Archive for March, 2008

Remembering Rocky

Add comment March 31st, 2008

David Rocastle was, by all account, as good a man as he was a footballer. Today is the seventh anniversary of the tragic death of a true Arsenal hero.

I’d like to draw your attention to the new Rocky7 site, which is commemorating David’s memory with some specially designed t-shirts, the profits from which will go to Treehouse, Arsenal Football Club’s designated charity for the 2007/08 season. The project is endorsed by Rocky’s family, and seems like a very worthwhile cause.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still on a high after the weekend’s stunning win at Bolton. We got into Wednesday’s game with Liverpool absolutely brimming with confidence, and ready to show that the second half of Saturday’s game was no anomaly.

Knowing his place in the Arsenal fans hearts, Rocky’s name will be ringing around the stadium louder than any other.

Bolton 2 – 3 Arsenal: The Most Remarkable of All Comebacks

38 comments March 30th, 2008

Cesc celebrates an amazing win

I am very glad I made a point of posting my thoughts at half-time in yesterday’s game. Viewed next to today’s piece, it should highlight the incredible disparity between two of the strangest 45 minute sections of any season I can remember.

I don’t want to dwell for too long on that horrific first half. I actually thought we played pretty well, and could have had the game won within the first fifteen minutes. Nicklas Bendtner and Robin van Perise both went close, before Bolton took the lead in their first attack after a well-worked throw in ended with Matthew Taylor nodding in at the far post. Kolo Toure was arguably at fault for allowing Taylor to get across him, but surely we can forgive him the slightest error when playing a in a position fairly unfamiliar to him.

Things got worse when Abou Diaby was sent off for a horrible tackle on Greitar Steinsson.

Abou Diaby's lunge

I don’t believe it was malicious, just poorly-timed and typically sloppy. After this latest set-back, Diaby’s Arsenal career is sinking further into malaise. His potential is evident, but now is the time to step up and fulfill it. He’s had more chances than most.

Toure and Bendtner went close again, then before you knew it, we were two nil down – this time from one of our own throw-ins. Mathieu Flamini recieved a pass under pressure and failed to turn away from the hounding Diouf, enabled Taylor to regain possession, and his deflected drive beat Almunia.

Two nil down, one man down, and to top it all of, Flamini blazed over from Toure’s excellent cut-back right on half-time. At that stage many fans were wondering whether or not Arsene should declare the game lost and try and rest the likes of Fabregas ahead of the Champions League tie with Liverpool.

If morale was bad at that stage, it was soon to be worse. The start of the second half saw Bolton come out in search of a killer third goal, and we were under siege. Were it not for a remarkable reaction save from Almunia to deny Gary Cahill, it would’ve been game over. But it wasn’t…

With half an hour to go, Arsene made the substitutions that changed the game. Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor replaced Philippe Senderos and Nicklas Bendtner, and with that came a tactical switch. Kolo Toure and William Gallas played as roaming centre-halves, with Clichy and Walcott in more advanced roles as wing-backs. Flamini and Cesc patrolled pretty much the entire pitch, as Alex Hleb drifted in from the left to support Adebayor and Van Persie.

The new arrivals immediately changed our game. Adebayor’s pace and power visibly worried the Bolton centre-backs, whilst Theo Walcott was outstanding all along the right-flank.

William Gallas might not have been proud of the way in which he turned his back on the Matt Taylor shot which ended up in the back of the net. But he can afford to look back fondly on the neat finish which began our remarkable turnaround. Cesc’s corner was flicked on by Ivan Campo, and the skipper arrived unmarked at the far post to volley the ball home.

From the nature of the Arsenal celebrations, it was clear belief was there that a comeback was possible. And within six minutes, we had equalised. A neat move involving a backheel from Emmanuel Adebayor finding a storming Flamini run ended in Hleb being brought down for a definite penalty, which Robin van Persie tucked away for his first goal since October.

The Dutchman then had two good chances to win the game after crosses from Walcott and Flamini, but blazed over on both attempts. But we did not stop coming at Bolton, and we finally got our reward in stoppage time. Clichy played Hleb in to the left of the penalty area, and the Belarussian showed a remarkably cool head to find Fabregas, whose shot was deflected twice, the final touch making it an own goal by Jlloyd Samuel.

The celebrations were ecstatic, and understandably so. It was a remarkable achievement, and keeps the faint glimmer of our title chances alive. Every single player was outstanding in that second half, though the contribution of Mathieu Flamini was frightening. The combination of stamina and fearlessness will be nigh-impossible to replace should he decide to leave. Walcott was also excellent, and must surely be in contention to start Wednesday’s Champions League tie with Liverpool.

Yes, the first half exposes deficiencies in the squad which are genuinely worrying. But for today at least, let’s just celebrate a remarkable game, and a fantastic win.

ps. Highlights here.

Bolton 2 – 0 Arsenal: Half-time thoughts

3 comments March 29th, 2008

Arsenal, I’m pleading with you: restore some pride.

The title is gone.  That’s the first time I’ve said it, but it’s sadly true.  All the good work of the first part of the season has been undone by the worst run in the history of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
At the moment it stands at no wins in five.  After today, it will surely be six.

