Friday, December 30, 2011

The Return of the King

This morning when I pored over my Twitter timeline, bleary-eyed, I couldn't believe what I read. I had a feeling that this could happen but the reality of it was still surprising. For the past week there has been tremendous uproar over the possible return of the King of Highbury, to once again rule the hearts of his fans at the Emirates. So Titi's apparent approval to the loan deal was a happy shock. In fact it's the best New Year gift a Gooner could ask for. Esteemed bloggers and journalists have analyzed the pros and cons of Henry's return to the Arsenal first team, with most of them accepting his return with a rider, an extra signing. But Henry's loan deal in itself reflects the intent of Le Boss to sign any extra striker in January transfer window. I think he is reluctant to pit his wits mid-season against the cunning agents who like to milk the most of a situation and drive up the price of their employer. So when Arsene must have observed his current charges affinity towards the ever like-able Titi, he would warmed to the idea of offering the Gooner legend a short-term loan deal.

But the signoff on any kind of deal had to be done by Thierry. We could theorize that Henry wouldn't want to attach a badly assorted addendum to the glorious 8 years of his previous Arsenal career. But as Titi said himself that when it comes to Arsenal his heart speaks first. He could see that Arsenal's form is sagging and he could make significant contribution towards the success of the team. As we have seen before that Sol and Jens didn't disappoint on their return, so we would not be mad to expect some thing substantial out of Titi. I hope the final terms of the loan deal are agreed so that we can once again see our most successful player in the red and white jersey we love. We welcome back Titi, it's The Return of the King.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

He scores when he wants, gift from Robin on Arsenal's 125th anniversary

A long Friday night of drunken revelries and a subsequent all-nighter set a red-eyed stage for me before the Arsenal's 125th anniversary celebration game against Everton. A cat nap right before the KO was not a good idea as I was left at the mercy of online Gooners to provide me a working stream (damn you ESPNStar). And with the help of the ever resourceful Gooner community, I was able to find a lovely streaming link in time to catch the players coming out of the tunnel. The Emirates looked beautiful and had a festive touch to it. Gooners present in the stadium were chanting at the peak of their voices and it did raise some goosebumps. The Arsenal team was as strong as we could have fielded with Djourou playing on the right, allowing Koscielny to partner BFG in the center. Vermaelen marshaled the left flank and did a wonderful job. He never let Shameless Coleman to deliver a single cross. Last year's Arsenal team needed players who would always give their 100 percent on the pitch, irrespective of the position they play in and Vermaelen is such a player. He stuck to the task and didn't allow any opening from the left. Although some of his back passes were dodgy but Koscielny managed to tidy them up every time. When Sagna comes back, I would  love to see the four of our best defensive players operating in front of our goal. Even with Djourou's nervous play, our defense looked formidable.

Everton played with only Louis Saha up front and defended deep. They packed their midfield but left the flanks weaker which allowed Gervinho and Theo to make constant attacks during the game. There were many missed opportunities in the first half, some which could even be labelled as stupid mistakes. Gervinho needs to work on his shooting skill which has let him down in last many matches. In 1-on-1 situation he always look short of ideas and such callousness in front of the goal could be costly at the business end of the season. Right now is the time to improve on this aspect of our game. When Robin seemed to be having an off day, it was the duty of our other offensive players to step up their game. Theo had other ideas though. It appears that he relishes his role of a provider so much that he's ready to give up entirely on shooting. He should realize that if he wants to emulate Henry, he will have to shoot when in 1-on-1 situations. We wasted many simple chances in the first half and I began to worry if it would bite us back in the arse. But gladly, the first half finished without a goal.

In the second half Everton looked more assured and even started to fancy their chances against an Arsenal side which couldn't score. Ramsey looked off the mark again with his overhit through balls. With Arteta settling in well along side Song, I believe Ramsey could be in direct competition with Jack after his return. The player who has massively impressed me this season is Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong. He has become an integral part of our defense as well as our attack. Along with Arteta, he's the most hard-working player on the pitch, huffing and puffing from box to box. His over the defender pass for Robin's goal was a thing of beauty. And what can you say about the strike which followed from the left of the maestro, Robin van Persie. It was majestic, sublime and a strike from a genius. It reminded us of Robin's full blooded long range volley against Charlton Athletic. But last evening's strike had more nous, more artistic touch to it, it was like music. The goal was a perfect gift to the club on it's 125th anniversary from one of it's greatest players. The game will be remembered for the goal, the goal when Robin struck the most beautiful of volleys from his left foot.

We have come of age as a squad and our first team is among the best in the continent. When this team faced the challenge of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, they came out on top. The next major challenge will be provided by the trip away to Manchester City on the next Sunday. After their recent exit from Champions League, Manchester City will have their mind set on winning the maiden Premier League title. Currently the only team who can throw a spanner in their works is Arsenal. If we can come back with a point from the game next Sunday, it will be the continuation of The Arsenal's 125th anniversary celebrations.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This is the new Arsenal: we're back on track

The curse of Wigan away has been broken. The series of 4 games without victory has stopped. On a very wet day, when the going was tough, our team came up with the goods and emerged with a brilliant result. We have now taken 19 points from the last 21 available, the two being dropped against Fulham at home. We started the game with our strongest line-up and as expected Roberto Martinez packed Wigan's midfield. The first 15 minutes saw the Latics' pressing hard for the ball. Their 'smash and grab' game produced a great chance which was wasted by Jordi Gomez. But as their initial enthusiasm diminished, Arsenal found it's footing and started to dominate the proceedings. Arteta was the key figure in the midfield as Ramsey was given the licence to make forward runs. He stretched the play with his accurate passing and bossed the midfield. It appears that Mikel has finally found his rhythm and has developed a good understanding with the team. His confidence must have received a further boost when Al Habsi was not able to spot his long range strike which gave Arsenal the first goal of the game. Due to Theo and Gervinho's pace, Wigan was forced to defend deep which provided ample space for Arteta to run into and tee up for the long range shot. The first goal also calmed Arsenal's nerves if any. The team only grew in confidence and immediately struck again with the second goal via Vermaelen from a corner. It was a perfect delivery from Robin for Vermaelen who did well to beat his markers for the header. One could argue that his goal was a result of bad defending from Wigan but then every goal from a set piece is like that. When the talk of Arsenal being a one man team was rife, the first two goals was the perfect way to silence the critics, something which this Arsenal team is becoming very good at.

Arsenal continued their dominance when the game resumed. Gervinho who was average in the first half finally found some luck when he scored on a rebound. He was disappointing in the first half with his positioning and passing and looked set to continue his recent dismal form. But he was once again saved the criticism when he found the ball in his path after Robin's shot was parried by Al Habsi. He scoffed at the ball but then it was impossible to not score from couple of yards out. Gervinho's game has been visibly on the down after a spirited start to the Premier League campaign. He doesn't have to look far for inspiration as his teammate Theo has gradually set himself on the path of becoming a legendary wide player. Theo's work ethic, his positional sense, his passing and crosses have improved remarkably. He now has a matured air about him and oozes confidence. He has become Robin to Robin's Batman. They have formed a deadly strike partnership and were once again at it for Arsenal's fourth goal. Theo could have scored the goal himself but he rather set it up for Robin who actually did quite well to score from the wobbly pass. Robin's racing towards Alan Shearer's record of maximum league goals in a calendar year and we just need to see by how many is the record improved.

