Archive for November, 2011

Arsenal 0 – 1 Man City: Audio Report

47 comments November 30th, 2011

Sergio Aguero celebrates his late winner at the Emirates

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Due to pressures from other work, I’m only able to provide an audio report for what was a sterling effort from our lads.

Arsenal 0 – 1 City (mp3)

If the player above doesn’t work, try this link.

Shortest blog ever?

Man City Preview: Diaby prepares for his latest comeback

336 comments November 29th, 2011

A draw against opposition of Man City’s calibre in the Quarter-Finals of the Carling Cup presented Arsene with something of a selection dilemma.  Arsene may have been toying with the idea of including some of the first-team in tonight’s tie.  A somewhat lacklustre display against Fulham at the weekend will have banished that thought from his mind.  He’ll want to give the regulars a rest, so it’ll be a combination of reserves and youngsters on display tonight.

At his press conference yesterday, Arsene said:

“I believe that some players are on the fringe of being really limited.  I will rest some players but I still want to play a team that has a chance to win the game. For example, players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emmanuel Frimpong will play but I consider them to be first-team players. I have 90% decided. There is still 10% flexibility.”

Those two are likely to be joined by fellow Young Guns Francis Coquelin and Ignasi Miquel.  Experience will come from the likes of Lukasz Fabianski, Johan Djourou, Sebastien Squillaci, and Park Chu-Young.

Yossi Benayoun will also be afforded a rare start, and the manager has moved to praise a player whose opportunities have been limited by competition:

“He has been absolutely fantastic but we have so much choice in midfield and we play with three strikers.

The chances for the midfielders are not so big and that’s why he has not played as much as he deserves.”

Benayoun’s versatility and work ethic make him a really useful option both from the bench and when Arsene sees fit to rotate.  His age and pay packet mean he’s unlikely to be offered a permanent deal at the end of this season, but that only makes his professionalism in the mean-time all the more commendable.

Abou Diaby will also play, making his first start of the season.  We’ve been here so many times before that it’s difficult to get too excited about his latest comeback.  One feels that a good performance would only signal another false dawn before his problematic ankle returns to plague him.  I think we just have to accept that his will be a career dogged by injuries, and enjoy the fleeting glimpses we do see of a player who is undeniably talented.  If we use him sparingly he could be an excellent option over the winter months, and allow the likes of Arteta and Ramsey a well-deserved rest.

UPDATE: I’m being told Diaby is in fact already injured again.  So more his latest setback than latest comeback.  Dear dear.

City will rest players too, but their absurdly bloated squad will mean that they’ll have plenty of talent at their disposal.  The likes of Kolo Toure, Nigel De Jong, Adam Johnson and Edin Dzeko were all on the bench on Sunday and should start tonight.

In other matters, Matt Law of The Express says Arsenal were scouting Lukas Podolski at the weekend.  Podolski’s versatility makes him an intriguing option, and he’d provide more prolific back-up for Robin van Persie than either Chamakh or Park.  However, Raphael Hongistein swiftly pointed out that confirmed Arsenal target Marco Reus was also playing in the game, so perhaps he was the main object of our attention.

Finally, thanks to Charlton Athletic (featuring Ian Wright’s son, Bradley) for beating Huddersfield last night and thus ending their unbeaten run at 43 games.  Our 49-game streak remains intact, and the Invincibles remain immortal.

Right.  Very little would be funnier than seeing our Reserves beat moneybags Man City.  So Come On You Gunners.

Fulham thoughts & RIP Gary Speed

239 comments November 27th, 2011

I can’t be the only Arsenal fan struggling to find the will to dissect our 1-1 draw with Fulham today. Bill Shankly is often quoted as having said that football is more important than life or death. On the page, it’s easily forgotten that Shankly’s tongue was firmly in his cheek, and this morning affairs on the pitch paled in to insignificance with the news about the passing of Gary Speed.

Football is, as a sport, not just in mourning but in shock. Speed, 42, had everything going for him: a beautiful wife, a young family, and a burgeoning career as an international manager. As recently as Saturday he was a lively and engaged participant on the BBC’s Football Focus, and had been discussing plans for the immediate future with friends and colleagues. I won’t pretend to know anything about the circumstances which led to Speed taking his own life, but I would imagine that after a career spent in a world still characterised by ill-conceived ideas of ‘machismo’, the Welshman would be well practised in covering up any underlying mental health problems with which he may have been suffering. One hopes that if any good is to come from this horrible loss, it’s that the sport will begin to recognise this kind of illness and offer more support to individuals who are silently suffering. That said, speculation on what could have led to this tragic event is probably best avoided: the priority must be to allow his family to grieve with the privacy they deserve. Rest in peace, Gary Speed.

