Archive for March, 2012

It’s cliché time – Eight cup finals await

28 comments March 31st, 2012

Between now and the end of the season, Arsenal have eight remaining league fixtures.  Its an old cliché now, but each one really is a cup final.  As the weeks go by, the initiative in the race for third and fourth spot will doubtless flit back and forth across London.  Spurs and Chelsea, however, have the distraction of other cup competitions.  In the battle for Premier League position, it’s a blessing and a curse.  All Arsenal have to do is take each game as it comes, and as Arsene Wenger put it in his pre-match press conference, “fight like mad” to make sure we take maximum points.

The run-in continues this afternoon at QPR.  They’re desperate for points in their fight against relegation, and for that reason alone I expect this to be a tricky tie.  Bobby Zamora always gives us trouble at the back, and so it’s good news that we’re once again able to call on one of our players of the season, Laurent Koscielny.

I expect Arsene to go with the XI that won at Goodison Park, bringing Aaron Ramsey back in the side ahead of Gervinho.  However, he may decide he can afford an extra attacker, and leave the Welshman out in favour of the Ivorian, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or Yossi Benayoun.

It’s crunch time now.  Third place is in our hands, and failing that, fourth spot would be quite the consolation considering our early-season travails.  But it won’t be easy.  Tottenham’s poor form coincided with a very tricky run of fixtures that is now over, and anyone who saw them demolish Bolton in midweek would conclude they’re back to their best.

We can’t afford any unnecessary slip-ups, including today.  It’s a cup final, after all.

Arsenal 3 – 0 Villa: Just like the good old days

61 comments March 25th, 2012

Walcott scores against Aston Villa

Arsenal 3 – 0 Aston Villa

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was an uncommonly routine victory…
The last few weeks have left Arsenal fans accustomed to being on the edge of their seats. Four consecutive league comebacks surrounded a nail-biting night at home to Milan, before the oh-so-tight victory over Everton in midweek. It was an unfamiliar and unsurprisingly relaxing experience to watch Arsenal be so completely in control for ninety minutes. The gulf between the two sides was enormous, and had Aston Villa ever shown any sign of coming back in to the game, we plainly had several other gears to go to in order to see them off. As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary. We were able to beat them with the ‘handbrake’ firmly on.

They key was a bright startɉ۬
The players finally seem to have realised that an early goal can make their lives much, much easier. We are beginning games with a tangible sense of urgency, and yesterday we reaped the benefit with two goals in the opening 25 minutes.

Kieran Gibbs is in terrific formɉ۬
I have long been a proponent of starting Andre Santos over Gibbs whenever possible, but I must admit I’ve been extremely impressed by the young Englishman’s recent form. After a slightly sticky patch immediately after returning from injury, he has gone on to have some of his best games in an Arsenal shirt. It began at Anfield, when as late as injury time he was still making dangerous forays forward. Yesterday his goal was just reward for another convincing performance. The shirt is his to lose – and by the looks of it, he won’t give it up without a fight.

‘Songinho’ produced another perfect pass…

His clipped ball over the top was as good any of his ten assists this season. For a player who is in the side principally as a destroyer, his creative ability is quite remarkable. Credit too to Theo, whose control and finish were the icing on the cake of another dangerous display.

Gervinho deserves creditɉ۬
He is clearly out of form and lacking confidence, but yesterday he showed a willingness to put in the leg work required to help pull him out of this slump. On one occasion he chased back fully sixty yards to cover for Gibbs, and the crowd rewarded him with sustained applause.

Mikel Arteta’s free-kick was a thing of beauty…
It had been coming too – he’d brought a brilliant save out of Shay Given with a thirty-yard piledriver in the first half. The strike that eventually beat the Irish keeper was straight out of the Cristiano Ronaldo text-book, and led to this brilliantly quirky insight from Arsene Wenger in the post-match press conference:

“I prefer it when he takes free-kicks with his laces because he has short feet. Usually the guys who have good insight have bigger, longer feet, and when a guy has short feet like that they are very talented at hitting the ball with their laces. The ball floats a little bit when they take it and I think he is more built to hit the free-kicks like that.”

Thanks Arsene. I can now console myself with the fact that I’ve never scored a goal that good simply because my feet are a size 12.

Robin van Persie looked a little tiredɉ۬
…particularly in the second half. It’s entirely understandable, and thankfully our form is now such that, for the first time this season, we’re not entirely reliant on Robin for goals. The other positive is that even when he’s not entirely on top of his game, his reputation has now reached such heights that defenders are drawn to him, creating more space for our other attacking players.

