Archive for January, 2010

Arsenal 1 – 3 United: Clinical. Painful. Familiar.

44 comments January 31st, 2010

Arsenal 1 – 3 Manchester United (Almunia og 33, Rooney 37, Park 52, Vermaelen 80)

Ouch. Rambled thoughts below. More considered stuff tomorrow.

United Preview: Campbell & Bendtner are Arsenal’s wild cards today

Add comment January 31st, 2010

It all feels a little familiar.  Today we head in to a home game against a title rival full of hope, expectancy, and with the chance to make a real statement about our title credentials.  Last time those circumstances collided, we came out on the wrong end of a 3-0 walloping from Chelsea.  It has been a hard-fought struggle to drag ourselves back in to contention.  One suspects that this time round we might not get a second chance.

Avoiding defeat today is essential.  Winning would take us above United and within two points of Chelsea.  Defeat would leave us five points off the top and facing a win or bust game at Stamford Bridge next week.

We’re perfectly capable of beating United.  Indeed, only an untimely lunge from Manuel Almunia and the most bizarre of own-goals from Abou Diaby prevented us from doing so at Old Trafford earlier this season. Andrey Arshavin, who speaks to John Cross of the Mirror today, is determined that we won’t replicate the mistakes we made that day and throw away a prospective lead:

“When we were at Old Trafford, we were a little bit scared when we were leading 1-0 and I don’t have any concern now about the team. I am sure we will show a good performance. Sometimes it’s not enough, but in this game we will have to make sure that it is enough. If you don’t believe in your team, then you shouldn’t come onto the pitch.”

Since then, this team has grown in confidence.  They’re the leagues top-scorers, and will be confident in their ability to out-Gun a United side whose defence will be without the suspended Rio Ferdinand.

Two late fitness tests will decide our line-up.  Thomas Vermaelen will be doing everything possible to make himself available – if he doesn’t make it, Sol Campbell seems most likely to step in to the breach.  Arsene spoke with the press on Friday evening about his decision to re-sign the veteran centre-half:

“When he came here [to train] he was not in good shape. We pushed him really very hard. He asked me if he could practice here. He could have said ‘yes tomorrow I cannot come and I can come two days later’. But the fact that every single day he was there and was ready to work, I thought ‘Oh he is still hungry’.

I thought if I give Philippe Senderos an opportunity to play somewhere else, why should I look somewhere else? Campbell worked for three months every day and I think for 60 days it was without working with our team, just fitness. I was impressed by his attitude. Sol was not the keenest before because he relied on his natural physical ability. This time he pushed himself.”

Sol will need every minute of that fitness work if he is to cope with an in-form Wayne Rooney today.

The other major fitness consideration surrounds Nicklas Bendtner.  The Dane has not started a game in something like three months, but with Eduardo injured he’s our only real option for the centre-forward role.  Arsene might be tempted to employ Andrey Arshavin through the middle again, but I’d rather see the Russian torment rookie right-back Raphael out wide.  If the manager thinks Bendtner is ready, this could be a huge opportunity for him to prove that Arsene was right not to sign a striker this month.

It’s simple today: we must not lose.  Win and this chance of a trophy becomes ever bigger.  But more than that, we’ll have beaten our greatest rivals of the past twenty years or so.  The players know that – hopefully they’ll respond.

Come On You Reds. are messing with our heads

Add comment January 29th, 2010 are messing with us.  They know we’re scared, paranoid and frightened.  Every time one of our players goes down to tie up their shoelaces I feel confident that they may never stand up again.  Or if they do, they won’t have a head.

And yet all they seem to do is exacerbate our fears.  One minute, they’re telling us Aaron Ramsey will miss three weeks, five days later he’s playing against Stoke.  They said Samir Nasri would miss almost a month with a hamstring problem – he came on to face Villa within a week or so.

Then, to top it all, on Wednesday night they sparked panic attacks among Gooners everywhere by telling us that Thomas Vermaelen “might” have broken his leg – now he’s got a chance of facing United on Sunday.

Why tell us he “might” have broken his leg?  It’s only going to upset us.  It’s like telling an arachnophobic that their “might” be a tarantula on their face.

If Vermaelen is anything over 50% fit, I’d imagine he’ll play on Sunday.  If he doesn’t make it, Arsene has hinted that Sol Campbell will deputise, and he seems to feel the veteran is up to the task:

“I have to assess him today but normally he will play if Vermaelen doesn’t play. I think he can stop Rooney. He has experience and he likes the big games. He can turn up if needed and experience helps in these kind of games.”

That big game mentality is going to be vital at both ends of the pitch, which perhaps explains why Arsene is hoping for another magic moment from the enigmatic Andrey Arshavin:

“When you look at him, he turns up when it is really needed – not at 4-0, but at 0-0. He is always coming up with something special. He is a player whom you always rely on in a big game like that.

Arshavin likes the big stage. He can be quiet for 20 minutes, and then suddenly turn up with something decisive. That is what you want from the big players – the big players make you win the big games.”

Andrey scored with an absolute rocket at Old Trafford earlier this season and almost provided another for Robin van Persie with a brilliant run down the left.  With Eduardo nursing his hamstring and Bendtner lacking sharpness, it’s very possible the Russian will be asked to lead the line again.  It’s a difficult role for the Russian, but all he needs is half a yard to produce a moment which can make all the difference.

I’m doing a lot of talking about Arsenal today.  Have a listen to today’s arsecast for a chat with arseblogger about injuries, Stoke, Villa, United and more, and tune in to’s Friday night Fans Forum around 9pm GMT if, for some peverse reason, you think I might have something interesting left to say.

