Archive for September, 2009

Carling Cup Preview: The ones we’ll be watching

1 comment September 22nd, 2009

Jack Wilshere will be in first-team action tonight

Yesterday I strolled down to the Emirates Stadium to pick up a ticket for tonight’s Carling Cup clash with one of the Chamionship pace-setters, West Brom.  The sun was shining and the stadium looked in fine nick – it’s always nice to go down to the ground at a quieter moment and marvel at just what an awesome structure it is.  Indeed, if anything it’s improving, thanks to the ongoing (but awfully named) ‘Arsenalisation’ process.

Tonight I will return there, this time anticipating seeing Arsenal’s youngsters get their first run out of the season.

Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who infamously broke both arms in a training ground accident, will make his debut in goal aged just nineteen.  He’s very well thought of at the club, and it was a close call between he and Vito Mannone as to who would step in to the first-team in the absence of Manuel Almunia.

The centre of defence is likely to contain the side’s most experienced players, with Mikael Silvestre and Philippe Senderos both primed for their first starts of the season.  Kieran Gibbs should fill one full-back slot, with Gavin Hoyte and Kerrea Gilbert (remember him?!), both returned from loan spells elsewhere, competing for the other.

Ahead of that we’re likely to see the first XI’s 4-3-3 formation replicated, with Mark Randall, Aaron Ramsey and Fran Merida the men boys most likely to deployed in the centre of the park.  Some expected Randall to move on this summer but he’s stuck it out and will be looking to build on strong displays last year against Sheffield United and Wigan.  Ramsey and Merida are both on the fringes of the first-team and will be looking to show Arsene Wenger they deserve consideration in games of greater significance.

The wingers are bound to bring plenty of excitement to the game: Armand Traore returns from his loan spell from Portsmouth on the left-hand side, full of pace, tricks, and explosive shooting.  On the right is the lad who will receieve top billing on the night: Jack Wilshere.  Unlike last season where he was something of an unknown quantity, he comes into this evening’s game as star in the making, with all that brings with it – pressure, man-marking, and kicks from rugged Championship defenders (not that West Brom have too many of those).

Upfront, the enthralling Mexican Carlos Vela is expected to make his first appearance of the season after an ankle injury. His goals lit up this competition last year, so it’ll be great to see him in action again.

Having already been included in a Champions League squad, you’d back Sanchez Watt is Vela’s main competition to be the lone front-runner.  And run he will – pace is Watt’s main attribute, allowing him to burst into the channels and cause havoc in the opposition backline.  He’s not the sort of striker who’ll hold the ball up and bring others into play with his back to goal – he’ll be looking to latch on to incisive balls from the likes of Merida and Wilshere and do damage in behind.

There are others in contention for a spot in the team: reserve captain and towering centre-back Kyle Bartley, Dutch schemer Nacer Barazite, young French holding midfielder Francis Coquelin, and his striking compatriot Gilles Sunu will all fancy a crack at West Brom.

I love the Carling Cup.  The kids always put a show on, and there’s something enchanting about a team of young lads, out there working hard against senior pros in a bid to put together a performance that might just the catalyst to a top-flight career.

If you’re at a loose end in town tonight, pop down to the box office and grab a ticket.  West Brom are a good footballing side too, so I fancy this evening’s game might prove to be very easy on the eye.  Furthermore, should one of these kids ever make it big (and I’d venture that a couple certainly will), you’ll be able to say you saw them play in the flesh right at the beginning of it all.

Failing that, a central defensive partnership of Silvestre and Senderos might provide some light relief.

Come on the Young Guns.

Weekend thoughts: Chelsea look strongest but United have the edge

Add comment September 21st, 2009

Gael a force once again
After suffering some torrid times in recent weeks, it was good to see Gael Clichy put in a strong performance against Wigan this weekend. Whilst I’m undoubtedly an advocate of the 4-3-3, it can leave the full-backs a little exposed. Alex Song is still learning his job as the holding midfielder, but covering the wide areas is something Gilberto Silva used to manage masterfully. Hopefully Song can improve in that respect.
Clichy was helped on Saturday by Wigan’s decision to employ Charles N’Zogbia as an orthodox right winger. This meant he constantly looked to drift inside, making his attacking play predictable and leaving space outside him for Clichy to exploit.

Rosicky’s return going to plan
Cross all available digits and then whisper it quietly, but Tomas Rosicky’s return to competitive football (thus far) could not have gone better. His cameo on Saturday was yet another demonstration that in twenty months out of the game he has not lost a yard of pace or a millimetre’s precision on his immaculate first touch.