At the back, Mertesacker and Vermaelen looked comfortable and confident in their approach. Our BFG has settled well to the life in Premier League and barring his goof up at Carrow Road, his defensive performance in the last few games has been top class. Similarly Verminator has found back his form after making a return from a long injury layoff. He likes to go forward and as the season progresses, we will see many more goals from him. The left back department still remains a concern. Santos could be amazing going forward but his foremost duty is as a defender. He seems to be working on getting his position right but he's too slow to turn. He frequently gets caught flat-footed and even an average winger could give him a run for his money. Song has adjusted his game well to cover for Santos whenever he goes forward. But Song's move to the back four creates a hole in the midfield which is not filled fast enough by the backtracking Santos. Until now, we haven't been in trouble because of this specific handicap but a quality opposition will surely take advantage of the situation.

Overall it was a great performance from our boys on a very wet afternoon. We're not able to impose ourselves from the beginning but gradually we tightened our stranglehold over the Wigan side. Let's hope we can continue our juggernaut and keep climbing up the league table. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Minor blip: Arsenal drop points to Fulham's bald army

Well we didn't expect that. Last evening's performance was an aberration, a departure from the norm, a game to be forgotten and hopefully in the big scheme of things, the dropped two points will average out. Arsenal looked lethargic at the start and overall showed little desire to take the game to Fulham in the first half. To cut the supply line to Robin, Martin Jol resorted to a packed midfield. With Ramsey having one of those days, it meant that we spent a lot of time passing the ball around in our half of the pitch. Any tempo whatsoever in the game was due to Santos' and Theo's runs on either flank. Arshavin remained anonymous and his profligacy on the pitch was exasperating. He has bundles of talent and nobody has ever doubted that. But whenever he's on the pitch, we can see that his heart is not in it. Yesterday when Shava was about to take a corner, he remembered that now Arteta is the assigned guy and very reluctantly put the ball at the spot for him. I feel for Shava who is clearly unhappy over his drop in the Arsenal ranks. I'm a big fan of him, he's an awesome guy off the pitch too but I think he needs few good one-on-one sessions with Arsene where he can open up and discuss his issues. If there's a guy who can revive him, Arsene is that guy.

Despite our lack of zeal, we created decent chances and Ramsey should have done better when Theo laid a perfect ball only for him to shoot skyward. By this time, that uneasy feeling crept up inside but it was difficult to spot the channel from where Fulham could score a goal. Sticking to our principle of making our life difficult, a defensive mixup led to a Vermaelen own goal. Theo could be blamed for not tracking the run of Riise who led to the confusion in the area. But even in that case, our defence should have dealt with it. Vermaelen had an average game until the time he surged forward to place his face at the end of another brilliant Theo cross which resulted in the equaliser. From villain to hero. The goal came about only after the much needed substitutions: Gervinho, Diaby and yes, Chamakh. The tempo of the game was instantly raised and passing was crisper. Gervinho and Theo made numerous forays in the Fulham area and we were rewarded for our effort with Vermaelen's goal.

The last 10 minutes saw us pushing for the winner but Fulham's time wasting tactics, throughout the match, made it difficult to come by. They were helped by Mike Dean who paid no notice to Mark Schwarzer's multiple delayed goal kicks. He deserved at least a yellow. But in a game where Dean ignored any foul on a Arsenal player you wouldn't expect him to notice anything wrong in deliberate time wasting. It's now 10 games on the trot when we have dropped points with Mike Dean as the referee. And what's with Fulham's hairline, starting from Jol to Bobby Zamora, there are bald galore, they're a disgusting team to watch (I like Gerv's hairdo).

Coming back to football, Arsene needs to find the right combination for his team B because there will be frequent personnel rotations running till New Year. Carling Cup QF will allow him another evening of experiment and I hope that our players prove Le Boss right the next time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Everything remains the same, Robin scores, Arsenal wins

I must admit that it was the most hellish Interlull I've endured in recent times. It almost felt like the summer break. But as they say, patience is always rewarded and it was indeed by Arsenal. After being away for two weeks, it was expected that there will be lack of coordination in the team but there was no dearth of attacking intent. Robin could have scored as early as the first minute when he scoffed a chance from Theo's cross. Norwich City has been lauded by critics for their desire to play football and it was evident on the pitch yesterday. The game was open from the word go and before Norwich scored, Arsenal was murdering them. If it wasn't for Russell Martin's positional sense, Arsenal would have been 2-3 goals up in the first quarter of the match. His acrobatic clearance off the line from Theo's shot was some top class defending. But when Gervinho missed a one-on-one with Ruddy, I started to get a bad feeling that all the missed chances would come back to bite us in the arse. Steve Morison confirmed it when he caught our "big friendly German" (too friendly this time) off guard and muscled him off the ball to score Norwich's only goal of the game.

But given the form Robin is in, there was no doubt that we'll soon equalize. It was once again Theo-Robin combination which provided the much needed relief for Arsenal. Norwich's left-back had a torrid time against Theo and when Theo went past him the nth time, he produced a peach of a cross which Robin coolly tapped in. He saved Gervinho the blushes after the Ivorian had tried and missed with a fancy back heel on that cross. After the goal we dropped our game which made Arsene give his steely eyed stare at the HT. In the second half, it was more the same but with a much more composed central defense. Vermalean and Mertesacker were confident in their clearance whenever Norwich tried the aerial trickery. Except for Santos, our defense looked calm and solid. Song and Arteta who kept giving away the ball in the first half, also checked their enthusiasm and provided a better second half performance. Santos should be thankful to Song because he always covered him whenever he forgot to track back from his sorties. Our second goal came courtesy of a half-foul on Ramsey when Song collected the spillover and sprayed the ball for Robin who controlled it delightfully and chipped it past the onrushing goalkeeper. The goal could be used a lesson in the finishing school of the strikers. In a desperate attempt to come back on level terms, Norwich deployed Grant Holt. The "forward" used his shambolic free-kick winning skills to rob us off two points, but our solid defense kept him in control till the end.

Theo produced a consistent performance which will silence his critics. He was a constant thorn in Norwich's left side, out-sprinted their fullback many times and produced quality crosses. He deserved a goal but was denied twice, first by Martin and the other time by the crossbar. Gervinho had an off day at the office and if he had worn his scoring boots, the scoreline would have looked different. Robin now has 31 goals and need just 6 more to break Shearer's record of the most premier league goals in a calendar year. It's all good when Robin is scoring for us, but right now we're over-reliant on him and others should step-up to share the scoring responsibilities. Unbeaten in last five premier league games, we're carrying some serious momentum. If we can continue this form till New Year, we will be there in the top three. Let's keep it rolling and keep cheering for the Gunners. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spirit, mental strength and the handbrake

Yesterday was unbelievable, it was the most memorable victory in recent Arsenal history. Chelsea has been a thorn in our side for last few seasons but the last afternoon's thrashing has compensated for many of those painful memories. We're by far the better team but unlike the most of other times we were on the winning side. The game was all the more special because we came back from a goal down twice and went on to win the game in a comprehensive manner. It was a team performance of the highest order, the resolution and self-belief of the players was evident. There were brilliant individual performances which provided the platform for the team to excel together.

