Archive for November, 2009

Arsenal 0 – 3 Chelsea: Not Even Close

110 comments November 30th, 2009

Vermaelen can only look on as the ball flies in for Chelsea's second

Arsenal 0 – 3 Chelsea (Drogba 41, 86, Vermaelen og 45)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A goog big ‘un will usually beat a good little ‘un.  Football is a physical, combative game, and size is definitively an attribute.  Taking to the field yesterday without an outfield player over six foot against a comparatively titantic Chelsea side (one that’s also packed, it’s only fair to say, with plenty of footballing ability) meant we were always going to be up against it.

In any contest where size is an issue, people often bring up ‘David vs Goliath’ from that old book of stories.  That’s it: the bible.  Well, this was pretty much like that.  Except if David forgot to bring his slingshot.

We played some decent stuff, and as usual Arsene pointed to our possession stats in his post-match press conference.  However, lots of neat passing moves mean nothing compared to the horrible “0 – 3” that shone out from the scoreboard.  My friend Kesky posted this video as a summary of the game.  I think it makes the point rather well:

If football had weight divisions, I don’t doubt we’d be the featherweight champions of the world.  But it doesn’t: it’s a free for all, and the fact that injuries to three players (Bendtner, Van Persie and Diaby) left us with a team that looked like they might be going home with Snow White afterwards is indicative of the handicap Arsene seems to have given himself.

Arsene obviously sees the Spanish team of Euro 2008 as an inspiration – packed with playmakers like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Silva – yet whilst Spain won that competition in some style, I doubt they’d replicate the feat in the Premier League.  International football is played at a slower pace, allowing teams to win games principally by retaining possession – if the opposition do not have the ball, they cannot score.

That goes out the window when you’re playing a team like Chelsea, who, through a combination of guile and force, can score in an instant.  Or twice in three minutes.

Much as it will pain every Arsenal fan to admit it, Chelsea’s first two goals were the result of excellent crosses from Cashley Cole.  Here’s where Arsene’s failure to pay attention to defensive tactical detail infuriate me: we had two wingers on the day, Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri.  The former is terrible defensively; the latter has been considered as an option in holding midfield.  Deploy and keep Nasri on the right to track Cole’s attacking runs, and put Arshavin on the left against Ivanovic, who offers almost no attacking threat.  But no, the pair were left to rotate as they saw fit, meaning that Chelsea’s first goal saw Arshavin fail to intercept Terry’s pass to Cole.  The devil’s in the detail, Arsene.

Not, it should be said, that Nasri did much better for the second.  As Cole’s cross was swung in, Vermaelen expected Gallas to clear.  When the Frenchman just misses the cross, it struck the number five and flew into the same top corner Drogba had found just moments before.  0-2 at halftime, and it looked a long way back.

Theo Walcott came on at half-time, confusingly for Song, who I thought had fared rather better than Denilson.  Walcott spent much of the second half running down blind alleys.  In fact, some of his dribbles were so bizarre that he might just have been blindfolded.  At the moment, he looks a long way from a starting place at the World Cup.

Much talk before the game focused on how Eduardo would do in the absence of Van Persie.  The answer, like much of the fallout of yesterday’s game, was negative.  After the third occasion when the Croatian failed to get a shot away in the box, Arsene called for Carlos Vela to replace him.  The Great Crozilian Hope for our striking role was withdrawn after just an hour.  Meanwhile, Vela moved to the left, and Andrey Arshavin stood not-so-tall against Terry and Carvalho as the lone striker.  The pygmy in the middle.

Post-match Arsene complained that an Arshavin goal was incorrectly disallowed, but it looked to me as if the Eduardo challenge on Petr Cech that sent the ball spinning towards the number twenty three was unfair.  It’s clear the manager is just trying to spin a rather humiliating defeat into the result of a refereeing error rather than deficiencies in his squad.

Drogba added a third with a precision free-kick, and the defeat suddenly felt even more emphatic.  The truth is that Chelsea were never troubled – they defended well and were extremely comfortable.  Had we scored, one had the sense they had another gear to go to.

People will point fingers at our defence and rightly so.  However, this is an Arsenal team that plays an old fashioned 4-3-3: it is set up to attack.  The philosophy, rightly or wrongly, is that we go out to try and score more goals than the opposition.  And yet I yesterday I don’t think we created a single clear cut chance.