As regards the Fulham game: a draw is never a disaster. After the run we’d had, we were due a little bit of ill-fortune, and we got it in the form of Thomas Vermaelen’s own goal. That said, there are very few things I enjoy more in football than a player who has put the ball in to his own net redeeming himself at the other end, and the fifty yard run Vermaelen made up the pitch to meet Theo Walcott’s cross was indicative of his desire to put things right.

We had other chances, and on balance should have won the game, but Fulham deserve enormous credit. They started with a very positive formation, with Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele all playing off the outstanding Bobby Zamora. Zamora gave Vermaelen a torrid time all afternoon: the Belgian tried his usual trick of attacking the ball early and nipping ahead of the striker, but Zamora’s upper body was consistently too strong and his touch too good.

A former Arsenal man at the back also warrants praise: Philippe Senderos looked a million miles from the Bambi-esque figure we saw in his latter days at Arsenal. After the injuries and setbacks he has suffered in his career, I can’t begrudge him a decent point on his return to the Emirates.

For our part, we looked a little tired playing our third game in seven days. The likes of Danny Murphy were given a little too long on the ball in midfield, and our first-half attacks lacked urgency. Andrey Arshavin had been afforded a rare start ahead of Gervinho, and seems to have taken a lot of flak for his performance. I have to say that by his (admittedly low) recent standards, this was a decent display – he was involved with much of our positive work, and scored a goal when marginally offside. His tendency to drift in to the centre, however, meant we did not stretch the play as much as we were able to when Gervinho was introduced.

On the other flank, Theo Walcott was again outstanding. His continued good performances lead me to believe that an injury must be right around the corner.
A draw wasn’t ideal, but it’s no nightmare, and keeps our unbeaten run going. And, much as you might feel aggrieved, there are simply more important things to reflect on today.

A. Song For Europe

65 comments November 24th, 2011

Robin van Persie celebrates opening the scoring against Dortmund

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

When the Champions League draw was made, a lot of hullabaloo was made about the perceived difficulty of Manchester City’s group.  So much so that our treacherous passage passed almost without mention, which was even surprising considering that, lest we forget, we were a club ‘in crisis’.

As United and Chelsea geared up for predictable processions, a shaken Arsenal side were set to face the Champions of both Germany and Greece.  City’s ‘group of death’, it should be noticed, does not contain a single domestic Champion.

And yet this morning, Arsenal are the only English side qualified for the knockout phase.  Not only that, but we can play our final group game away to Olympiacos safe in the knowledge that whatever happens, we will win the group, thus avoiding the likes of Bayern, Inter, Madrid and Barca in the last 16.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling tremendously proud, which is something that was difficult to envisage in the dark days of August.  So much credit is due to Arsene Wenger and the team for the way in which they’ve turned things around.  Hopefully reaching this milestone will provide a significant confidence boost as we chase our goals for the rest of the season: principally, making sure we’re back in the competition next season.

Dortmund started brightly, but their plans were disrupted by two injuries in quick succession.  First, Sven Bender launched a tackle at Thomas Vermaelen.  Against a mere human, Bender would doubtless have walked away unscathed.  After tangling with The Verminator, however, he found himself with a jaw that was broken in two places.  Ouch.

Moments later, Mario Götze came off worse in a clash with the imposing Alex Song, and limped off.  The playmaker had started brightly, and was naturally a big loss to a Dortmund side whose work ethic and incisive passing had made them a real threat early on.

Arsenal didn’t manage to carve out any clear-cut chances in the first-half, but within four minutes of the second they were ahead.  Alex Song seemed possessed by the spirit of Thierry Henry, who was looking on from the upper tier, as he picked up the ball on the left-hand side and waltzed past four defenders before looping a wonderful cross to the back post.  Predictably, the man there to meet it was Robin van Persie, who planted a firm header beyond the goalkeeper.

It was a fantastic piece of individual play by Song, and a telling contribution towards his man of the match performance.  It’s somewhat ironic, however, that his most memorable moment was a piece of attacking play, because it was on the defensive side that he really excelled.  He played deeper than usual, and did some superb work covering the forward forays of Andre Santos.  It’s no coincidence that on a night where Song patrolled in front of the back-line so effectively, Santos had his best game in an Arsenal shirt.