Chelsea's classless chairman provided extra motivation before the match when he asked his charges "to beat the crap of Arsenal." I guess Bruce Buck hasn't been following football lately otherwise he wouldn't have made such a comment looking at Robin's red hot form. Right from the word go, it was clear that it will be an open match and none of the team was too concerned about proper defending. But when it comes to attacking relentlessly, Arsenal had the better firepower in the form of Robin, Gervinho, Theo and resurgent Ramsey. After initial scare of first 5 minutes, Arsenal tightened the noose only for Gervinho and Robin to loosen the grip. The relief had an immediate impact as Chelsea scored via Fat Frank's fat head after some poopy defending combo of Santos and Mertesacker. The oil money has resulted in such hubris that Chelsea believed they could shut up shop against free flowing, coming back-to-terms Arsenal side. Ramsey's brilliant slit open the Chavscum defense allowing Gervinho to cross for our captain to score the simplest of goals. Again the defensive lapses resulted in a clear goal scoring opportunity, only for JT's BFF Sturridge to spurn it wide. May be he got intimidated by the big Pole in front of our goal. Escaping another close offside call, we were not so lucky when Mertesacker's lack of decision making provided a glimmer of hope for Terry to salvage some pride. He beat Per on a corner kick for the ball to roll into our goal and made the scoreline a glum 2-1 at HT.

But looking at our players disappearing in the tunnel, the determination and their hunger to win was palpable. We immediately pounced on them after the restart. Santos who had a shocker in the first half equalized through a well worked goal. It was enough to send the Gunners flying and Theo gave the advantage when his strike beat Cech on the near post. There was a flurry of chances on either end and parity was restored only after a brilliant strike from Mata. Santos lost the ball but then was blocked by Lukaku when he tried to get it back which allowed Mata enough space and time to drill a long range effort. Given the nature of the game, a scoreline of 3-3 was not enough for Arsenal who pushed forward in search of a winner. It arrived when Terry slipped to cover a poor back pass from Malouda. Robin was at hand to deliver the deadly blow when he rounded Cech to slot the ball coolly in an open goal. Our captain completed his hat-trick when we caught Chelsea on counter-attack. Van Persie's strike was so vicious that in spite of Cech's effort the ball flew in taking a deflection off his palm.

The win couldn't have come at a better time. Arsenal is back in the mix and Arsene's critics have been silenced. It was a brilliant team performance, a hard-fought victory which make us believe that our team has finally turned the corner. The players have been criticized both by the fans and the media but yesterday's performance should help the fans unite and get behind our team without any bias. It was Robin's sheer class when he asked his teammates to celebrate with the traveling fans. It was a brilliant gesture by our captain who is leading the team by example. Next up is Olympique Marseille and irrespective of the task at hand, I'll get behind our team and support them to play without any handbrake on. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

When the going gets tough, we stop going

Spuds 2-1 The Arsenal

A friend once asked me why do I watch football when it makes me miserable and I told him that's the whole point. Easier said, it was another heartbreak in the North London Derby, another defensive nightmare at Shite Fart Lane. We had feared our inability to defend as a team and lack of understanding at the back, ultimately both together cost us the game. I was extremely nervous before the start and wanted Arsenal to avoid defeat at any cost because the vitriol from fans after a loss would be unbearable. I had hoped that in the wake of the battle of bragging rights, our players would step up their game and grind out a positive result but instead they rolled over.

The performance was out there to be witnessed by everyone. We bossed the possession (I hate to write this after every single game) but created fewer chances than Lillywhite scum. They were dangerous whenever they moved forward thanks to our hapless defense. But then one can't blame Song for the situation because he didn't cause injury to four of our center-backs. He played out of position and was better going forward when he created our goal for Ramsey. I was worried about Sagna after his midweek performance. Against Olympiacos he looked lethargic and a player in dire need of rest. With Spuds' pacey baboon-faced winger he found it difficult and paid a heavy price when he landed awkwardly in an aerial duel. One can't survive with a makeshift, out of sorts defense against top teams in the league. We were repeatedly exposed at the back and were saved an 8-2 proportion scoreline thanks to Chesney's terrific goalkeeping.

Ramsey cut a confused figure in our midfield where he was in an early Christmasy mood and gifted the ball uncountable times. He has had an up and down start to the season and whenever it has come to a crunch, Aaron has crumbled. His philosophy of running the ball in the goal will not work until there are 5 Barca-esque players in our team or when Wilshere is back. A more direct approach in front of the goal will do wonders for him. Like him, Gervinho had a game to forget where for majority of the first half he remained uninvolved. I agree it was more due to Tottenham's formation but real effort is always clearly visible. After the first half, it was heartening to see Arsene bring him in the center which helped us equalize. But soon after we lost the initiative. There was a period when Van der Twat was just ambling on the pitch and it was a real opportunity for us to pressurize the opposition and look for a winner. Instead we relaxed and let them come back into the game with Sandro. It would be overly ambitious to say that we deserved a point from the game but young Coquelin certainly didn't deserve to be on the losing side. He played spiritedly but was let down by his teammates. Similarly Robin wandered around the pitch aimlessly with little to no supply to him. The excitement of starting a season with Arsenal will now gradually transform into apprehension.

Nigel Winterburn on ESPN reaffirmed the knowledge that Arsene is the sole in-charge of training and drills. He mentioned that Pat Rice has very little to do with the playing methods or defensive homeworks so berating him for the amateurish defensive performances is unreasonable. The buck stops with Arsene and he has to take some concrete steps to bring life to this Arsenal defense. Chronic injuries (even Miquel was injured) and mediocre quality hasn't helped his cause but at this moment we need to build our game starting from the back. After what feels like a long time we have a world class goalkeeper but now his colleagues are letting him down. Our next game is with Sunderland at the Emirates and with a defense like ours, Bendtner would be looking forward to stick the knife in a little bit more. With players away on international duty, Arsene will have little time to work with them and so the break is not really beneficial. The only solution I can think of is to play defensively, stop the passing football and resort to long balls for scoring goals. It will never happen with Arsene but then nothing else is working. Things need to be shaken up at the club otherwise it will be curtains very soon for our season.

"Little by little by hook or by crook"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Finally the dawn is upon us

Arsenal 2-1 Olympiacos 

Olympiacos is supposedly the weakest team in our Champions League group and before the game it was a popular notion that we will comfortably get past them. With raft of changes across the team, it was always going to be difficult for us to find rhythm in our passing. Song partnered BFG (Big Friendly German via Mr. Blogs) in our defence with the potato boy, Santos and Sagna on the side. Our new Brazilian had a game to forget against Blackburn and once again I was not particularly impressed with his defensive skills last night.

We started the game trying to find our footing but were easily broken down when tried to burst into the Greek side's defense. The first touch on the ball from Olympiacos resulted in a move from the left where we were lucky to not concede. It was not a pretty game in the first half much to the chagrin of Rosicky who looked completely out of sorts in the midfield. He was slow on the ball and made clumsy challenges all over the pitch. Arshavin was nowhere to be seen in the first half and most of the movement came via Oxman. His direct approach to the game is a whiff of fresh air for us fans who are frustrated with the overworked approach of Rosickys and Chamakhs to create or score goals. A peach of a pass from forward/midfielder/defender Song was deftly controlled by the youngster to lash past the goalkeeper for a fine finish and a European debut goal for Arsenal.

