Archive for March, 2010

We’re not out of the title race (again)

4 comments March 28th, 2010

Birmingham 1 – 1 Arsenal (Nasri 81, Phillips 90)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal have nabbed so many crucial late goals this season that we’d forgotten how painful they can be for those on the receiving end. Yesterday we were handed an agonising reminder.

It looked as if we would be the late victors yet again. Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri had been thrown on in an attempt to secure the game as we cranked up the pressure on an ageing Birmingham defence. Abou Diaby lashed in a goal that was dubiously disallowed – whether it was for Cesc Fabregas’ tackle in the build-up or the shoulder-barge Diaby used to create space for himself was unclear. Not long after, however, Nasri fired a shot from a similar range and angle that Howard Webb was forced to permit.

When the defence failed to close the Frenchman down, he drove in from the right-hand side and fired a twenty-yard arrow past Joe Hart. It was a superb goal, and looked to have given us three massive points in this topsy-turvy title race.

There were chances to extend the lead beyond that: Arshavin miscued when set up by Bendtner, and Nasri’s first touch meant that Hart was able to close him down when Cesc’s through-ball found him in the clear.

As we entered stoppage time, we looked surprisingly comfortable. Manuel Almunia had already flapped somewhat at a Hart free-kick, but Lee Bowyer hadn’t been able to keep the resulting volley down. That looked like our scare over.

But Almunia had one final party-piece left in him. A launched ball forward should have seen Christian Benitez flagged offside – when it didn’t, the ball rebounded to Kevin Phillips, who had come on to face Sol Campbell in a much-anticipated mid-nineties reunion. Almunia pawed his strike up in to the air, comically back-peddling as both he and the ball ended up in the net.

At full-time, Campbell let out his anger by booting the ball high in to the air. Two points dropped, and in the cruellest of ways. That, I suppose, is how Stoke suffered; how Hull hurt. Yesterday was our turn.

How unfortunate, then, that it came on a day when our title rivals came up against teams who were competitive only in terms of rivalling each other for incompetence. Aston Villa’s 7-1 mauling to Chelsea is a result to be ashamed of at any stadium, whilst United were extremely fortunate to come up against JLloyd Samuel – a man whose forename looks like a typo and who appeared to think he was on trial as a Man Utd striker whilst playing as a Bolton full-back.

Arsene was unequivocal in his assessment of the result:

“It is a big blow for our title, of course. We were in a position where we had to win all our games and not to win today is a big blow to our chances.”

One could argue that he could have started with Nasri and Arshavin ahead of Walcott and Rosicky, though the manager’s riposte was to suggest both were nursing injuries. Cesc Fabregas was clattered on the knee early on – had this been anything less than top priority, he would have been withdrawn and saved for Barca. As it is, his participation in that fixture has been thrown in to some doubt.

As the final whistle was compounded by news of Chelsea and United’s results, the obituaries for our title challenge, most of which were composed as early as August, were wheeled out once again. But this is no time for doom and gloom. Chelsea dropped two points away to a midtable side last week and have responded by scoring twelve goals in two games. Our fixture list remains favourable – and even more pressingly than that – we have the small matter of a fixture with Barcelona to contend with. Remember the motto: Cesc We Can.

On that note, I’m off to Italy for the next week or so. I’ll pop up again around the Barca game, no doubt, but if any Gooners could let me know whether or not the match against Barca is on Italian terrestrial telly or what have you I’d appreciate it.

Until then, keep the faith. We’ve been “out of it” enough times and come back for me to believe that there is life in this title challenge yet.

Arsene putting Barca to the back of his mind

4 comments March 26th, 2010

The manager is often asked to weigh up the respective importance of domestic and European competition.  The Premier League is the clearest indicator of the nation’s strongest team, but the Champions League represents uncharted territory for our club.  With prizes of enormous value steeped on both side’s, Arsene’s focus remains impressively narrow: he is only worrying about that game.

With that in mind, he seems determined to field Sol Campbell against Birmingham on Saturday.  If Sol is able to recover and face Barca on Wednesday, great.  If not, Vermaelen will return, most likely alongside Alex Song with Denilson continuing in midfield.  It makes sense to me: either way, we won’t have to play Silvestre.  The arrival of Campbell after a good few months out of the game and his positive impact in the side has only served to illustrate just how far off the pace the Frenchman was.  A summer move back to France seems extremely likely.

