Archive for March, 2010

Champions League Draw: A liveblog

587 comments March 19th, 2010

Morning all.

The Champions League draw is about to kick-off, and I’ll be covering it live both here and over on twitter.  See you in a bit.

1054 So, to be clear, we can draw any of: Barca, Bayern, Inter, CSKA, Bordeaux, Lyon, or United.  I wouldn’t fancy us in a two-legged affair against United, and having been at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday I can say there’s a solidity and discipline about Inter which is characteristic of the teams we struggle to beat.  Throw in the obvious fact that you want to avoid Barca, and the split in the quality of teams in the draw becomes clear.

1056 The bookies have us fourth favourites behind Barca, United and Inter, which pretty much reflects what I’m hoping for in terms of the draw.

1101 The draw is being conducted by the Jewish husband from Sex and the City.  Not that I’ve ever seen it.

1105 There follows a montage of the various teams in the competition.  Real diversity this year – nice not to have half of the final eight made up of the big four.

1107 I wonder how Florentino Perez feels about Real Madrid being here as ‘Champions League ambassador’ rather than quarter-finalists?

1111 Emilio Butragueno is asked to guess who will be the two finalists will be.  He declares football is unpredictable.  Ever the diplomat.

1112 “We can go now to the draw… actually not yet, because we have to explain the technical procedure”.  Oh goody.

1113 For those who are interested, the ‘technical procedure’ consists of pulling balls out of a pot.  Mind-blowing.

1114 Lyon vs Bordeaux.  There will be a French semi-finalist in this year’s Champions League.

1115 It’s Barca.

1116 WOW. 2006 Final rematch – arguably the two most attractive teams on the planet. Arsenal vs Barcelona. Incredible.  Amidst all that, Bayern drew Man U and Inter drew CSKA.

1117 If we beat Barca, we’ll face one of Inter or CSKA in the semi-final. IF we beat Barca.

1118 And it’s all over.  United are in the easiest half of the draw, no doubt.  We’ll have to get past Messi and Mourinho if we’re to reach Madrid, and if we get there it seems United would be waiting.

1121 By the way, if we do get to the final, we will technically be the ‘away’ side.  Imagine winning it in blue.  Weird.

1124 With William Gallas still struggling with his “endless calf injury”, I’ll leave you with this thought: Sol Campbell might be up against Lionel Messi in a couple of weeks…

Is this kit too good to be true?

857 comments March 17th, 2010

It has all the fundamental requirements: red shirt, white sleeves, cannon.

It artfully avoids some of the undesirables: cartoonish new badge, ugly sponsors.

It is almost too good to be true, and if I hadn’t (like arseblog) received it from an impeccable source I’d be dubious.  As it is, we can only wait (and hope) for confirmation of its authenticity.

Click the image below to enlarge.

Hull 1 – 2 Arsenal: Goodbye Phil Brown, Hello Title Race

219 comments March 15th, 2010

Hull 1 – 2 Arsenal (Arshavin , Bullard (pen) , Bendtner 90+3)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

All the great players have an arrogance about them, but not all arrogant players are great.  Nicklas Bendtner’s ability may never meet his own estimation of his worth, but if he continues to score goals at this rate during our run-in he’ll be forever fondly remembered regardless.

His 93rd minute winner at Hull brought two joys: not only did it keep us firmly in the title race, but it accelerated the sacking of Phil Brown.  Brown has now been placed on ‘gardening leave’, which is a terrible shame for him – any green fingers acquired will clash horribly with his orange face.

Hull did nothing in this game to ease our troubled relationship with them.  The conduct of George Boateng exemplified their approach: he escaped a red card for poking Nicklas Bendtner in the eye, then rightly received one for a second booking for a knee-high stamp on Bacary Sagna.  He’s lucky it’ll only be a one game ban rather than the warranted three.  Fortunately these Tigers have something in common with their feline counterparts: they’re highly endangered.  Whoever replaces Brown has a hell of a job on their hands to keep them in the Premier League.  By May, we could be rid of them.

We took the lead early on through Andrey Arshavin, who is playing with more spark since his return from injury.  Whilst his aim isn’t fully calibrated yet – he missed one excellent chance on Saturday, blasting a Walcott cut-back over the bar – his goal saw him show a typical combination of quick feet and determination to burst between two defenders and finish sumptuously with the outside of his foot.

Hull’s equaliser came from a penalty that should never have been.  Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was offside when he latched on to a flick-on.  Sol Campbell’s challenge was clumsy and was always going to result in a penalty, but the fact the commentators and Brown then insisted he should have been sent off rather than recognising that the penalty ought to have been invalid was absurd. Nevertheless, Bullard tucked it away with aplomb, and from that point on Hull acquitted themselves well – even when down to ten men.

It looked for all the world like we’d drop two vital points, but then Myhill palmed Denilson’s longshot out to Bendtner, and the Dane side-footed home.  It wasn’t an easy chance – the ball arrived at a difficult height, but Bendtner dealt well with it to net a crucial goal.  That’s 6 in 5 for him, if I’ve added up right (which I probably haven’t).

A huge win, and one with two very obvious prizes.  Goodbye Phil Brown, Hello title race.

Things we learnt this week

13 comments March 13th, 2010

This week has been longer than the string on a yo-yo that has been purpose-built for Lacina Traoré, and subsequently I’ve been left feeling weaker than that joke. The stonking win over Porto aside, it’s been a week in which a few things have crystallised.

Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue have come a long way in a year.
Just twelve months ago both players were more likely to be booed than cheered, but on Tuesday night it was their songs that rang most raucously around the Emirates. Admittedly that’s partially because Samir Nasri doesn’t really have a song yet, but it’s clear that Bendtner and Eboue are developing new and infinitely more positive reputations. The Ivorian in particular is emerging as a cult figure to rival the Grimandis of yesteryear.

William Gallas could well leave in the Summer.
Arsene Wenger has announced he will meet the defender’s agents next Thursday to try and thrash out a deal.  With rumours that Roma officials flew in to London to meet Gallas on Tuesday, it might be too late.  In the past eighteen months we’ve been extremely vigilant with our contract renewals – I suspect that if Gallas was to get the deal he wants, it’d be sorted by now.

Andrey Arshavin is mental.
Whether it’s in a Q&A on his official site or in an outspoken interview in today’s Times, there’s no denying that our Andrey is one of football’s more idiosyncratic personalities.  At times his comments make him look something of a fish out of water – a consequence, surely, of growing up in such a different culture.  The same can be true on the pitch.  Occasionally he looks disinterested and unaware of the importance of a team ethic.  And yet it is his individualistic conviction that makes him such an extraordinary talent.  He could be vital in the run-in.  Oh, and if you’re a member, this might just be a very entertaining occasion.

Cesc Fabregas won’t be fit to face Hull.
Unless a miracle occurs we’ll have to do without Cesc today.  One suspects that had Nasri not performed so admirably on Tuesday, the skipper might have been rushed back a little quicker.  There are doubts over Rosicky and Campbell, and Alex Song is suspended.  Theo Walcott, Mikael Silvestre, and Denilson are all on standby to step in.

Every game between now and the end of the season is a cup final.  Victory is essential.  Come On You Reds.

Porto powerless against Arsenal’s free-form brilliance

40 comments March 10th, 2010

Nasri dances past the Porto defenders

Arsenal 5 – 0 Porto (Bendtner 10, 25, 90 (pen), Nasri 63, Eboue 66)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Take the conductor out of the orchestra and they start playing jazz. In the absence of Cesc Fabregas, many expected Arsenal to struggle for fluency. Instead, they were liberated, with Samir Nasri chief among the unexpected soloists.

Nasri’s goal was one of improvisational brilliance, straddling the dichotomy of timing and spontaneity. It arrived at a crucial moment. The game was poised at 2-0, the tie at 3-2, and Porto’s influence was increasing. And yet it was a goal born out of pure impulse. Arsene Wenger spends hours on the training ground forcing his players to play small-sided games in increasingly tight spaces, infusing them with the ability to do just what Nasri did: feint one way, jink the other, and emerge the other side of three perplexed defenders to bury the ball beyond a wide-eyed Helton.

The look etched across across the defenders’ faces encompassed both amazement and heartache: Arsenal’s third goal would win the game as well as the plaudits.

We had started at some pace, with Andrey Arshavin at his impish best. You know the diminutive Russian is on form when he starts attempting headers – his first produced a reflex save from Helton; his second our opening goal. Retreating from an offside position, he nodded the ball back to Nasri before chasing the Frenchman’s slide-rule pass. A lungeing Fucile diverted the ball away from Arshavin but in to the path of Nicklas Bendtner. The Dane buried the chance with a confidence ill-suited to a man who missed a hatful of misses at the weekend. Some accuse him of arrogance, but that same self-assuredness is what allowed him to return form so spectacularly last night.

Arshavin created our second, too. Receiving the ball outside the area, he buzzed past three defenders before firing a ball across goal that Bendtner couldn’t help but turn in to an empty net. I’m not sure I’ve seen a player so adept at beating a man as Arshavin. It’s a combination of factors: pace, technique, a willingness to embrace physical contact and that ever-so-low centre of gravity. There was the odd bum note (a skied chance to add a third springs to mind), but when Arshavin is enjoying himself he is enthralling.

Half-time interrupted our flow, and Porto took advantage, with Falcao offering a considerable threat against the all-action Vermaelen and a creaking but still talismanic Sol Campbell. And then Nasri produced ‘That goal’.

If Nasri’s strike was the one that killed the contest, there was still time for a couple of jubilant encores. First Arshavin broke from a corner, carrying the ball deep in to opposition territory before playing in substitute Emmanuel Eboue, who rounded Helton to tap home with his left-foot. Then, in stoppage time, Eboue was brought down to earn a penalty which Bendtner stroked home for his hatrick. A far cry from the weekend indeed.

I’m not sure how good Porto ever really were – we gifted them a victory in the first leg, and they were utterly outclassed this time round – but a 5-0 victory at any stage of the Champions League is a significant statement. We move on to the next round with confidence and conviction. Let’s see what the draw brings us.

Nursing his tweaky hamstring, Cesc Fabregas’ delight will have been tarred with a pang of jealousy. No-one would have enjoyed that victory more than him, and who knows what further havoc he might have wreaked on Porto’s defence. He’ll be itching to get back in time for Saturday to face his old foe Phil Brown – his chances are currently rated at “50%”, which coincidentally is the same % similarity between Phil Brown’s DNA and that of a tangerine.

For now, let’s applaud another outstanding result and a truly magnificent performance. Vermaelen, Song and Diaby provided a brassy robustness, Arshavin and Nasri wove melodic patterns, and Bendtner thumped home a percussive hatrick to silence his doubters. Play on, Arsenal.

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