Olympiacos tried to open up the game immediately but were further punished in a counterattacking move when Chamakh was unable to put his boot at the end of a rolling Santos cross. Santos was on hand for the spillover and finished from a tight angle at the near post. It was the high point of the game for him as he misplaced his passes and was found short many a times for the remainder of the game. He looks more like a Brazilian winger currently deployed as a left back. Hope with time he can fine tune his radar and deliver on his defensive duties. Chamakh provided good link up play up front but was found wanting when he could have shot past the goalkeeper to make the scoreline 3-0.

We were made to pay for our naive defending when a short corner caught our defense flatfooted and Fuster was able to head the ball in from almost at the edge of the box. It was yet again an example of the lack of defensive understanding in the team. None of the player tried to prevent a short corner and Arshavin onlooked when Fuster was running in front of him to head the ball.

We were fortunate enough to not concede any more goals mainly due to our last ditch defending when Arteta cleared the ball off the line or due to Olympiacos' bad luck when Torosidis long range curling effort was denied by the woodwork. We looked short in our performance in the second half and barring a 10 minute renaissance period of Arshavin, we didn't have much to offer. The passing game didn't click yesterday which was understandable given the number of changes but few signs of complacency were visible. Sagna surprisingly looked off color and I'm worried about him for the upcoming game at WHL. He looked like a man desperately in need of rest. I hope he spends more time in the oxygen bubble until our trip to shiteland. It was a tricky game which didn't tell us anything new although it did showcase the attacking talent of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Song once again had a massive game playing out of position and now I begin to wonder how he would fare when played as a striker. I'm sure Songinho will fare well in that position too.

Our performance lacked solidity and discipline which will be required against an outfit much better than we have faced over the last three matches since Blackburn. The game on Sunday will feature Arsene on the touchline and hopefully he will be able to cajole our players to put in a good defensive shift. With Robin in flying form, we will be able to score goals against the Yids but it's our defense which still gives me nightmares. But until Sunday, I can enjoy our third win on the trot. I can see the sun rising on the horizon and it's about time for a bright Arsenal morning.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I thought I knew the feeling of pain well but last evening it turned out otherwise. The emotional trauma of last evening will not be forgotten for a long time. I was among the unlucky few who were not able to watch Arsenal beat Bolton 3-0. I missed Chesney's brilliant save early on. I missed Robin completing his magnificent century of goals for us and I missed Arsene celebrating with joy Song's wondrous goal. I missed the rousing chants of One Arsene Wenger from the "vocal majority" at the Emirates, I missed watching the men in Red and White play. I hope yesterday's painful experience will not be repeated in future.

As I didn't see the game live but only Match of the Day, it looked like Ramsey also had a cracker of a game and Theo is still 50-50 in 1-on-1. The point to note was that Bolton didn't have any threat up ahead on the pitch after David Wheater was sent off for pulling back Theo. It's understandable that Owen Coyle couldn't afford to be ambitious after his team was reduced to 10 men but the lack of urgency to snatch even a point was surprising. It was different from the Blackburn game where Junior Hoilett and Yakubu created problems for us with minimal attacking. Our defense was not really tested yesterday but another theory could be that we have worked on our defensive issues and have improved. I would like to believe the second hypothesis and it will be tested over the next week when we play Olympiacos and Spuds. I hope we can keep the winning momentum and make it WWW and WDL

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Déjà vu all over again

Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal


Last time I wrote about our team was after the Swansea win. We were not utterly convincing in that match but we were solid enough to grind out a decent result. That conclusion was partially vindicated when we were able to come back with a point from our European adventure away at Borussia Dortmund. It appeared that Arsenal was finally on the rise after a disappointing start to the season on the back of an equally disappointing summer. But in the aftermath of our calamitous defeat at Ewood Park, one is forced to re-analyse the Champions League game and accept that we're just plain lucky in that fixture. We were spared the blushes by some poor finishing from the current Bundesliga champion. Yesterday we notched it up a level and displayed a shambolic defensive performance.

Blackburn has already been labelled relegation fodder by the English media and for a change, they're spot on. Before the match, Blackburn had been sitting right at the bottom of the league table with just one point from their game against Fulham. Their manager, Steve Kean was facing the wrath of the fans and the players for not doing enough to build the team for the season and the resulting poor results. To give the whole situation an ironic backdrop, there were even protests against him before the game. I'm quite sure that Steve Kean would have already cleared his desk because a defeat against Arsenal was a sure eventuality. Similarly, Arsenal too would have fancied their chances against an opposition whose back was against the wall. But somehow we managed to screw it up and handed Steve Kean a lifeline.

We had Gervinho and Arshavin starting for us. The Russian has gradually started to look like the player we had signed 3 years back. There was Robin who had scored 8 goals in 10 games against Blackburn, a thorn in their side. Ramsey and Artea were in the midfield backed up by Song. It was very much a full strength frontline for us. As we always play, we bossed the possession, created many chances. Gervinho opened his account for Arsenal and so did Arteta. But then we wasted a lot many chances too. Gervinho was at fault for a blatant non-goal when he was too selfish to lay the ball for Van Persie. But still there were no signs in the first half of the upcoming doom. Blackburn started the second half brighter than us and we buckled under minimal pressure. Koscielny and Song who had an amazing game against Dortmund might want to forget their errors yesterday. Both of them gave the ball cheaply far too many times. One could argue that the balance was disturbed because of Andre Santos who was making his debut. I'm very much with that argument but then he alone didn't cost us the game. Yes he played Yakubu onside for his first goal and then created a 50-50 situation with his positioning for Yak's second but it was a collective capitulation at the back which led to the result. We were frivolous and abysmal in our defending.

Arsene argued in his press conference later that the team is missing the defensive confidence after the Old Trafford defeat but I beg to differ. We made basic defensive errors. The own goal which came off Song from Blackburn's corner, we were zonal defending! What was that all about, I thought that it went out of the league with Rafa Benitez. And then in the leadup of the second goal, Djourou commited himself on the byline when there was no need of it. Our other players were tracking back and Djourou should have just stuck himself to the Blackburn runner. The performance will not help Santos' confidence who looks promising while attacking. It was his debut game and his initial nervousness was visible. His lack of awareness could be attributed to these facts but others should have done better. Mertesacker, it appears will take more time to form a partnership with Koscielny but then he let's his man go too easy for my liking.

The game once again revealed that we have compromised on the basics. If Arsene keeps addressing the wrong question, we will never find the correct answer. We need to go back to the whiteboard/training ground and learn the basics of defending again. The most worrying outcome of the game was that we played with almost our full team and were still overcome by a lowly Blackburn unit. The few positives which one could draw are the maiden goals for Gervinho and Arteta and a sublime header from the shy Moroccan. Hope the goal can bring some much required confidence to Chamakh. But in the end it was a pathetic performance from Arsenal and probably a harbinger of the things to come this season.

Funny takeaway

Two Arsenal own goals.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Slow start of a chain reaction: finally an Arsenal win

Arsenal 1-0 Swansea


Okay it wasn't a glorious win but it was three points indeed, I would take that. We have had an abysmal start to our season, bagging just half the points as Swansea in our first three games. After our Champions League qualification, we needed something to kick-start our domestic season and there is no better way to do it than to go out and win. With Vermaelen out injured, Per made his Arsenal debut. Arteta was slotted in the midfield alongside Ramsey, Frimmers deputed for suspended Song and Kieran Gibbs made a much welcome return to the left wing. Other than that it was a regular starting line-up.

