partnership of Lassana Diarra and Diaby – an exciting prospect.

Denilson looked good again, although i thought he was less influential than he was against Spurs. I thought the combination of him and Cesc was a bit strange and lacked steel. When I saw your team, I thought to myself “technically it’s great, but they won’t last”. In terms of stamina, people forget how fit a side Chelsea are. They wear teams down – it’s why they get so many late goals – whilst 18 and 19 year olds end up getting cramp by the hour mark.

Something that happens too often with Arsenal happened again yesterday: you played the better, more classy football but lost to a more ruthless, clinical and efficient team. I don’t mind people comparing us to a “machine”, because machines tend to win trophies. It is the way Mourinho works. At Porto he had to make a good team out of less technically gifted players, so he produced a footballing philosophy that brought results and trophies with unsubtle, powerful football (Deco aside, that Porto team had players like Costinha, McCarthy and Derlei – players that would run all day but were not, at the time, European greats). This Chelsea team is better than that Porto team because we’ve spent more money and therefore technically have better players, but the mentality remains the same.

In years to come, only Arsenal fans will remember yesterday’s final for the brilliant displays from some very young players. Others will remember it for the stoppage-time melee, and others won’t remember it much it all. But a cup final is a cup final, and whilst I appreciate that what Wenger is doing at Arsenal is for the good of the game, I would prefer my club to win trophies. Community Shields or Carling cups – I don’t care, I want to win them all. Wenger but huge pressure on us by stating his intention to use young players several days before the game. Chelsea knew it was trophy or humiliation, and the feeling at full-time was more relief than joy. There was quite a lot of clapping by certain Chelsea fans when Arsenal players received their medals, and there wouldn’t have been if it was your first team. Without doubt, Arsenal learnt a lot yesterday – more than us – about the potential and current ability of their young players, but first is first and second is nowhere, and I would personally prefer to see players like Denilson and Diaby in a similar situation to Alex Song at Charlton than being employed in games of yesterday’s magnitude.”

Thanks to Chaz for that. It’s always interesting to hear how the enemy percieve the game, and I don’t think too many Arsenal fans could disagree with his observations.

Finally, here’s a few tasteful bits from the Chelsea website:

“Our former player David Lee travelled to Cardiff by train to watch, and noted how Chelsea and Arsenal shirts were mixed together throughout the carriages. He said that couldn’t have happened 10 years ago.”

Completely agree. And the camaraderie amongst the fans had been reflected on the pitch until that horrible spat. Chelsea concur:

“Today the newspapers have made their headlines with that and with the drama of the John Terry incident followed by the happy photographs of him holding the trophy. What they didn’t say was that the brawl was more than countered by the splendid sight of players from both teams crowding round injured John Terry with real concern, of Arsenal (and England) physio Gary Lewin who happened to be behind the goal making his way back to the Arsenal bench racing on the pitch to clear a passage in John’s throat as Chelsea’s medical staff ran half the length of the pitch, and of players at the end of the game shaking hands and embracing with opposition.”

And I’ll leave you with this symbol of reconciliation between the two clubs:

As Arsène Wenger returned to the Arsenal dressing room following his media commitments, he ran into Ashley Cole, stopped and asked after John Terry. Ash said he was back and okay. Wenger asked for his best wishes to be sent to him,
and Ash thanked him and said: ‘Of course.'”

Carling Cup Final: Player Ratings + Other bits

11 comments February 27th, 2007

Other bits first. Emmanuel Adebayor turned 22 yesterday, and he’ll be hoping the FA give him the present of lifting the potential 3-match ban he’d recieve for his sending off. I can’t think his crazy attempt to kill the ref (which he of course denies) will help him. Here’s hoping though.

Secondly, it’s goodbye Arturo Lupoli as the Italian signs a pre-contract with Fiorentina. A hugely prolific player in tunnehe Reserve league, I’m sure everyone at Arsenal wishes him the best of luck.

Today should be interesting if only for the pre-Blackburn press conference.