This was a good victory against an uninspired Villa side. With Chelsea and Spurs drawing at Stamford Bridge, we were able to edge further ahead of both of our rivals. There’s a long way to go, but Arsenal have demonstrated they have the ability – now they just need to retain their focus. There are just eight games to go. Come on you Gunners.

Everton 0 – 1 Arsenal: Huge step along the long road to Europe

442 comments March 21st, 2012

Vermaelen heads home the winner

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was an old-school, hard fought victory…
It was fitting that Thomas Vermaelen should score the vital goal, because in every sense the defenders were the match-winners in this game. Messrs Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna and Gibbs were outstanding, showing a combination of discipline and desire to keep Everton at bay. At the start of the season we all imagined this might be our first-choice back four, and whilst I am a big fan of late arrivals Mertesacker and Santos, this quartet are clearly benefiting from a run of games together. Vermaelen, meanwhile, has rediscovered his knack for crucial goals at just the right time of the season.

Bacary Sagna is a beast…
An aspect of his game that has long been overlooked is quite how good he is in the air.  Last night he won 14 of his 17 aerial duels.  Find me another full-back who can match that.

Arsenal should have been out of sight early on…
Everton looked shell-shocked by our quick passing game, and the first ten minutes saw us carve out a host of presentable opportunities, the best of which fell to Aaron Ramsey, who volleyed over when well-placed. Although Vermaelen did grab the goal in this period with a great header from a Van Persie corner, we didn’t capitalise on our best spell in the game with the ruthlessness you would hope for.

It was a great night for Arsenal…
…not just because of our three points, but because of results elsewhere. Chelsea lost to a late goal at Man City (courtesy of, of all people, Samir Nasri), Spurs needed a last-gap equaliser to grab a point against Stoke, and Liverpool threw away a two-goal lead to lose at QPR.

Arsenal are now above Spurs…
It’s a delicious fact, and something that seemed impossible when they were 2-0 up at the Emirates just a few games back. A win on that day would have taken Tottenham 13 points clear. The turnaround in fortunes since that moment, for both clubs, has been extraordinary. Their collapse has been as spectacular as our resurgence.

There is still, it’s worth pointing out, a long way to go. After this weekend’s game at home to Aston Villa, we enter a potentially tricky period of fixtures where trips to relegation battlers Wolves and QPR sandwich a clash with title-chasing City.

I daren’t commit the same sin as several Spurs fans, and gloat about our current position. However, what I will say is that to be six points clear of fifth place at this stage in the season is better than any of us could have hoped for a few months back.

Finally, on Fabrice Muamba…
Like everyone connected with football, I’ve been hugely moved by the recent events surrounding the former Arsenal midfielder, England U-21 International, and thoroughly likeable human being, Fabrice Muamba.

Like many, when I saw him collapse at White Hart Lane, I feared the worst. What we’re hearing about his recovery since then is nothing short of miraculous. I’d just like to take this opportunity to publicly send my best wishes in his battle to return to health. I’m backing him all the way.

Thoughts on: Rosicky contract, Podolski deal, RVP’s future, Vertonghen

421 comments March 14th, 2012

Considering the transfer window is firmly shut, it’s unsurprising that my thoughts have been entirely on the on-field action.  However, away, from the pitch, Arsenal have also been making plenty of headlines.  With some brief respite in our fixture list, here’s a quick look at some of the major contractual shenanigans of the last fortnight:

Tomas Rosicky’s new deal
The timing of the announcement of this deal is significant.  Contract negotiations are a long, drawn-out process: Rosicky and the club will have been in talks over the past few months.  Had a deal been concluded and made public eight weeks or so ago, the fan reaction would have been very different.  At that stage Rosicky looked a shadow of the player Arsenal signed from Dortmund in 2006.

His recent form, however, has been startling, and I for one am delighted to see him staying.  I don’t buy the argument that he’s been “playing for a new contract” – as I’ve already stated, Arsenal will have decided to try and extend his deal some time ago.  It’s possible he’s been boosted by the manager’s show of faith.  What’s far more likely is that he’s benefitting from his first run of starts in years.  His combination of game-accelerating turns and passing and quite immaculate slide-tackles have been a vital component in our recent good run.

Handing Rosicky a two-year deal also represents a change of policy for Arsene Wenger, who had previously only offered players over thirty one year extensions.  There will have been various factors involved in that gear-shift, many of them economic, but he has also doubtless been influenced by seeing the value of experienced squad members at other clubs, like Manchester United.  The influence of Thierry Henry during his brief return to the club doubtless also gave Arsene food for thought.