Arsenal came surging out of the blocks and Ramsey came very close to scoring when he shot high from a delectable Arteta pass. It was good to see a more flexible formation where Arshavin was also able to play centrally. In one of his moves, he set up the ball for Theo who outsprinted his marker and nudged the ball towards the goal in his run only to be cleared by a sliding Swansea defender. Arsenal was composed in the first half and as usual dominated possession. But as the game progressed, Arsenal started to look more and more labored. Swansea defended resolutely and denied space around the box. Our situation was not helped by gradually fading Arteta and clueless Ramsey who couldn't find any channel to pass. Historically there has been an unacceptable trend of away goalkeeper's having a field day at the Emirates and it looked like one of those days. But then it's natural that God start to repay us for all the pain that has been caused by Almunia's shite goalkeeping. The first payment arrived when Vorm collected Theo's miscued pass and tried to roll it to one of his players only to hit the heel of a fellow Swansea defender. Arshavin, cheeky little Russian that he is, was at hand to graciously accept the candy and shoot it right back into the goal. I was happy to see the Russian getting his due and hope that it helps him to regain his confidence and enthusiasm playing for Arsenal.

Swansea started the second half better than us, Scott Sinclair especially providing them some spark. Apart from Robin hitting the post with his curling effort, Arsenal couldn't make any notable move. It turned into a scrappy affair and I resorted to praying for Arsenal to finish the game with three points. Robin was substituted for Chamakh who had a good header denied by Vorm. Benayoun, who came on for Arshavin, spent most of his time running around the pitch aimlessly. In the end it was more comfortable than it looked and Arsenal hung to a much needed win.


Formation: What looked like 4-5-1 was a more malleable formation. Gibbs and Sagna were allowed to run as fullbacks which helped Theo and Arshavin to play more directly towards the goal. Gervinho would have caused havoc against Swansea and was missed in our attack. Arteta was disappointing with his positioning in the second half when he played too far ahead and Ramsey was made to do most of the passing. It's still early days for him and surely he will improve over the course of the season.

Defence: Thank God for Chesney. Since the start of this season, the merits of a world class goalkeeper have become quite evident. Chesney has provided a solid base for our defence which neither Fabianski nor Almunia could provide during their term as Numero Uno. Koscielny had a fantastic game at the back and appeared to possess all the qualities of an Arsenal legend. He has climbed a hill in his learning after the Carling Cup debacle and looks a matured player. Per had a patchy game but it is understandable being it was his debut. There is some way to go before he comes to term with the physicality of the English league. Gibbs appeared more confident and top quality when going forward but he is still unclear of his positioning while defending. He made some good sliding tackles and had a decent game but it's expected better from him. If he can manage to remain fit, he will face stiff competition from Santos.

Funny takeaway

Swansea player, Stephen Dobbie (14)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arsenal, Arsenal All the Way

When your critics poke you with little stick, it's always good to give them back in the nuts. Arsenal just did that last evening. Lately, Arsene and Arsenal have been slagged off in all corners of the media. The haters, up to some extent, have been successful in turning Gooners against their club. But the manner of our win against Udinese, and the eventual $$$ league qualification has reunited the fans again. Our traveling contingent of supporters had a night to remember at Stadio Fruili and I'm sure the story will be passed onto the forthcoming generations of Gooners.

For a big club like ours, there really shouldn't be such joy and jubilation over a measly qualification match for Champion's League. After all we have been playing in the competition for last 14 years. When Arsene was asked about the importance of last night's game, he said that it was not crucial. Obviously the man knows. But we have been struck by so much bad luck that even the most optimistic Gooners had their apprehensions going into the game. But Arsenal delivered and did that under some testing conditions. With Gibbs injured and Traore not fit enough to start, Sagna was drafted in the LB position and Jenkinson started on the right. Djourou recovered from his injuries to play alongside Vermaelen. As we're one goal up after the first leg, it made sense for Arsene to start with Frimpong and Song in the midfield to provide cushion for Ramsey. With Gerinvho and Walcott on the wings and Robin at the front, we had enough quality on the pitch to get past Udinese.

We were the better side for the first 20 minutes and created some good chances with Gervinho. Theo should have done better when he had an opportunity in front of an open goal but mysteriously chose to hit straight at the goalkeeper. Robin struck on the rebound but it was again stopped by Udinese' goalie who had a pretty good game which is not uncommon for any GK. Udinese gradually found rhythm and attacked our goal with more purpose. In the tail end of the first half the diminutive striker Di Natale, who was denied earlier by the goalpost, scored with a header. Song was caught up ahead on the pitch and one long pass from the centerline found Pinzi on the edge of our box who dinked the ball for Di Natale to beat Chesney at his near post. Udinese's buildup of the goal was so swift that our players were caught out of position. After that goal, all those half chances missed by Arsenal started to look costly.

I was not sure which Arsenal will turn up in the second half and going by our recent performances, I thought that a brooding set of 11 bodies would take on the pitch. But it was the other way round. Arsene substituted Frimpong for Rosicky and that had an instant impact on the game. We passed the ball more fluidly and our pace looked menacing. Gervinho made a glorious run on the left of Udinese goal. He cut outside his marker close to the goal-line and cut back a ball through the legs of three Udinese defenders for Van Persie to tuck the ball neatly in the back of the net. But the match was far from over when Vermaelen looked to have hit on the hand from an Udinese corner. Di Natale took to the spot but was denied a goal by a wonderful save from Chesney. That was a pivotal moment in the tie and it sucked the life out of Udinese. Shortly thereafter, Sagna counter-attacked and laid the ball in the path of surging Walcott who ran past his marker and beat Udinese goalie at the near post. It was a job well done by our No. 14 especially when he had missed a sitter in the first half. Udinese never seemed to recover from the sucker punch and for the last 10 minutes one could clearly hear Arsenal fans chanting at Stadio Fruili.

It was one of the biggest nights in the history of the club. After the departure of Cesc and Nasri, we needed a real positive sign and the win was the sign. But the shortcomings in our performance didn't go unnoticed. It looks like Djourou hasn't recovered in form post the defeat at Bolton during the last season. We need a better centerback who can share the work load with Vermalen and Koscielny. One real area of concern is the left back position. Almost all of Udinese attacks in the first half came through that wing. If Arsene wants to play Russian roulette with Gibbs' and Traore's minutes on the pitch, then we'll be made to pay dearly for it. As I've said many times before, Ramsey has a very long way to go before he's capable to replace Cesc. But then it's harsh to expect a player who has had a different training than Cesc to play tiki taka like him. I feel that Jack is a better candidate for that role as he's a better learner of the game than Ramsey. Whatever be the case, we need to replace Cesc before the transfer window shuts on us. We need more depth in our squad because the mid-season work load could be overwhelming for the current bunch. I don't hope Arsene to make any signing before the last day of the window but I'm sure there will be additions to the squad. Until then, Up the ARSE!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Curious Case of Unlucky Arsenal

The misery at the Emirates has reached such levels that even my non-football watching friends know that something is wrong with Arsenal. Media has tried really hard to portray that among the big clubs in Premier League, we're the worst. During the game yesterday, some bloody commentator even said that Arsene's last big signing was Jose Antonio Reyes, fricking looney forgetting our Russian. But if we look at the football which was played against Liverpool for the first 70 minutes, Arsenal didn't do bad at all. Liverpool had Carroll, Henderson and Charlie Adam, their latest stellar signings, starting for them. But throughout the ponytailed gobshite's stay on the pitch Vermaelen had him in his pocket . Our vice-captain didn't allow him a single header and won every tackle. Pool's other two starlets in the midfield looked totally out of their depth and didn't have much impact on the game. It was pretty obvious that Charlie Adam is slower than an obese midget, that potato, I just hate him.

