Archive for September, 2008

Arsenal must see off Hulk & Pele to win tonight…

4 comments September 30th, 2008

With it being absolutely vital that we get back on track with a win tonight, you can imagine my terror when I found out our fragile defence could be up against Pele and someone called Hulk.  However, it seems they are not quite who their names would suggest.  Which is a relief.  Though if we defend anything like we did on Saturday, we’re liable to make anyone look like the greatest footballer that ever lived, or even a huge green superhero.

Porto are a decent side, and having beaten Fenerbahce in their first game will happily take a draw tonight.  That should force us to set the tempo and take the game to the Portugese champions.

Fortunately, Samir Nasri is fit again, and he and Cesc will be back in tandem and dictating proceedings.  The rest of the team is hard to predict, with Arsene admitting that changes will be made.  Le Boss says:

“If a player or two do not play tomorrow it is not a punishment, it is just because of a rotation in the side. You cannot play every single game with the same 11 players.”

Nice try Arsene, but I’m not buying it.  This is the Champions League, against the top seeds in our group.  We’re not in the habit of rotating players in a position like that.  If players are left out tonight, there is a greater significance to it than just freshening up the side.

The most likely to come in is Nicklas Bendtner, for either Adebayor or Van Persie.  With Arsene amitting to our aerial troubles (yet strangely unwilling to buy a dominating centre-half), Silvestre and Djourou might have a chance of coming in at the back.

Whoever starts, the team have a responsibility to the fans to show that their heart is in it and that they want it, not just now but for the rest of the season.

Finally, our Carling Cup tie with Wigan will be shown live on Sky Sports 1, which is good news for fans who missed the 6-0 demolition of Sheff Utd.

No room for luxury at the top – Van Persie, take note

49 comments September 29th, 2008

Robin van Persie is beyond doubt a luxurious player, capable of outrageous skill and moments of pure inspiration.  He has scored some remarkable goals, and had me on my feet applauding with some of his finer moments.  However, as I watched us lose to Hull, a thought struck me: Van Persie may not be just a luxurious player, but a luxury player.

Let’s get this clear: I’m not blaming RVP for what happened at the weekend.  Not even nearly.  But as I watched our attacking play, I realised we were missing the intelligent link play of Bendtner.  And that’s what led me down the following line of thought.

Bendtner and Adebayor have a few things in common, and that initially inspired some to suggest they couldn’t play together – a claim refuted by their outstanding work at Bolton.  What they share is a big frame, aerial ability, a team ethic, and decent technical ability.  They are all-rounders, and that is the mould of modern striker.

Of course Van Persie is technically superior to Adebayor.  But Adebayor compensates for his relative lack of skill with his work-rate, his capacity to score headers, his pace, and his closing down.  Van Persie, on the other hand, is a specialist – a player only really happy recieving the ball into his left-foot.  Van Persie will not often get on the end of a cross to score a header.  He won’t often burst beyond a back four to get onto a long ball and score a one-on-one.  He is not capable of doing those things on a regular basis.

Adebayor and Bendtner won’t score many thirty screamers.  But they provide options, and can score goals from a wider variety of situations than Van Persie.

Furthermore, the Dutchman is an individualist.  He seems to me to be the only player exempt from the remarkable team ethic Arsene induces.  On Saturday I noticed more than one occasion where rather than look for a pass, he drew a foul to earn a free-kick: a free-kick he knew that he would subsequently take.  Van Persie doesn’t run the channels, doesn’t challenge for high balls – he is brilliant at what he does, but does he do enough?

Look at the graft that Rooney and Tevez put in at United.  At Chelsea, Drogba is a one-man attack.  Even at Liverpool, the technically terrible but gutsy Dirk Kuyt regularly starts ahead of the more skillfull Ryan Babel.  Before the start of the season I said Van Persie had comparable technical ability to Cristiano Ronaldo – I maintain that belief.  But Ronaldo scores headers, launches on 50 yard dribbles, has the pace to get in behind, and works bloody hard up and down that line.  Van Persie: take note.

Bendtner and Adebayor will work hard, and work together, for ninety minutes.  Van Persie is a spectacular individualist impact player, but doesn’t possess the all-round game of the other two.  This was hailed as a ‘make or break’ season for the Dutchman.  With Bendtner and now Vela breathing down his neck (and Eduardo still to come), simply staying fit will not be good enough.