Finally, Arsenal fans are going to really struggle wishing a Bolton player well.  Good luck, Jack – this is a very important stage in the career of English football’s brightest prospect.

Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal: Would you back Big Sol against Rooney?

Add comment January 28th, 2010

Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I suppose Arsene would admit it was an unfortunate sequence of events: you try and sign a promising young centre-half from Fulham only to be gazumped by Man United, and just as he’s signing autographs at Old Trafford our best defender, Thomas Vermaelen, limps off at Villa Park with a suspected fractured fibula.  Chris Smalling will now engage in some midtable huffing and puffing before completing his move North in the summer – in the meantime, he could have been playing Champions League football with us.

If Vermaelen’s fibula is indeed fractured rather than just suffering from a tweaky nerve, he could miss the next three months.  It gives us Arsene five days to ponder how he replaces him: does he move for a replacement before the transfer window closes, or can he put his faith in the man who replaced Vermaelen yesterday – Sol Campbell?

I don’t think any of us envisaged Campbell being called in to Premier League action so soon, but all reports  suggest he coped with the threat of Heskey and Agbonlahor admirably in his hour-long shift.  Whether or not his fitness is yet at the level whereby he’d be able to recover in time to play on Sunday is one question – another is simply whether or not you’d fancy him against the Footballer of the Year-elect, Wayne Rooney.

By the time Sunday rolls around there may well be other options available: Mikael Silvestre could have returned from injury, and Alex Song could be ready to step in to the defence having arrived back from Angola.  However, if Vermaelen’s scans are anything like we fear, Arsene will be going back to the list whereon Chris Smalling was Number 1 and making a few very pressing phone-calls about Number 2.

Last night’s match looked to be a strange one.  Neither side managed to play their best attacking football, and chances were limited.  In the first half, Cesc Fabregas side-stepped two Villa tackles and fired a shot against the post.  Unfortunately, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey got in to a muddle over the rebound and the chance was gone.

In the second half, an Arshavin dart past two defenders saw his shot saved by Friedel.  When the ball came out to Fabregas, he showed an awareness Rosicky and Ramsey hadn’t to slip the ball to the former, only for the Czech’s powerful effort to cannon off the crossbar.

In a rare piece of good fortune, all of Aston Villa’s chances seemed to fall to Stewart Downing.  ‘Relief’ doesn’t do it justice.

Still, I said before the game that a point wouldn’t be a bad result, and a clean sheet at Villa Park is no disgrace.  Only the width of the woodwork prevented us from coming back to London with three points, so we oughtn’t despair.  It does, however, make the two games against United and Chelsea all the more vital.

Even if Wenger decides he needs to splash out on a centre-half, they won’t be in place by Sunday.  It’s starting to look as if the United game could be the climax of the most unlikeliest of comebacks in the career of Sol Campbell.

More tomorrow.

Villa Preview & Transferwatch: Has Smalling signed for United or not?

Add comment January 27th, 2010

Winning at Villa gives us a cushion at the start of our nightmare run

Villa, United, Chelsea, Liverpool.  Four games that will define our season.  Beating Villa and Liverpool will mean that avoiding defeat against United and Chelsea will be good enough to put us in a stonking position.

Tonight’s game against Villa is as tricky as any of the other fixtures.  The midlanders will still be stinging from the 3-0 defeat we inflicted on them a few weeks back, and will doubtless be looking for revenge.

There is plenty of good team news: Bacary Sagna is fit to start again, whilst Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner will both be on the bench.  Aaron Ramsey is probably fit to start after coming off the bench at Stoke, and suddenly our squad is starting to fill out again.  I’d imagine that Ramsey will play alongside Cesc and Denilson, with Eduardo, Arshavin and Rosicky ahead of them.

A point tonight is no disaster – much as Arsene will insist we’re taking each game as it comes, he will have an ideal points total in mind for the upcoming four matches.  Knowing Arsene’s ambitions it will be a non-negotiable “12”, but I think, when pushed, he might gladly take 8 or 9.  Three points tonight is a big step towards that.


Has Chris Smalling signed for Manchester United or not?  Nobody seems particularly sure – apart, that is, from United themselves, who were equally confident they had snapped up Aaron Ramsey a couple of years ago.

Last night Sky were reporting that Arsenal had also had a bid accepted by Fulham, though if it did arrive it seems it may have been too late.  Smalling is reportedly in Manchester now undergoing a medical ahead of completion of the move.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out that United’s willingness to loan Smalling back to Fulham for six months may have been what gave them the edge – Arsene has never been keen on such deals.

If Smalling does end up joining United, we’ll be very much in the market for defenders come the summer – especially with confirmation that Philippe Senderos will not be returning from Everton.

All the talk this January was of us looking for a striker, but Arsene simply hasn’t seen anyone of sufficient quality to make a purchase worthwhile.  Much like last year, when everyone urged Arsene to buy a defensive midfielder or centre-back and he bought Arshavin, he’s instead focused on defensive areas, with Campbell arriving and Smalling clearly a target.  There are even suggestions we’ve been looking at goalkeepers, though it seems this one is Mucha do about nothing.

Arsene is sufficiently confident in our attacking options to be letting Jack Wilshere go out on loan, with Bolton the most likely destination.  It will be fascinating to see how wee Jack gets on when afforded some first-team football.  His talent is unquestionable, but he’s struggled somewhat this season, both with injuries and the extra attention afforded to him by defenders as his reputation grows.

Big game tonight.  Come On You Reds.

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