Coming back to Arsenal, it was surprising to see Nasri start for us. Only Arsene knows how he has allowed things to come to this. Even though Nasri was rattled after the chants against him at Newcastle, he put in a good shift. He made few good runs and was one of our better players in the midfield, sadly the other one couldn't complete the game. I missed Frimpong's first yellow as I was shifting myself from a dodgy stream to the telly but I know that it was needless. Until his second yellow, he had a good game, won the ball many times only to be squandered later by his teammates. He's a physical player who likes to make tackles and if he wants to finish games in the future, he will have to control his reckless aggression. I think Theo has his heart set on the role once performed by the former No. 14. But he looked short of ideas yesterday and his crosses were baffling. I'm sure Arsene will have a word or two with him after his performance. Adding to our midfield woes, Arshavin had a game to forget. Although he had had many such games last season but an improved performance was expected of him this time. He couldn't thread a single pass and continuously lost possession. Only one time when he managed to pass the ball, Robin shot tamely at it. With Ramsey struggling in the role of our midfield conductor, it was ensured that there's no supply to Robin who wandered all over the pitch just to get the ball to his feet.

After the game, I was not worried about the result. It could have been much worse if SZCZ was not in the goal. He made some amazing saves and in one-on-one situations, I think he's among the best in the league. Although, one could argue that he played a part in Liverpool's second goal by coming off his line too early but in a game already lost due to bad decisions, an error in judgement will only become a part of his learning. In the heavy downpour, Arsene cut a worrisome figure. He has had a difficult summer and if he stalls on further action, it will be a very long season for him and everyone attached to the club. One thing that struck me the most is the number of injuries we have had for past two seasons and this season doesn't seem to be any different. There has to be something fundamentally wrong because this situation couldn't be all due to bad luck. Our already thin squad is made to look thinner because of regular injuries. We should reanalyze our training approach, players' physical regimes and their diet because the continuous flow of crocked players to our infirmary is getting completely out of hand.

Defeat against Liverpool can become a stepping stone for the new season. There were positive takeaways like Vermaelen's supremacy in air and his marshaling skills during set-pieces, Frimpong's hunger for ball-winning tackles in the midfield, Chesney's growing aura between the poles. But the lack of quality and creativity in our midfield was apparent. Cesc's departure has created a void in that department which will not be helped by Nasri's acrimonious adieu. Arsene need to plug that hole or we will continue to struggle to score goals. Also required are a genuinely fit leftback and a good back-up for centerback position. As Le Boss mentioned, that we will have to trust his judgement and we do trust him, but it will be interesting to see if he trusts our demands or not.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Death of tippy tappy, advent of a new Arsenal?

Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal, all my life singing...I can't get this awesome Arsenal anthem out of my head. Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal...

Ok, so last night was not that bad. Udinese is a decent side with a good last season in Serie A and beating them 1-0 is definitely a better result than beating Swansea 4-0 (cue Nasriism). We were missing our red hot striker Robin due to "that" ludicrous card but Theo put in a good shift. Gervinho once again displayed why he will be the Premier League signing of the season. I understand that he is currently playing on a different frequency than his teammates but once he gets it right, the trap door will be open and the hounds will be released, hounds with massive forehead. We didn't particularly dominated the possession because there were too many misplaced passes and giveaways from Song and Rosicky. But on the other hand, Ramsey was impressive albeit missed the consistency. You can't just create one or two good chances in a game and sit back, one has to try continuously to pry open the defence. Aaron is a hardworking and a down to earth bloke who is still learning the trade, I'm sure he will be a whole lot better with few more games as the artist-in-charge in the midfield. Overall our defence was solid and barring one or two last ditch tackles, there were no hairy situations.

I have always been consistent with my opinion on Gibbs and it was once again on display that he is not a Premier League level player. A player can possess great talent and sublime skills but if his body can't take the rigor of top level competitive football than he's not cut out for it. I really can't understand how can Arsene jeopardize our team given the knowledge of Gibbs' fragile physique. He has hardly ever played 3 complete games in a row and asking him to be our first choice left-back will put more pressure on him and the team. He could be a good squad player but with his level of fitness, it will be difficult for him to fill in as our first choice. A complete mirror image of him is Bacary Sagna. The man is made of metal. He goes in for tough tackles much more than Gibbs and plays full 90 minutes in every fixture. Either Arsenal staff has missed a trick in building up Gibbs strength or he's not cut out for it. The LB problem is crying out loud to be solved but ignoring it will put unnecessary pressure on other players as we saw last evening when Jenkinson was in the a soup couple of times.

After the game I was not all doom and gloom, in fact I was happy with our performance. I liked the way how Vermaelen calmed the nerves in the last 10 minutes, when we are the most susceptible to committing outlandish mistakes, if only he had been there last season. Also Fabianski can kiss his No.1 dreams goodbye because last evening, SZCZ was a rockstar between the poles. He seem to have matured after the Carling Cup drama and looks confident and calm. As Cesc is gone and there's no imminent replacement in sight, I somehow get the feeling that the days of tippy tappy are over. Arsenal this season could be about defending solidly, fighting in the midfield and counter attacking with blistering pace. If the future beholds that scenario, then I can't wait to see Arsene's new creation to perform in it's full glory.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Goodbye Cesc

Our best player is gone. He is gone and he will never come back (fricking £130million buyout clause, you're shitting me Barca). His departure has left a creative void in our team which will be difficult to fill for anyone currently present in the squad. Some believe that Aaron Ramsey will be the next chief artist in our midfield but I seriously doubt his abilities. Cesc had a different football upbringing and with his super skills, he could only be emulated but not matched.

I have been bitter with Cesc for his behavior towards Arsene and Arsenal. But now when you think about it with a calm head, the protracted transfer saga looks justifiable. He has always wanted to go back to Barcelona and play for his hometown club. And with no silverware with Arsenal that attraction became an obsession. When Cesc was made the captain, he was criticized for not being 'English' enough on the pitch. Whenever he had an off day, the team was slagged off for being only about the possession and no result. He was the captain and the sole provider of the creative spark in our team. Mind you, Arshavin also has a mighty stat for the assists but there was too much pressure on Cesc. That pressure resulted in niggling injuries and a dodgy hamstring. So I think that he had had enough with us and just wanted a leave. If Nasri had signed a new contract with us early in the second half of the season, things would have been different. But his desire or should I say greed to play for a different club, gave Cesc another reason to move on with his career too.

Cesc is a special player and he will go on to have a great career with Barca. The only way he will not finish his career at that whore of a club is if GBP devalues to peso level and some Chinese club nicks him off those cheating Catalans. I will live to see that day, some day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A team called Arsenal

Beating champion-elect Manchester United one day, turning over against mid-table Stoke City on the other, that's my team Arsenal. This team has had so many off days this season, that an abysmal performance has started to look normal. After that calamitous defeat in the Cup final, we haven't been able to pick ourselves up. The niggling injuries have come back and we could hardly maintain the momentum of an occasional good game.