The possible arrival of Lukas Podolski
The latest on this is that Dave Woods of the Daily Star reports that Podolski has now undertaken and passed a medical for Arsenal.  This would not surprise me, and it’s worth noting that the Star are very close to certain influential members of the Arsenal hierarchy.  It seems that whilst there are a few details of the transfer to iron out, Koln, Arsenal and Podolski all seem to have a determination for the deal to be done.

It’s hard to argue that this is anything but a good signing.  A fee of little over £10m for a player with almost 100 caps for Germany is extraordinary business.  Anyone who has seen Podolski play for Germany will have admired his pace, finishing, and ability to break quickly from the left-flank.  This season, he’s been in great goalscoring form, and after an ill-fated spell at Bayern Munich a few years back will be determined to make his mark at a big European club.

At 26, he is another example of the shifting age profile of Arsene’s signings.  Should the deal be completed he’ll add another finisher to the squad – something that the likes of Marouane Chamakh and Ju-Young Park have been unable to provide.

The future of Robin van Persie
Some have speculated that Podolski could be arriving as a replacement for Robin van Persie.  That is certainly not Arsene’s plan.  The club will make every effort to keep Van Persie, and hope to be able to deploy him alongside the German in our front three.

I can’t pretend to know what Robin will decide to do, but my gut tells me that if he feels Arsenal can challenge credibly for trophies in the next three years, he will stay.  He loves the club, he loves the role of captain, and he wants to make it work.  His decision will be influenced more by ambition than by money: Arsenal will be happy to make him the highest-paid player in their history.

Jan Vertonghen
The Times are reporting that Spurs are about to beat Arsenal to the signing of this Belgian defender.   Good luck to them: my information is that Arsenal are not interested in signing a centre-half this summer.  Whilst I don’t doubt we have kept a watchful eye on a talent like Vertonghen, Arsene currently believes the quartet of Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Djourou, with Miquel and Song available as back-up, is strong enough.  And I’d be inclined to agree.

Right, that’s yer lot.  Now back to the football.

Arsenal 2 – 1 Newcastle: Arsenal complete quartet of comebacks

180 comments March 13th, 2012

Thomas Vermaelen celebrates the late late winner against Newcastle

Arsenal 2 – 1 Newcastle

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This is becoming a run that beggars belief; it’s putting the ‘mental’ in to ‘mental strength’.  Thomas Vermaelen’s late late goal made Arsenal the first side in Premier League history to come from behind to win four consecutive games.  And three of them have been snatched with stoppage-time strikes.

For sheer drama, none of them match last night.  Perhaps it was that took place at an almost-full Emirates.  Perhaps it was the fact it robbed Alan Pardew and the time-wasting Tim Krul of a precious point.  Or perhaps it was the sheer guts of Vermaelen’s fifty yard, lung-bursting run to meet Theo Walcott’s cross.  It’s difficult to say, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter.  But it was brilliant.

Something has changed in this team.  It would be nice to pin-point a precise moment when things started to go in our favour, but the reality is that the upturn in fortunes is down to a combination of factors.   The return of our full-backs has added width and defensive stability.  The emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has given us a direct, penetrative option from the left, and brought the best out of Theo Walcott on the right.  Tomas Rosicky is playing the best football of his Arsenal career, and in this form is richly deserving of a new contract.  And then, of course, there’s the consistent excellence of Robin van Persie.

It might be a little whimsical of me, but I also think it has something to do with the brief but potent return of Thierry Henry.  His sheer presence seemed to instill a belief and confidence in the squad, and maybe went some way to remind the players of what it means to represent Arsenal Football Club – and the legendary status that will be bestowed upon those who bring glory to its name.

For the first time in a long time, Arsenal play without fear.  In they go behind, they believe they can retrieve it.  If they go in to the tackle, they believe they can win it.  The ghosts of Eduardo, Ramsey and others have evaporated, and Arsenal players are throwing themselves in to challenges like they’re impervious to pain.  The commitment is fantastic, and it’s bringing results.

There will inevitably be a lot of talk of reeling in Spurs.  With the ups and downs of the past few months, my principal target remains fourth spot and a chance of Champions League qualification.  Anything beyond that will be a bonus – albeit a very welcome one indeed.  For the first time in a while, Arsenal are beginning to look up as well as down.


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