We started the game playing some excellent stuff, with Nicklas Bendtner then Robin van Persie both going close.  Then, on Bolton’s first foray forward, a lovely move saw Matt Taylor get ahead of Kolo Toure nod pass a stationary Manuel Almunia.

Even then I thought we had a great chance of winning the game.  Bolton were sitting back and we had room to use the wet pitch for some slick pass-and-move play.  But then Abou Diaby comitted a truly horrendous tackle on the standing foot of Gretar Steinsson and was rightly sent off.  After the Eduardo incident, we know the danger of high tackles more than anyone.

It looks pretty difficult for us to come back into it from here.  We’ve had to leave just one upfront – a tireless but isolated Nicklas Bendtner.  Our biggest threat going forward looks to be Kolo Toure, who has revelled in the room afforded him on the right flank.  But with a two goal and one man deficit, a draw would now be a fantastic achievement.

I’m not demanding Arsenal go out there and perform miracles.  But I’m asking that whatever happens, we try and restore some pride in this half.  Look at the Bolton XI: it is bereft of quality.  To trail to them by two goals is embarrassing.  We are a side whose confidence is shattered by the fact that almost every opposition attack seems to end in a goal.  It’s not good enough and it has to end here.

So come on Arsenal.  Show us what you’ve got.

Bolton Preview: Can we afford to rest players?

Add comment March 29th, 2008

Arsene Wenger spoke yesterday about Emmanuel Adebayor’s fatigue, going so far as to suggest he may rest the big man at Bolton today:

“I believe he has given a lot this year and so he would need a little breather, maybe.  He has played a lot on his own up front and has had to fight very hard. So at the moment, to refresh him a bit would do him some good.”

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem particularly wise to rest our top scorer at a ground where we’ve lost in our last three league meetings.  But there are two factors feeding in to Arsene’s decision.  The first is that we have four games against Liverpool and Manchester United on the horizon, where Adebayor will be urgently needed.  But secondly, this Bolton side is not the Allardyce-led side of old.  They don’t have the goal threat of Anelka, nor the danger at set pieces they provided in recent years.  They’ve not won in eight, nor scored in four, and today their captain Kevin Nolan is suspended.  With Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott both in decent form, perhaps leaving Adebayor on the bench will not be so damaging.  The truth is, every game between now and the end of the season is massive, and the temptation to play our best players will only increase from now.

If Bendtner does play, his aerial presence and ability to hold the ball up could be invaluable.  Though arguably the greatest responsibility for our attacking play will rest not with the young Dane, but Robin van Perise.  Van Persie has not had an explosive impact upon his return from injury, and appears to still be adjusting to the pace of the game.  Having played ninety minutes in the week for Holland, he ought to be that bit closer to his former powers.

Finally, it seems that Cesc’s new agent may be none other than son of David, Darren Dein.   From what I understand, DD Jnr was a major player in one Thierry Henry’s move to Barcelona… worrying regarding Cesc’s future at the club.  But then, Fabregas is his own man.  He was brave/mad enough to move to England as a 15-year old in the search of first-team football.  He’s resisted the overtures of Madrid and Barcelona until now.  If he were ever to decide to leave Arsenal, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference just who his agent was: he’d get his way.

Five league games without a win.  Spirits are down.  We badly need a win.  Let’s hope the boys deliver.

Wenger on Ben Arfa, Transfer targets, and Flamini’s contract

1 comment March 28th, 2008

On Ben Arfa:

“It’s a player I’ve known for a long long time, and that I rate, but I’ve never heard from Lyon that he is for sale. I just wanted to say that for me he is a good player with a big talent.”

It remains unclear whether or not Sarkozy impressed enough on his trial to earn a permanent contractOn finding transfer targets for the Summer:

“Slowly, yes, we get there. But I’ve said many times and I repeat that, even if we go through a difficult patch at the moment: my first target is to keep the team together, and when that job is done I can go somewhere else and look. But I have not completeled that job at the moment.”

On Flamini’s contract:

“We are progressing. I want to solve this case one way or the other in April. It looks like we can respect this delay.”

The last two quotes don’t make Flamini’s future with the club sound particularly certain. It’s not an unfair assumption that our transfer policy for the Summer will in part be dictated by whether or not Flamini stays.

The quote on Ben Arfa is interesting. The winger has had a few spats at Lyon in recent months, particularly with star striker Karim Benzema, so it’s not outrageous to suggest that the French champions might be willing to sell. Arsene has essentially declared an interest, so if Ben Arfa does become available, he can expect to be at the front of the queue.

The Spanish press have intimated that Cesc has split with his agent, possibly over his desire to remain in England. It sounds somewhat sensationalist, but if I can confirm this news at any point, I will.

Finally, Arsene has revealed the disappointing news that Bacary Sagna will miss between three and five weeks with an ankle injury. It’s disappointing on two levels: the first being that Bacary is great, the second being that his potential replacement, Eboue and Hoyte, really really aren’t. Shifting Toure to right-back and bringing Senderos into the centre seems like the obvious solution- whether Arsene agrees remains to be seen.

It’s Friday, people. Nice.

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