The bigger boys came to our neck of the woods, and bullied us out of three goals and three points.  They’re now eleven points ahead, and whilst we do have a game in hand, I’m fairly convinced that this year’s Champions were the team in blue rather than the team in red.

We’ve got the Carling Cup on Wednesday (and, by the way, a tricky FA Cup tie with West Ham in January).  Whatever happens in that game, we need to quickly get back to winning ways in the league.  I suspect the title is beyond us, but we need to accumulate some points to make sure we’re in a strong position as regards Champions League qualification.

I think I’m right in saying that at this stage in our maligned league campaign of last season, we had only lost one more game.

Worrying stuff.

Forget RVP – These are the men who can win us the game today

Add comment November 29th, 2009

Difficult as it may be, we need to wipe away the fog of gloom that has swept in since the news of Robin van Persie’s ruptured ankle ligaments.  Today sees a massive game against Chelsea – lose, and an eleven point gap coupled with the loss of our best striker would make the title but a distant dream.

Win, however, and everyone will be full of hope – especially if the front three can cause them trouble without their Dutch comrade.

It strikes me that there are three players whose performances today will be absolutely critical in determining the result.  I touched on the first of these yesterday, but I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that Thomas Vermaelen is on top form.  He’s either going to be partnered by a battered and partially-sighted William Gallas, or by a fully fit Mikael Silvestre – both equally tricky challenges in their own right.  Not only that but he’s up against the in-form Didier Drogba and the eternally evil Nicolas Anelka.  Vermaelen has looked an exceptional buy thus far, but then so did Pascal Cygan.  So, for a time, did Philippe Senderos.  Whilst I’m confident that The Verminator is far superior to those players, the proof will only be drawn when we see him come through tests like today.

The same, to a degree, is true of Alex Song.  The manager confirmed that his new deal is even longer than we had originally thought, and based on recent form it’s easy to justify.  However, strong performances against the likes of Wolves and Sunderland will count for little if Song falls short against midfields in Chelsea’s titanic mould.  The way in which he and Denilson deal with the power and movement of Ballack, Lampard and Essien will decide whether or not we establish the platform to play our own game.

If we can get hold of the ball, the man most likely to do the damage in the absence of Van Persie is Andrey Arshavin.  The hobbity playmaker has been down in the dumps following Russia’s failure to qualify for the World Cup:

“I am inconsolable and desolate at what has happened. My family keep telling me that I should forget it as soon as possible, that I should now switch to the club matters and the Champions League but that’s easier said than done.

Nothing revives me so far. When Arsene Wenger asked me what state I was in, I honestly told him that at the moment I just do not want to play football at all. He talked to me for a long time. He said, too, that I need to switch my attention. But I cannot do it yet.”

“Inconsolable” he may be, but if anything was going to snap him out of it will have been the thump to the head he received against Liege.  Arsene is confident Arshavin will bounce back, saying:

“He came back from Slovenia very down and that’s the main reason I did not play him from the start against Sunderland. You want players to be 100 per cent focussed, play a game like it’s life or death, and it is impossible not to be down if you don’t win. If you care, you are down. Arshavin is Russia captain and he is 28. At the next World Cup he will be 33.

He is a winner and strong mentally and when his back is to the wall he responds. He is a tough boy.”

Arshavin has already scored against Man Utd and Liverpool.  Tomorrow will be, unless I’m mistaken, his first start against Chelsea.  I’d back him to put them to the sword too.

It’s a huge game.  Massive.  Gigantic.  Enormous.  Gimongous.  Jan Koller-esque.

Let’s go and win it.

Losing RVP is a disaster that could derail our season

Add comment November 28th, 2009

And what’s most galling of all is that this is one natural disaster that didn’t require a seismograph to predict.  Robin van Persie has not yet managed a campaign without a significant injury, and although the consistency and power with which he started this season suggested those days might be over, that assumption was plainly premature.

Waking up to the news that Van Persie’s ankle injury is far worse than feared was like some kind of nightmare anti-Christmas morning.  The Dutchman will now miss four to five months of action, ruling him out of the majority of the season.

Whilst we’re incredibly light upfront in the short-term, with Nicklas Bendtner, also unavailable, it also raises some serious questions about our longer-term attacking strategy.  Do we have a player capable of successfully standing in for Robin?  Can he ever be relied upon to deliver consistency over the course of a season?  Emmanuel Adebayor had many flaws but he did have a remarkable fitness level and a capacity to avoid injury which Robin could only dream of.