A mouthwatering prospect
Rosicky’s return means our squad is overflowing with creative talent: there’s Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri (remember him?), and beyond that the likes of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. It’s an intoxicating mix, and if Arsene is ever fortunate enough to have them all fit and available he’ll have a lot of fun selecting the right combinations to unpick whichever defence we may be facing.

Idiotic reporting
This report in The Independent, which described Emmanuel Eboue’s celebration against Wigan as “running to the visiting Wigan fans in the corner and sliding on his knees, mimicking the infamous celebration of Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor a week ago”, is sensationalist rubbish. What’s more, it was impossible for Eboue to celebrate in front of the Wigan fans: they didn’t bring any.

“Grandslam Sunday” yields no surprises
Whilst there were a few twists and turns along the way, I don’t think anyone could have claimed to have been surprised to see United and Chelsea triumph over City and Spurs respectively. Yesterday’s winners are undoubtedly the front-runners in the title race, with the edge perhaps going to United, who have already beaten supposed competitors in both City and ourselves.
Chelsea continue to churn through the Premier League like a hideous diamond-shaped monster-robot-thing. I think they’ve been blessed somewhat by the fixture list: a relatively easy start allows them to build momentum and a lead, whilst their fixtures during the African Nations Cup (a time when they will be without the likes of Essien and Drogba) see them face a collection of swashbuckling but ultimately rubbish sides.
Spurs won’t finish in the top four this season; Man City might. I was convinced City had no chance of doing it this year but their early form is giving me some rather unpleasant food for thought. Much like us, they occasionally look flimsy at the back; much like us, they’re capable of scoring goals-a-plenty. Unlike us, they don’t have the distraction of Champions League football.
Are City title contenders? My instincts say no, not yet. Are Arsenal? Only if we recover from two Mancunian humblings to win a few games on the bounce.

Carling Cup Kids ready for action
So tomorrow, it all begins again. The next generation of Carling Cup kids will take to the field with nothing to lose and everything to prove. All eyes will be on Jack Wilshere’s first start of the season, but I’ll be intrigued to see how Philippe Senderos gets on in his first appearance since returning from Milan. Ahead of that, Sanchez Watt’s pace in the channels makes him an exciting prospect, while the combative Coquelin might look for a chance to impress in the holding role.
Expect the kids to line up in a 4-3-3: the system is now being used at every age level throughout the club – it’s certainly here to stay.

Till tomorrow.

Arsenal 4 – 0 Wigan: Redemption for Eboue

Add comment September 20th, 2009

Arsenal 4 – 0 Wigan (Vermaelen 25, 47, Eboue 59, Fabregas 90)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

In this fixture last year, Emmanuel Eboue left the pitch close to tears after a disastrous cameo in which he had managed to tackle members of his own team, repeatedly gift the ball to the opposition, and suffer boos from the majority of his own supporters. Yesterday he left the field to cheers after a storming display in which he even notched the most fortunate of goals.

After playing at right-back in Belgium, Eboue started further forward as part of the front three, where his pace provided a significant threat in the absence of Theo Walcott. His performance wasn’t without blemish – a yellow card for a deliberate handball and one glaring miss come to mind – but he increasingly he is looking like a useful squad member.

Perhaps that’s just it: last season Eboue was starting every game, and thus repeatedly exposing his flaws.  Using him sparingly for tactical reasons, as yesterday, allows his positive qualities emerge.  He’s a player with pace, boundless energy, and good dribbling skills.  He’s not in the same league as the likes of Arshavin, Rosicky, and Nasri, but his idiosyncratic style of play can provide an effective contrast.

Whilst yesterday felt like a significant moment in Eboue’s Arsenal career, his performance was outstripped by that of Thomas Vermaelen, who continues to look like a fantastic signing.  His third and fourth goals for Arsenal gave us our two-goal lead: the first a thumping header from a Van Persie corner, and the second a beautiful curled effort from the edge of the box after a storming run up the field.

Vermaelen offers an attacking threat, especially at set pieces, but even if he didn’t have a goal to his name I’d be raving about his performances: the aggression and leadership he has brought at the heart of the defence is, on admittedly early indications, unlike anything we’ve had since the retirement of Martin Keown.

Then came the third goal – Gael Clichy’s cross from the right (yes, the right) was met with an Eduardo volley that bounced off the near post.  Diaby got a touch to the ball before Eduardo, quickest to react in the box, fired another effort towards the goal.  His effort was on target before it clipped Eboue on its way into the net.  Arsene felt the goal shoudl go to the Croatian:

“Spirit-wise I give it to Eduardo. The shot was on target. If this ball was deflected by a Wigan player would you give it to Eduardo. We had this debate at UEFA. If the shot is on target but is deflected by the defender you give it to the striker. If the ball is missing the target, you give an own goal.”