Today is also interesting in that Gunnerblog brings you two entries today, and it’s all about the red and the blue. Seeing as arseblogger got his Liverpool-supporting brother on board for that game, I thought I’d get Chelsea-supporting brother Chaz’s view on the Carling Cup Final. It’s an interesting read.

And now, at last, the player ratings:

Manuel Almunia (Age: 29)
Overall, Almunia gave another strong and commanding display. His improvement as a goalkeeper has been enormous, and performing well in a final such as this one was confirmation of that. However, when he looks back he may feel he should’ve done better with Drogba’s first goal – a poorly struck effort that slipped underneath the Spaniard.

Justin Hoyte (Age: 22)
When he first returned from Sunderland, there were serious doubts about his ability to play at this level. Now he surely must be in the thoughts of Steve McClaren and England. He is playing regularly at right-back for a Champions League side, and many feel he is better defensively than Emmanuel Eboue. Certainly, we seemed no stronger on that side when Eboue came on and Hoyte switched to left-back. A solid display.

Armand Traore (Age: 17)
I’ve seen his performance criticised on a few websites, but in the flesh he was outstanding. Up against the likes of Shevchenko and Robben, the timing of his tackles was excellent and he showed effective urgency going forward. Bear in mind he was playing behind Diaby, who wasn’t exactly guarding the touchline. For a player who is not 18 until next season, this was outstanding stuff.

Kolo Toure (Age: 25)
Kolo had a decent enough game, but his mark suffers because ultimately it was his overreaction that sparked the ugly brawl. Yes, it was nice to see our players show a bit of passion, but it was almost entirely self-defeating. Had he got on with it and taken the free-kick, we might’ve had a chance to get back in the game. Very unlike him to be so easily provoked, but we all understand his frustration.

Philippe Senderos (Age: 22)
Another whose come in for criticism for reasons I do not understand. Apparently he should’ve done better on Chelsea’s second. But I think sometimes you need to hold your hands up and say, “That’s a great goal”. And with the form Drogba is in, that was an unstoppable header. But for the rest of the game, Senderos showed he is slowly but surely coming to terms with his Ivorian nemesis.

Theo Walcott (Age: 17)
What a goal from the young Englishman, and it was part of what was undoubtedly his best performance for Arsenal so far. He gave Wayne Bridge a torrid time, and showed confidence and control under immense pressure. A very promising display indeed – not sure how much more of him we’ll see this season, but if that’s the case then he’s gone out with a bang.

Abou Diaby (Age: 20)
It’s very much old hat to compare Diaby to Vieira, but the similarities yesterday were terrifying. Playing out of position on the left, he showed remarkable drive to be at the heart of several counter-attacks. Some of his bursts forwards were so Vieira-esque, and that is something to be excited about. For Abou to come back from the terrible injury he suffered last year with such power is a joy to watch. It’s just a shame he’s picked up another ankle injury – we await news of that one with interest.

Cesc Fabregas (Age: 19)
How remarkable that at 19 he is considered one of the senior players. Nearly scored with a whipped effort from the right-hand side, and outclassed his opposite number Ballack throughout.

Denilson (Age: 19)
Another huge display for a player of courage and craft. It’s amazing to think he has only started one game outside of the Carling Cup. Between he and Diaby, our midfield is in very safe hands indeed.

Julio Baptista (Age: 25)
Another whose hardly recieved glowing reviews for his performance yesterday, but I thought he worked hard and looked our most consistent goal threat. His movement is intelligent, and only a great save from Petr Cech prevented him scoring an absolute screamer. I still think there’s time between now and the end of the season for Baptista to convince the Arsenal faithful of his worth.

Jeremie Aliadiere (Age: 23)
Aliadiere did well yesterday with some weaving runs, but like many of this inexperienced side he tired in the second half. I do wonder what his future is: as a striker, he must show that he is capable of scoring goals in the Premiership. It’s just hard to see him ever getting that opportunity.