Congratulations Hull City FC

5 comments September 28th, 2008

Arsenal 1 – 2 Hull City (Fabregas 49, Geovanni 62, Cousin 66)

Let’s get this bit out the way, because I don’t think I’ll want to have to repeat the following phrase too many times: we lost to Hull.   There seem to be two camps on the issue: one that says this is the worst performance of the past twelve years and that the players ought to be ashamed; and then the camp that I share with goodplaya, who believe that we weren’t that bad and the final score was a freak result.

Whilst I’m not going to suggest we were particularly good, there is a marked difference between yesterday’s performance and the one that saw us lose at Fulham.  Fulham was not a freak result.  To borrow an analogy from my friend Ally, we could play like we did at Fulham 100 times, and we wouldn’t win once.  Play like we did yesterday, and the majority of the time we would come away with something.

There were plenty of chances.  In the first half, Adebayor had a header disallowed, Cesc fired wide, Eboue chose to pass when a shot seemed inevitable, and Walcott twice showed poor control in dangerous positions.  In the second half, Adebayor had a goal-bound effort blocked, Cesc had a long shot turned away, Van Persie fired just wide and just over, and  Gallas hit the bar and the ball struck Vela a yard out and somehow went wide.

Yes, our finishing wasn’t good enough.  But that hasn’t been a regular complaint this season, as we’ve banged multiple goals past the likes of Newcastle, Blackburn, and Bolton.  I’m convinced that come the end of this season, even come the end of Arsene’s reign, this result will stand out as an anomaly.  But whilst I do believe it was a freak result, I wouldn’t call it a fluke.

Hull were absolutely outstanding.  Tactically, Phil Brown got it spot on, setting up in a diamond formation that allowed us plenty of space on our flanks, but gave him enough men centrally to put pressure on both our deep-lying playmaker (Denilson) and the one who broke forward to support the front two (Cesc).  Furthermore, it gave them enough bodies in the middle to deal with whatever we swung in from the flanks.

Often Arsenal fans level the criticism that an opposition side comes to the Emirates and play negatively, with barely a striker on the field.  Hull fielded two, Marlon King and Daniel Cousin, who started from wide positions and inhibited the attacking progress of our full-backs.  Behind them, Geovanni floated dangerously, giving Denilson all kinds of problems with an intelligent, assured display.

Nevertheless, it was still surprised few when Arsenal eventually took the lead – a mazy Walcott saw his cross poked home by a combination of the out-stretched leg of Cesc Fabregas and Paul McShane’s shins.

However, almost as soon as we’d done that, Hull hit back with two fantastic goals.  First Geovanni pinged in a thirty yard screamer that myself and others around me were prompted to applaud, and then, to the sound of about sixty thousand collective “Oh no”s, they were awarded a corner.

As the left-back Dawson trundled over to take it, I had my head in my hands.  If you’d asked me for a prediction, I would’ve said, “Gallas’ man will head it in”.

Lo and behold, with Gallas on his heels, Cousin rose tremendously and flicked it into the top corner, even beating the man on the line.  I don’t think either goal could have been more perfectly into their respective corners of the net.

Gallas will of course come in for criticism, and it’s certainly true that something is awry with our set pieces: not only do we continually fail to capitalise on our own dead balls, but with the exception of Geovanni’s wonder goal, every time we’ve conceded in the Premier League has been from a corner.

However, I’m not sure that there was much that could have been done yesterday: perfect delivery, perfect leap, perfect header.

That was how it went for Hull.  They had the luck, but they made it themselves with a tremendously astute performance. 

Arsene Wenger said of the result:

“It is a shocking defeat for us and overall our commitment was just not good enough.  Human beings are not machines. Perhaps subconsciously we thought we would make it. They (Hull) deserve credit.”

He’s right on both counts: the attitude wasn’t quite there, but that’s sadly inevitable on occasion.  It was strange to see how sluggish the players looked after a week’s rest, and perhaps on reflection it might have been worth keeping the likes of Bendtner and Wilshere involved to keep the rest of the side on their toes.  When the Reserves win six nil and you immediately reclaim your place in the side, complacency is inevitable.

It’s vital we put a run of wins together now to get our points tally back on track.  People will say, “We only lost three times last season and now we’ve already lost twice”, but Man U lost more games than us last season and won the title: we simply drew too many games last year.  If we can increase our win percentage accordingly and be in the race come January, who knows what might happen.