I would rather give the goal to Eduardo, simply because it’s always good to see strikers on the scoresheet.  However, if you watch the replays back (see link at top of page), Eboue’s deflection takes the ball away from Chris Kirkland in the Wigan goal and a defender on the line, so may have proved crucial – I expect the goal to be registered as belonging to the Ivorian.

One man who couldn’t buy a goal yesterday is Robin van Persie.  One can just start to sense a bit of frustration from the crowd at Robin’s striking rate of just one goal in his first six games.  I suggest we have a bit of patience – once he hits a bit of form the goals will come much easier for him.  In the meantime he’s doing some good work retaining possession by controlling passes that are fired into him from all kinds of angles.

There was even time for a fourth goal at the death.  Substitute Nicklas Bendtner found a bit of space on the right-hand side.  Looking up into the box he saw Cesc Fabregas point and make a run to the near post.  A whipped low cross found the skipper, who tucked in his third of the season.

Worryingly, Cesc had picked up a knock the the knee which prevented him celebrating with much other than a grimace.  Hopefully it’s not too bad and he’ll be available again next week for the game at Fulham.

It wasn’t a perfect performance, with the odd defensive lapse and some occasional midfield sloppiness, but a solid and comfortable victory is just what Dr. Wenger would have ordered after a few controversial weeks.

More thoughts on the weekend tomorrow.  Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

Wigan Preview: Van Persie for Rosicky the likely change from Wednesday

1 comment September 19th, 2009

Robin van Persie is fit for the game against Wigan today.  I’m so pressed for time that today’s blog will be decidedly linkless, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  You’ll also need to trust me when I tell you that Andrey Arshavin, who did have a 10% chance of being fit, now has a 100% chance to put his feet up, having been ruled out with a knee problem.

I expect Van Persie to come in for Tommy Rosicky, who’s played more football in the past week than anyone could have anticipated.  Van Persie will join Eduardo and Bendtner in a potent-looking front three, which means Abou Diaby will drop deep alongside Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song.  Bacary Sagna is likely to return to the defence, while Vito Mannone continues to moonlight in goal.

With Chelsea, Spurs, United and City all playing each other in some sort of conference of evil on Sunday, this weekend is a good opportunity to make up ground on those leading the pack.  Wigan have struggled since their impressive start at Villa Park, and their open style of play might prove conducive to our counter-attacking game.

I’m running out of things to say.  It’s not that Wigan are an uninteresting team or that today is an unimportant game – it’s because I actively want today to feel ‘routine’.  The past few weeks have been entertaining but draining and provided less than satisfactory results.

If today was a 2-0 win with minimal incident that was shown right at the end of Match of the Day, I’d actually be rather pleased.

Come On You Reds.

Why did Cesc wait until now before criticising Adebayor?

Add comment September 18th, 2009

Questioned about Emmanuel Adebayor yesterday, Cesc Fabregas delivered a damning statement, coupled with the exhibited evidence of a three-inch gash in his leg.

“I was lucky my foot was in the air when it happened. You know this is football and it can happen. Well… it’s not football but it can happen.

All I tried to do when he was at Arsenal was to create opportunities for him to score.

So I think I didn’t do too badly for him. I don’t know. It is a bit strange. We don’t think about him any more. He doesn’t play for Arsenal so we just have to concentrate on our game and our players.”

Adebayor’s challenge on Cesc was, although not as blatantly malicious as his stamp on Robin van Persie, just as dangerous. The club obviously realised the importance of influencing the media agenda if Ade was to be brought to justice, so rubber-stamped the release of a statement by Van Persie castigating the Togolese striker. Cesc, however, remained silent – until now.

Perhaps his decision not to speak out was due to an off-field friendship with Adebayor – a complication Van Persie didn’t have to worry about. Or perhaps a quiet word from Cesc and Adebayor’s shared friend and representative, Darren Dein, maintained Cesc’s entirely dignified silence.

Whatever the reason Cesc withheld, perhaps it was for the best. More furore may have clouded the most important issues – those of the stamp and the celebration. It can’t be coincidence that only once the punishments for those offences have begun to be meted out that Cesc has revealed his anger.

Fellow victim Van Persie could be fit to return this weekend as Arsenal face Wigan. He missed the not-so-Standard game with a knee injury, but is in contention to return to the side. The news on Denilson is less positive, with the Brazilian set to miss a few weeks due to back problems. Manuel Almunia has failed to recover from his chest infection, so Vito Mannone will continue in goal. Arsene Wenger says there’s a “10% chance” that Andrey Arshavin will be available, but I doubt the manager will play Russian Roulette with his star player’s fitness, so don’t expect to see Arshavin until next weekend at the earliest.

Full Wigan Preview tomorrow.

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