Emmanuel Eboue (Age: 23)
Didn’t have great impact as a sub, and stupidly struck out at Wayne Bridge. Has genuine competition from Hoyte now, though his superior attacking ability might give him the upper-hand.

Aleksandr Hleb (Age: 25)
I would’ve preferred to see Tomas Rosicky on the bench, but even so I expected more from our Belarussian maestro. His sloppy pass but Denilson under undue pressure and led to Chelsea’s second goal.

Emmanuel Adebayor (Age: 22)
Didn’t really have time to make any significant impact. Still, it was good to see him attempting to murder the ref.

Carling Cup Final: Kids Do Us Proud

55 comments February 26th, 2007

I have had a very, very, very long day.  But I still have no hesitation in saying that the trip to Cardiff was more than worth it.  I was immensely proud of our team’s performance.  For the entire first half and long spells of the second, we outplayed a Chelsea side devoid of imagination.  A midfield with an average age of 19 dominated the likes of Essien, Lampard, Ballack, and Makelele, and we only lost because of a failure to capitalise on our chances.

Theo Walcott opened the scoring with an absolute beauty – some lovely touches of skill and a great one-two with the outstanding Abou Diaby preceding a sumptuous curled finish.  In his finest game in an Arsenal shirt, this was his finest moment.  A lot of my doubts about the boy were dispelled by the sheer composure he showed on this big stage.  What a shame then that both he and Diaby have injury problems.

Chelsea’s equaliser was heavily against the run of play, and it came from Didier Drogba (who is balding, and failing to hide it).  There’s been a lot of talk about him being offside – if the rule is that advantage should go to the attacker, then I believe he was on.  However, what irritates me is the inconsistency: that linesman in particular made some very strange decisions throughout the game, one of which I’ll come to in a minute.

In the second half, our tired legs became more and more obvious.  After Diaby injured his foot kicking John Terry’s head into outer orbit, our momentum slowed.  The longer the game went on, the more you felt Chelsea might nick it, and so it was when Didier Drogba brilliantly headed home an Arjen Robben cross.  If you want to talk about why Chelsea one, you can look at two individuals: firstly Drogba, but also Petr Cech, who made outstanding saves from Baptista and Diaby.  That, and a bit of luck.

The game was marred by an ugly late scrap involving most of the players on the pitch.  Curiously, the ref managed to send off one of the peace-makers, Emmanuel Adebayor.  He also sent Kolo Toure and John Obi Mikel to the stands.  For me, this was terrible refereeing.  I’ve watched those clips again and again, aswell as being there live, and no party is worse than any other – nobody needed to be sent off.  As it was, it finished the game as a realistic contest and Chelsea completed the win.

Still, like I say, I’m so proud of the young players and what they achieved.  We know all about Cesc Fabregas already, but the likes of Diaby, Denilson, Traore and Walcott all made huge strides today.  If anything, the defeat will serve them well in the long-term: there is nothing like pain to drive you to success.  And if we get slated for being involved in the melée, then frankly I don’t care: The Battle of Old Trafford sparked a season unbeaten.

Tomorrow I’ll have player-by-player analysis as well as a view from the other camp.  For now, I’m going to bed.

Carling Cup Final Preview: Some of our players have gone mental.

171 comments February 25th, 2007

Just a few quotes from some of our slightly less stable players:

Baptista: “In this campaign The Beast has done some mauling, but I am aiming to roar in the final with the cup in my hands.”

Denilson: “Gilberto has been very helpful to me while I have been here. He does not tell me what to do but he suggests good things and when we have a day off we go to places of interest like Madame Tussauds. I like it there. I have never met Pele but he is there in wax. It is one of the places I will go if we win on Sunday.”

They’re a bit funny in Brazil. Also, in the Baptista article, he intimates that he and Adebayor will both start. Let’s wait and see on that.

I have to get up before 6am to go to Cardiff. I’m terrible at waking up in the mornings. So I’m not sure what my plan of sleeping action will be.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a happy Cardiff memory, in another clash with Chelsea:

Good luck to the lads today. They really deserve it.

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