One wonders if his compatriot William Gallas will be off too.  Arsene has said any talks with Gallas, who could be back to face Wolves a week tomorrow, are on hold for now:

“I feel we are winning the battle to keep him but in this domain you have to be open and be ready for anything.  He is in a position where he is free to sign for anybody he wants and tomorrow somebody could come up and offer him a massive amount of money and I don’t know if he will sign or not.  He knows we want to keep him and that we make an effort but it has to be, as it always has been historically, within our set budget.”

I’m not confident, partly because Gallas’ form this season has been so exceptional.  I can see an Italian side handing him a two or three year deal without any qualms, and at his age you could understand him looking for that security.  Gallas would be a real loss: although he has been absent in the recent run, he and Vermaelen have been crucial in providing the platform for any potential success.  Tomorrow will be our first game without either of them, and I’m fascinated to see how we cope.

Nicklas Bendtner will be fit to face his former club, which could spare Eduardo the possible trauma of a start on the ground where he received his terrible injury.  More on that tomorrow.

In other news, two of our youth prospects have secured loan deals: Jay Emmanuel-Thomas will continue his impressive spell at Doncaster, whilst Sanchez Watt has signed for promotion hopefuls Leeds.

If you haven’t yet heard enough from me, you should see your doctor immediately.  Alternatively, you could head over to arseblog and listen to this morning’s Arsecast, where you’ll also have the chance to win a Cesc We Can t-shirt.  If competitions aren’t your thing or you’re just plain unlucky, I’d suggest picking yours up from the store right away – they’re flying off the shelves faster than Theo Walcott in a jet-pack.

Beat Barca? Cesc We Can – Get the t-shirt Now

185 comments March 25th, 2010

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, cometh the t-shirt.

Click to buy
Click to buy

It began back in November 2008, when Cesc Fabregas’ appointment as captain of Arsenal Football Club inspired me to produce a parodic version of President Obama’s inauguration speech.  The image we made up for that post received really positive feedback, and only recently an Arsenal mailing list had the idea of turning them in to t-shirts or a banner for our beloved skipper.

With the fight for trophies getting serious on both the domestic and European front, Arsenal are looking more than ever to their inspirational leader and beginning to think that with Cesc, We Can.  With the games against Cesc’s Catalan chums just around the corner, now seemed the perfect time to celebrate his unadulterated Cesciness.

This t-shirt, manufactured using 100% ringspun cotton, comes courtesy of printmaker, designer, and long-time friend of Gunnerblog David Rudnick.  I’ve long wanted to make something physical for fans of the site to enjoy – doing 2Halves with the Rebel Alliance was great fun, and it’s fantastic to have another project out the door.

Only 150 have been made, so click here to get yours now and avoid disappointment.

On with the football.

Before Barca we have a slightly less glamorous fixture at Birmingham to fulfill. The midlanders got beaten 2-1 by Blackburn last night, so we will be chomping at the bit to parade our scalp (and, presumably, bits of Eduardo’s leg) around St. Andrews on Saturday.

We’ll be without Vermaelen in the game, and I suspect Andrey Arshavin is not alone in hoping that Alex Song steps back in to defence to replace him.  The thought of Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre lining up alongside each other is, despite Sol’s decent form, somewhat distressing.  Imagine if Birmingham played Kevin Phillips upfront too.  It’d be like a football version of Dad’s Army, only funnier.

I don’t know if you’ve been out and about much recently, but the birds are tweeting and Spring is in the air.  Now as we all know, Spring in itself is a bit rainy and pointless.  In primary school they try and hammer home the importance of the rubbish seasons like Spring and Autumn, but as far as I recall baby sheep are born and that’s about it.  The one good thing about Spring is that is means Summer isn’t far off.  For football journalists, that means transfer nonsense, and now it seems they barely bother waiting.

There’s a story linking us with Nice-but-dim striker Loic Remy, and a quite ludicrous piece of tattle in the Mail suggesting Cesc Fabregas could move to Inter in a part-exchange deal with Mario Balotelli.  After Inter’s preposterously good wheeler-dealing last year, getting rid of Ibrahimovic in exchange for Eto’o and a huge chunk of cash, perhaps they believe they have some kind of transfer market super-powers.