On the way home yesterday I congratulated every Hull fan I met.  They deserved it.  There’s plenty we can learn from their ambition and committment.

The club is on a high as Hull come to town

37 comments September 27th, 2008

There’s no doubt about it: the club is on a high.  The feel-good factor is soaring after impressive away wins at Blackburn and Bolton were followed by the stunning display of our tiny tots in the Carling Cup.  Even the late equaliser in Kiev contributed to the positive momentum.  The doubts of the Summer are being cast away in a wave of optimism.

But in football, you’re never far away from a crisis.  It’s worth pointing out that whilst we’ve encountered a few ‘bogey’ sides, we haven’t actually played anyone ‘good’.  There is a four week period starting in about a month’s time in which we face Spurs, Fenerbahce, Man Utd, Man City, and Chelsea.  So it is vital that whilst we’re in form we capitalise on our easier fixtures, starting with Hull today.

Like Arsene Wenger, I admire Hull’s progress and think they have had a good start to their Premier League existence.  Nevertheless, they’re yet to face anything quite like an in-form Arsenal.  If we can click into gear early on, I don’t think they’ll be able to live with us.

After Tuesday night, the likes of Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner are very close to earning a first-team start.  But with Adebayor and Van Persie available, they might have to show neccessary patience to start on the bench.  Samir Nasri (who I hear is actually back in full training) is not being risked, but Mikael Silvestre (remember him?) could be in line for his Arsenal debut.

Tomas Rosicky, meanwhile, is stuck in a purgatorial state whereby his return date is perpetually uncertain.  It’s easy to forget just how effective a fit Rosicky can be.  Hopefully his return will feel like a mid-season signing and boost the squad.

Typically of Arsene Wenger, Le Boss has refused to allow this weekend’s 12th anniversary of his arrival at Arsenal to let him reflect.  Instead, he’s been talking about his future, but not in concrete terms, suggesting he’ll wait until the expiration of his contract in 2011 before deciding whether to stay on.  Club and manager are now so synonomous that it is hard to imagine one without the other.  It’ll be a strange day when we see someone else sat in the dugout of The Stadium That Arsene Built.

The draw for the League Cup fourth round has just been made, and it’s another home tie for the Young Guns, as we host Wigan Athletic.  That promises to be a good test for our teenagers, but it’s certainly winnable.

My good friend Arseblogger has come over for today’s game on his birthday – hopefully we score as many goals as he is old, and we win 50-0.

Live write-up of Arsenal vs. Sheffield United

59 comments September 24th, 2008


I’ve managed to avoid the score of tonight’s game all evening, and am now watching full coverage on ArsenalTV.  The line-up is the youngest ever named, with an average age in the matchday squad of eighteen and a half.

First thing worth noting is the presence of a few English players in the side.  Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Mark Randall, and Gavin Hoyte.  With Welshman Aaron Ramsey there too, it’s evident that the academy is starting to produce British talent.  Now let’s see if they’re any good.

Fabianski is tonight’s captain.  The two relatively experienced heads of Song and Djourou are at centre-back, flanked by Gibbs and the younger Hoyte brother.  Ramsey and Randall hold the middle, with two hugely antipated first starts on the flanks: Fran Merida and Wilshere.  Bendtner and Vela are both full internationals, and should hopefully provide the cutting edge.

Seven minutes in, first half chance.  Gibbs is slipped in by Merida, and he charges to the byline and crosses – sadly, no-one has gambled.

I’m sure Sheffield United keeper Paddy Kenny used to be both fatter and balder.  Whatever he’s taking, I want some.

Could of neat early touches by Aaron Ramsey.  Arsene recently compared his progress in training to that of Theo Walcott, so I’m expecting to see some good signs of promise from him tonight.

Jack Wilshere’s frame and movement are very reminiscent of a sixteen-year old Joe Cole.  Whatever you may think of Cole, if Wilshere can became as effective we’ll have quite the player on our hands.  Wilshere’s direct running from the left has earnt a free-kick in a dangerous position.  With Bendtner, Djourou and Song all forward, there are some good targets.  Randall to take…  too much on it.  Not a good delivery.

Bendtner nearly slipped in as the game begins to stretch.  And that’s Djourou!  So unlucky.  Dummy from Vela, dragback from Bendtner, and Djourou’s curled effort is tipped wide.  In a game like this, Djourou and Song can afford those forays forward.