In answer to the first question, it’s clear this injury creates a huge opportunity for Nicklas Bendtner, who is the only forward with the physical presence required to play the lone central role.  Unfortunately Eduardo’s slight frame and injury proneness does not, in my eyes, make him a serious candidate to fill the position in the long-term.  Bendtner has massive potential, but is he ready to shoulder that responsibility yet?  I’m sure he would say he is, but then I can’t imagine Bendtner thinking anything was beyond him.

Many will say we must buy in January but I can’t picture that happening.  Arsene will doubtless say that any move to buy a striker would ‘kill’ the careers of Vela, Bendtner, and possibly Walcott.  We know Chamakh was his proposed target, but why would Bordeaux sell in January for a minimal fee when they still have a Champions League campaign to conduct?

It’s a serious, serious problem.  Probably the difference between us mounting a serious title challenge or not.  Someone is going to have to play far, far better than they have before – or we may even have to (whisper it) ‘buy’.

It’s a downer.  A big downer.  Let’s sulk today and get ready for tomorrow – a massive, massive game which could blow away the gloom.

Vermaelen against Drogba will be the key

Add comment November 27th, 2009

The news that William Gallas is only 50-50 to play tomorrow only underlines the importance of how well his centre-back partner, Thomas Vermaelen, copes in his first battle against Didier Drogba.  Drogba has already undone several previous centre-backs (Philippe Senderos and Mikael Silvestre) with such ferocity and finality that their Arsenal careers have never really recovered.

I expect Vermaelen to cope much better.  What he gives away to Drogba in terms of height and size he makes up for with spring and committment.  That said I don’t fancy our chances if Gallas doesn’t make it – that’ll mean a start for Silvestre, who really struggled against the Ivorian and Nicolas Anelka in the FA Cup Semi-Final.

At left-back the news of Kieran Gibbs’s three month absence means Arsene is left with a choice between Armand Traore and Emmanuel Eboue.  Whilst both players have their defensive defects, I might be tempted to plump for Eboue, who is in form and has superior experience of big games like this one.

It’s a massive match.  Lose and we’re eleven points behind and all but out of contention.  Win, and we’re five points back with a game in hand.  This, truly, is a six pointer.

Determined to fill his side with confidence after last week’s defeat at Sunderland, Arsene has been in boisterous form pre-game:

“It is a big test, yes – but that is what you want, to play these teams. I think there is a period for any team to come out and show its strengths. For my team, this moment has come.

We are not any more a team that has to be considered to be young. I think we have the strengths and we can show that on Sunday that we are strong enough to compete.”

Let’s hope he’s right.  More tomorrow.

Emirates to host world’s largest team photo

3 comments November 26th, 2009


Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Those of you who were at the Spurs game will already have seen the image of what is being called ‘The Spirit of Highbury’.  For those who haven’t, click the above thumbnail for a visual treat, courtesy of Arsenal and Nike.

The image features every player to have appeared for the Club at its home of 93 years, Highbury.  From 1913 to 2006, over 490 first team players and managers graced the Highbury turf winning countless trophies and creating the Club as it is known globally today.

The fans left many memories behind in Highbury, and no-one is more aware of that than manager Arsene Wenger:

“I have met so many people who have been going to Arsenal for 50 or 60 years and had their heart and soul at Highbury. We have to give them something back here where they think ‘that is part of what I have experienced my whole life’.”

The Spirit of Highbury will now stand as a permanent symbol of the Club’s proud history above The Armoury store at the south end of the podium.

The keen-eyed among you might, however, notice that there are four players missing.  The research of club historian Fred Ollyer has failed to turn up images for Tom Maxwell, William Maycock, James Caldwell and Fred Jones – and the Club has asked any supporters with images or background information to e-mail this address.  Get searching.

In more up to date news, Alex Song’s new deal was yesterday confirmed by the club.  It’s a sign of his progress that I’m in a state of some panic about what we’ll do when he heads off to the African Nations Cup.

Sanchez Watt also put pen to paper on a new deal this week, and he capped it by scoring for the Reserves in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa.  Fran Merida was sent off – I’m not sure of the rules but I suspect that red card might rule him out of all domestic competition, meaning he’ll miss the Carling Cup tie with Man City.

The good news, however, is that the game saw the return to action of Lukasz Fabianski and Jack Wilshere, both of home will fancy their chances of starting in Manchester.

Have a good Thursday.

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