Yesterday against Stoke, we delivered probably our worst performance of the season. The match started in a familiar fashion with Arsenal dominating the possession in first 10 minutes but hardly created anything. We have started strongly every single game this season and just imagine if we could have actually made use of it, sigh! But as usual, we were lacking in the final third of the pitch, where it matters the most. On the left, Arshavin was the culprit of losing the ball far too many times and with Gibbs in place of Clichy, it was a cakewalk for Pennant. Stoke was playing according to a specific plan and a part of it was to make Arsenal players look bad in their challenges. Gibbs was getting caught up ahead of the pitch and with Arshavin not tracking back, Pennant was a continuous threat. Due to some unscrupulous defending, Arshavin gave away a cheap free kick right next to the corner flag. Pennant's delivery was nothing exceptional but our defense managed to turn it into a pearler. Djourou was supposedly marking Jones and was facing him. I don't know how he thought he could run for the ball from that position. As Pennant crossed the ball, Djourou lost his footing and the ball just hit the unmarked Jones and dawdled in. Everyone knows that we're crap at defending set-pieces but nobody knew that we're this crap.

What ensued thereafter, it was pretty clear that Arsenal just didn't want it. We were frivolous in the midfield and there was no sense of urgency or diligence from the players. Ramsey who had a good game against Manure was seemingly out of this depth in this one. I hate to say it but he was visibly affected playing at that horrible stadium and in front of their booing audience. With our players going forward, he made an uncharacteristic mistake when, I don't know how, he managed to scoop the ball in the path of Pennant. With Koscielny covering Jones, Djourou should have just gone on to close him. But his lackadaisical approach provided Pennant the space and time to shoot and the deflected shot flew past our hapless goalkeeper for Stoke's second. The effort was not undeserving but it was a nothing strike, one which should have been blocked by our defender.

Item that should have been thrown inside dressing room at HT

Possible item which was actually thrown

The second half brought a 4-3-3 approach with Bendtner and  Chamakh replacing Arshavin and Ramsey. As a result our ball play improved but there were still no clear cut scoring opportunities. Bendtner tried to shoot from outside the box but Begovic had it covered. Chamakh scoffed a good chance and Van Persie was denied by some last ditch defending. Apart from that there was no action until we brought Rosicky in place of Song. Whatever you think of Rosa, but he made an immediate impact when he turned away from his marker and setup Robin. Van Persie still had to turn away from the defender which he did and let go a thunderous low shot with his chocolate leg to give Arsenal hope of leveling the game. But apparently no one was interested in it. In the next minute Djourou's crappy clearance gave back the ball to Walters who kept his cool and slotted past the surging Chesney. It was done and dusted after that, with Arsenal showing no comeback spirit, the final whistle remained a mere formality.

We were average all over the pitch. Theo hardly played any role yesterday and looked out of sorts. In the midfield, Song had a decent game and closely marked Jones at times. Jack was in a fiery mood. His tackles were not at all helped by his agitated demeanor and the crowd of 20,000 cavemen baying for his blood. Pennant made too much of his one good challenge on the ball and the Stoke players, sticking to the plan, tried to make it look a red-cardable offence. It led to a scuffle but eventually both the players got away with yellow. I hope the other Stoke players made a note-to-self that you don't mess with Jack.

In the defense, Gibbs was once again poor. His positional sense could be compared to a headless chicken. I doubt his physical ability as well because he is very slow in coming back to his position. If he wants to start in the Arsenal team, he really has to step up his game. Djourou also had a game to forget. He is playing his first season as our first choice defender and coming back from a long term injury, it's always difficult to perform consistently. He has been massive for us in the games he had played but for the last few (starting with Bolton-away) he has been caught off-guard at times. He was a doubt to start against Stoke but cleared his fitness test before the game. With Shittaci on the bench and Vermaelen just returning from his long-term injury, I'm speculating that Djourou was forced to start this one. He has performed so well for us all this season that the only justification I could see for his faltering performance is fatigue. I'm sure that he will come back stronger and fitter after the summer.

At the end of the day you have to judge our team by their effort and yesterday there was none. Even when we went a goal down, we never forced the issue and didn't come up with the goods. It was as if the players have already made their summer plans and just want to go on a break. It would have been nice to see Arsene make some changes up front but then he never does, well he knows better. The season is now really over for us and I just want the players to have some "decency" to avoid defeat in the remaining two fixtures. Now I'm really not asking much of the team, just be a decent bunch and don't lose. Let's see.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chesney ball woes or not?

I've mentioned in my previous posts about Chesney's poor ball distribution. To investigate this claim I've included the chalkboards of his ball distribution from the game against Manure at the Emirates.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Chesney attempted almost same number of passes as Van der Saar but successfully completed them at a lower rate than his adversary. The possible reason for the relative low success rate is his straight long passes which are rarely claimed by RvP and Van der Saar's higher number of short passes. It's a foregone conclusion that we lack the aerial prowess but like United we should be closing down the short forward passes from the GK. It's a pity that Chesney has been made to look inferior in this statistic by the lack of industry from our outfield players. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rambo II and the comeback of Arsenal's self-belief

Arsenal 1 - 0 Manchester United
Ramsey 56

Finally, Arsene has outwitted Sir Alex tactically. Cesc was ruled out of the game because of a possible dead-leg-kind-a situation which brought Aaron Ramsey in the midfield. In the first 20 minutes it was a typical Arsenal performance, lots of possession and industry without any shots on goal. But the intensity was high and we looked like a wounded lion out to take down his opponent. We have suffered much at the hands of Manure recently and it was heartwarming to see that the team was playing for pride. It made Sir Alex get out of his seat and deliver instructions to his half-brained minions right from the beginning.

Without Cesc, Arsene opted to play Jack and Rambo alternating between the advance and the holding role. It was a refreshing approach which had a huge impact on the game. Arsenal bossed the midfield and went forward at will only to be let down in the final third sometimes by lack of creativity, shooting or a crowded defense. But amidst all this frenzy, Theo crossed peach of a ball with Robin and Vidic going for it in the box. Vidic realizing that he will miss the ball, used his hand to clear and deny Robin from thumping it in the back of the goal. The linesman should have made the easy call of a penalty but somehow chose to ignore the foul. That was probably the only flashing point of the first half but we definitely ended it on a high.

Nasri picked up a knock, from I think Evra, in the first half and the Russian giant started the second in his place. We started the next forty-five very much from where we had left but were once again not able to pry open United's defense. Then Ferguson made a decisive change which eventually changed the course of the game. Probably thinking that our Russian will be slow on the wing, he went for Valencia in place of Anderson. Owing to that tactical change, we found more space in the midfield and the goal came right in the next minute. Robin held up the ball on the right in their box and three of our players charged in for the cut-back, yes, I repeat three players. That left space for Rambo to charge in and score through the defender's legs with the ball kissing the far post. It was a beautiful first time finish from more or less the same position from where Jack has miscued his shot in the first half. The goal clearly rattled Manure's cage and they came at us like hungry racoons.