Nearly half an hour gone.  Carlos Vela just produced a completely instinctive nutmeg – beautiful.  The move ends in Bendtner’s flick-on finding Wilshere, who should do better but curls high and wide.

GOAL!!!! Carlos Vela took the ball with his back to goal, turned brilliantly, and found Bendtner, who bent it low into the corner from outside the box.  Beautiful finish – almost Bergkamp-esque, and Vela’s take and run was outstanding.  The Mexican’s touch is very impressive.

The goal has given the side confidence and Ramsey and Randall are beginning to dominate.  I have the feeling that if we can get to half-time in the lead, space will open up in the second half and the likes of Vela and Wilshere will run riot.

I’ve been impressed with Gavin Hoyte, who seems to have a composure his elder brother often lacked.  To be fair, each of the young players have impressed in their own ways.

Goooooaaaaallllll!!!  A move that started in our own penalty area and included a wonderful stepover from Wilshere, then a Ramsey dribble and backheel sees Bendtner in the right place to tuck away his second.  The Dane will smell a hatrick tonight.  Great work from Ramsey.  Arsene enjoyed that one.  2-0.

Vela’s in and it’s three!!!!  What a finish!  Arsene said he was like Eduardo and that was as good a finish.  Far too easy as Bendtner clips it through and that’s Vela’s first for the club.

Half-time.  What a performance so far.  Stunning.  The front two are too much for Sheff Utd to handle.

Second Half

Sheffield United have brought on a striker for a midfielder.  Oh God.  That’s surely suicide.

Untied appear to be defending only within the width of the penalty area.  That allows Gibbs to overlap and have a good shot which Kenny turns away.

OH MY GOD.  VELA SCORES A WONDER GOAL.  Wow.  Takes a long ball on his chest, turns the defender, and produces the most impudent chip over the keeper.  Stunning goal.  If Vela had been signed from a top European club, he’d have cost £15m.  Now it’s a race for a hatrick.  Arsene suggested Vela would get the full ninety, which means he’s got 40 minute to net a treble on his first start.

This is pretty humiliating for seasoned pros like this Sheffield United side.  But then, our kids really are just that good.

The corner is pulled back to the edge of the area, and local boy Jack Wilshere fires in his first Arsenal goal.  Lovely goal.  Lovely moment.  Thankyou Arsene.  5-0.  Are the Sheff Utd boys going to lose their temper and start hacking at our kids?  I hope not.

Lukasz Fabianski must feel weirdly disappointed – he hasn’t had a chance to impress at all.

Arsenal’s give goals have come in the space of 27 minutes.  Stunning.  Gibbs, who has done well going forward, crosses but no-one has gambled at the far post.  Merida swings the resulting corner in, and Djourou’s header hits the top of the net.

Merida with a lovely through-ball but Bendtner can’t convert.  Great chance for the hatrick.  Song, meawhile, appears to have picked up a knock.  One to keep an eye on…

Arsenal are playing like… well, Arsenal.  Unfortunately Song appears to be coming off, which with our lack of options in midfield would be a blow to the squad.  The man replacing him is, of all things, a Frenchman: Francois Coquelin.  Oh, actually, a triple change is going down.  Coquelin is joined by Lansbury and Simpson, with Bendtner and Merida the men to depart.  Coquelin is a tenacious midfielder who impressed in pre-season.

The ArsenalTV Co-Commentator, who may be Perry Groves, just said of sub Lee Hendrie that he is “their Eboue”. Anyone who has any idea what he means, please let me know.  I don’t think he means that he’s their Ivorian winger.

Coquelin is filling in at right-back and going a decent job of it too.  Djourou, meanwhile, is in complete control at the back.

The game is petering out.  I, meanwhile, have done that thing where you bite your fingernail too short.  Stings like hell. 

Simpson has a crack at goal held by the keeper.  Four minutes to go.  Randall has been named man of the match by the commentator.

HATRICK! Ramsey’s through ball sets Vela away and the Mexican fires in his third.  Fantastic start to his Arsenal career, and it’s six nil.  Vela is my man of the match, no question.

What a performance from Arsenal tonight, and what a showcase of the talent coming through.  Think what it would cost to buy some of these kids on the transfer market, and it suddenly becomes clear why Arsene doesn’t regularly invest in the squad.

Full time.  Worth staying up till 2am for.  No wonder Arsene says this is the best crop of kids he’s ever had.

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