The same should have been sealed shortly after.  Aaron Ramsey, inventive and industrious in midfield, played in Gervinho.  However, the Ivorian is clearly yet to find the shooting boots he mislaid so spectacularly at Carrow Road, and he rounded the keeper only to hesitate and allow the chance to go by.  His finishing simply has to improve: at some point, misses like this will cost us.

Not last night, however – thanks again to that man, Robin van Persie.  I had pleaded in my preview for someone else to step up to the goalscoring mantle, but it wasn’t to be.  The Dutchman just cannot stop scoring.  The goal that clinched the game typified the groove he is in – stepping away from his marker early to reach a Thomas Vermaelen near-post flick on and tap in to an unguarded net.  He now has more than four times as many goals as our next highest scorer.  And, at last, we’ve managed to score from a corner.

There was a late consolation for Dortmund, with Kagawa side-footing home after some slack defending from substitute Johan Djourou.  Hearteningly, Thomas Vermaelen was furious and berated his team-mates.  We’re beginning to take pride in the game’s less glamorous elements.  Their fans deserved to see a goal.  They were superb throughout the ninety minutes, even managing a chorus of “You only sing when you’re winning” in perfect English.

In recognition, Arsenal fans concurred “we only sing when we’re winning”.  But last night, we had plenty to sing about.  And, after all, we only needed One Song.

Click to get your Song t-shirt at special sale price

Dortmund Preview: It would be nice if someone else scored

15 comments November 23rd, 2011

It will be a cold, crisp night at the Emirates as Arsenal play host to Borussia Dortmund. The Champions of Germany are in terrific form, and it promises to be the sort of evening that makes this competition so alluring. The objective for Arsenal is simple: win, and achieve qualification. Failure to do so could leave us needing a result in Greece when we face Olympiacos: hardly a reassuring prospect. After the ill-fortune of drawing Barca last season, our focus should be not just on qualification, but on topping the group to ensure an easier passage in the next round.

Dortmund have plenty to play for too. Defeat could put them out of the competition; victory would leave them facing what would effectively be a play-off against Marseille. Like us, they had a slow start to the season but have recently found an impressive level of consistency, culminating with a 1-0 win away to rivals Bayern Munich at the weekend.

As a consequence of our own good form, I don’t expect Arsene to make any changes to the team that beat Norwich at the weekend. In the interim period, we have lost Tomas Rosicky to injury, but that bad news is tempered by the surprise inclusion of Abou Diaby in a matchday squad for the first time this season. I had genuinely begun to forget that he even played for us, so having him back as an option is a pleasant surprise.

Naming the same team will mean that Per Mertesacker will come up against a familiar foe. Arsene has yet again moved to defend his summer signing, saying:

“When Per came here he was not completely fit. But now he is getting stronger and stronger. I felt on Saturday he had not recovered from Germany’s game with Holland and looked tired. He has recovered now and will play tomorrow.

In England, when you’re in front of the striker you have not won the battle. In many countries you have. But they fight till the last second here.

Of course he is under pressure and scrutiny. Yet you don’t feel sorry for a situation like that because it’s what happens at a big club.

However he is intelligent and he will adapt quickly. He is very responsible as well. He didn’t complain about a possible free-kick [on the Morison goal] because he was pulled down. He just said he should have cleared it earlier.”

I have to say I think that, for the most part, Mertesacker has done very well.  The Morison incident was undoubtedly a major error but all defenders are prone to that kind of nightmare once in a blue moon.  In fact, I don’t think Arsene would be wise to carry on talking about the German’s ‘critics’ – it is reinforcing the idea of him as a dubious signing and potentially damaging the player’s confidence.

However you evaluate the acquisition of Mertesacker, it seems Arsene has his heart set on doing some more shopping in the Bundesliga.  After Raphael Honigstein reported earlier this week that Arsenal had not yet abandoned their pursuit of Mario Götze, Arsene indicated to the German press yesterday that he might hold an interest in the Dortmund playmaker.  I don’t expect any movement in January, but I can envisage us lining up an unusually high-profile attacking signing for next summer, to replace Fabregas and Nasri and allay the fears of Robin van Persie.  Götze or Lille’s Eden Hazard would certainly fit the bill.

What both players would potentially add is goals from a source other than our skipper.  Whilst it has been enthralling to watch him hammer the ball in to the net at such an alarming rate, it does slightly mask a dearth of goals from other attacking players in the team.  RVP currently has 15, and our next highest goalscorer is Theo Walcott with 4.  Gervinho, the third striker in our line-up, has just two – although he should have at least doubled that tally on Saturday alone.  If we are to win tonight, it would be nice to share the goalscoring responsibility around somewhat.

That said, any win will do.  Come on you Gunners.

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