The truth is that they don’t.  Cesc?  We can.  You, Inter, can’t.  Till tomorrow, folks.

Click to buy

Arsene gambles and doesn’t lose. Or win.

Add comment March 24th, 2010

When Arsene Wenger feels he’s been wronged he can be like a dog with a bone.  His decision to appeal the red card against Thomas Vermaelen will have been his and his alone.  After the counter-claim was swiftly dismissed by the FA it’s easy to say no harm was done.  Hindsight is now our friend, but at the time the appeal was announced I was very, very worried.

First of all because whilst the decision to send Vermaelen off was undoubtedly harsh, in the letter of the law it wasn’t wrong.  I feared that the FA might extend his ban on the basis of a frivolous appeal, just as they did with Rio Ferdinand a few weeks back.

Secondly I felt it showed a clear lack of faith in the remaining centre-backs Arsene has available.  Having lost the appeal, will it give Birmingham strikers Benitez and Jerome a fillip to know they’ll be up against players Arsene was so keen not to have to field?  In the interests of transparency: I’m talking about Mikael Silvestre.

Arsene had to weigh up the gamble.  If the FA were sufficiently annoyed by the appeal, they could have ruled Vermaelen out of the home game against Wolves a week later too.  The manager obviously felt that wasn’t a sufficient deterrent to stop him trying to win back Vermaelen’s availability.  24 hours later, it’s simply a case of as you were.  I think we would have been naive to hope for any better.

Let’s worry about McFadden, then Messi…

114 comments March 22nd, 2010

Denilson fires home our first

Arsenal 2 – 0 West Ham (Denilson 5, Fabregas (pen) 82)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A good weekend
Between now and the end of the season, every Arsenal fan will be supporting three teams: our beloved Gunners, plus whoever happens to be facing United and Chelsea that weekend. If we are to snatch the title I believe we’ll have to win every game, which makes our job very simple. In the meantime, any points dropped by our rivals help us along our way. A weekend where one of them slips up and we win is a good one, so Chelsea’s draw at Blackburn and our win against West Ham are cause for restrained celebration. As for United’s victory over Liverpool? Never rely on the scousers.

Vermaelen shouldn’t have been sent off
Having given the penalty, he had to go, but it was an incorrect decision on two counts: the alleged foul consisted of the slightest physical contact, and was initiated outside the box. That said, there are plenty of referees who would’ve sent off Sol Campbell against Hull, and one wonders if that incident was in the official’s mind when he reached for his card.

Vermaelen will miss his first league game of the season at Birmingham
31 league games this season and Vermaelen has started every one of them. It’s been an outstanding first year from the Belgian, who must surely go down as the Premier League’s signing of the season. For a long time we marvelled at how no matter what injury problems we suffered, we managed to keep Vermaelen and Gallas in situe at the back. Next Saturday will herald the first time we have to go in to a league match without either of them.

Song and Silvestre could start at St. Andrews
If Sol Campbell is required against Barcelona, it’s hard to see him starting the league match just three days earlier. In his absence, Alex Song could well be the partner for Mikael Silvestre: he was superb in the role at the weekend (albeit against the rotund Mido), and with Denilson’s form improving we may be able to cope without Song in the holding role.

Diaby makes a difference
Removing Song from midfield is a luxurious move, but one made possible when you have the strength and skill of Abou Diaby to replace him. His arrival as a substitute at West Ham helped secure the game – his ability to win the ball, dribble it past players in absurdly small spaces then carry it great distances serves two obvious purposes: it relieves pressure on our goal, and gives us a threat on the counter-attack. Diaby has had a very good season and, along with Song and Fabregas, now features prominently in Arsene’s first choice midfield.

Messi-watch is a waste of time
One of my fears about the Birmingham game is that it will sit in the shadow of that enormous game with Barca. It’s easy to understand: with Lionel Messi in this kind of form a little nervousness is entirely natural. The only way to get through this period, however, is to take each game as it comes. Messi can wait – we’d be better off worrying about McFadden & Co for this week.

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