Commentators expected a typical Arsenal meltdown which has been a regular feature this season but thankfully it never happened. We were solid at the back with Sagna owning Nani and Song keeping Rooney quiet. Another outstanding performance was to come from Shava who tracked by like a hero putting in great defensive tackles. It was a brilliant game for him and he nullified any threat which could have possibly come from average Valencia. I would say Clichy had a good game as well barring that one cock-up where he tried to dribble past a striker, nothing just the usual Clichy-stuff. United didn't particularly create impressive moves but they shot on goal with purpose only for Chesney to make couple of brilliant saves. There were few nervous moments when Shittaci came on for the injured Djourou but others ensured that he doesn't end up pooping the party. Overall we defended as a unit and were solid as a rock. If we had put in such a performance week-in week-out, then the Emirates would have been a better place but then we are Arsenal.

Our 1-0 win over the champion-elect United says a lot about our game yesterday. Cesc's exclusion proved to be a boon and forced Arsene to shift tactically. It brought something new to the table and Sir Alex was outwitted by him. The performance would have restored Ramsey's self-belief and will fuel him to excel in the remaining games. I think we will see a lot of him in our last 3. Arsene couldn't have asked for a better victory and the lads were finally able to deliver. If we win all our next three games anything can happen so keep believing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Oh Mental Strength Where Art Thou

Finally I will accept that we're out of the title hunt. This Arsenal team has forced me to believe that we're not even good enough to finish second in the league. Yesterday away at Bolton, once again we had around 70% possession but still managed to have less shots on target than them foul-playing orcs. Arsenal has conceded most goals from set-pieces in the top flight (56% via @Orbinho) and that's another ugly feather added to our ill-shaped cap of this season.

We started the game brightly, with couple of shots from outside the box and a long chip from Robin to Theo. For a moment I believed that Bolton will be at the receiving end of things but as Arsenal always do it, they proved me wrong. Wojciech made a superb save at our end but Sturridge poked in from the resulting corner. We tried to do something about it but couldn't manage it until the second half when Robin neatly finished with a good cut back from Cesc inside their box.

During the entire second half we had them under the cosh but were not able to create a proper scoring opportunity. Arshavin was subbed in the 70th and won few corners. But we were again incapable of taking any advantage of them. In the end it was "deja vu all over again" when Chesney made a brilliant save but them orcs scored from the resulting corner mainly owing to some poor marking. Djourou had a terrible game at the back, consistent fouls and some horrible decision-making. He has been playing at a good level but yesterday he was someone else, like a deer in front of the headlights who doesn't know whether to go forward or back. Clichy played his normal game, switching off time to time, no tracking back and losing the ball at crucial points in a move. Sagna didn't look fit to me. He is just back from his injury and I believe that he's playing through the pain. For me only Chesney had an excellent game and rest of the team was just par or may be below.

When you look back at our season (which is not over yet), the real positive is the emergence of Jack and Chesney. They duly embody the never-say-die attitude and their energy has been the only solace to the bereaved fans. If only our other players had shown the same courage, we would have been close to winning this title. But mental strength is part of an athlete's talent and not everyone has it. I also follow professional road cycling and one of the top riders Tom Boonen once said in his interview that good riding technique and physical strength are skills but mental strength is a talent. When you have both, you become a winner. Boonen is not my favorite rider but what he said is absolutely true.  It's difficult to have 11 mentally strong players in a team  but if you have few key players who have the self-belief and the hunger to win, they can rally the others and collectively become a dogged unit. Self-belief/mental strength comes from performance and to perform you need self-belief. It's a vicious circle and I don't have a solution for it. One thing has become very clear that this team is not yet capable of winning titles and miss something very important. I couldn't put my finger on it but hope Arsene identifies the problems and rectify them over the summer. After all, Arsene knows.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Once again...

Following up from my last post, I can safely say that our players did come out for the derby as hungry warriors. They showed real intent and passion to win the game and in the first half looked very much like doing that. But once again we let slip a two goal lead and gifted the opposition a point. A game which could have lifted our spirits right up, we let it slip away from us. Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom because we did come back from the Lane with a point in Nasri's male purse.

It was a fast-paced (franatic pace in words of Arsene) football match between two teams who more or less have similar quality players. But as an Arsenal supporter, I will always expect my team to be better than the others. In the 2nd half, it was apparent that our players were tired because of continuous counter-attacking and constant pressing. If you come to think of it, these are professional footballers playing in supposedly the best league in the world employed by one of the top football clubs in the world. They get paid massive sums of money to do their job, that is to play regular competitive football and perform with full intensity. Yet they were unable to deliver the physical performance which was required in the game last evening. As many other bloggers have already pointed out before that physically our team is not the best in the league. They suffer from chronic injuries which have greatly reduced their physical sharpness.

There were also positives to take from the game. Nasri and Fabregas played with passion and desire contradicting the hypothesis of their departure proposed by the British media. These players want to be a part of a successful (i.e. trophy-winning, not 2nd in the league) Arsenal team and that is that. They're not going anywhere and will stay with us the next season and I can bet my left testicle on it. Along with their continued presence next season, I would really like to see some experienced specialist professional coaching our back four. Barring Clichy, we have good defensive players in Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou and Vermalean. I think what we miss is someone who can give them specialist tips and can also help them add steel about their performance. Hopefully these issues will be addressed over the summer and rectified before the next season because once again we look so close but yet so far. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Matter of Pride

Yay, Robin scores and we're out of jail...oh wait, free kick at the edge of our box, booya straight in the wall, oh wait...WTF, pelanty!!! Kuyt scores and we're doomed...nooooooo!

I know that most of the seasoned Gooners were not jumping out of their seats after we scored the penalty in the 98th minute. They were thinking that could we defend the lead for the remaining two minutes and as it turned out, we couldn't. It was a typical performance at the Emirates where we kept most of the ball (68% possession) but were not able to create enough chances to score a field goal. Blackpool was a lesser opposition and with their open play and defensive frailties we were able to penetrate their back four. But Liverpool is a better side and a team which is on the up. In spite of that fact, we were pretty impressive and played most of the game in their half. Diaby (Jack was a little off) was able to keep the ball all the time and we pressed hard in the midfield which didn't allow them to complete their passes accurately.

Where we lacked was in the final third. It's now a familiar pattern and harping more on it will not improve the current predicament of our team. For once I would like to see our players be more direct in front of the goal, something which Bendtner is good at (but then he's bad at keeping the ball...). There was no plan B for us and we always missed that final intricate pass which could have annihilated their defense. I thought Shava would be our savior but by the time he came on, the team was disoriented and had lost the formation. His impressive nippy runs inside the box ended up vaguely.

But the fate had decided something else for us and we were awarded a very late pelanty when Cesc was brought down by orc-looking Spearing. RvP duly scored and it was like a sweet redemption for the team. But then we are Arsenal and we like to complicate things. As soon as the game started we found ourselves defending an edge-of-the-box free kick. It should have been the last action in the game but somehow the referee decided to extend the game. After getting smashed against our defensive wall, the ball was half-cleared in the box and the slightest of touch from Eboue was enough for Lucas to dive. Liverpool was awarded the pelanty which Kuyt converted to nullify the game.

Eboue in happier times (source: BleacherReport)

It would be worthless to blame only Eboue for the mistake and I will blame the entire team. I agree that Eboue lost his concentration for that last minute which costed us the game. But he was not the only one, there were players who should have cleared the ball properly but they didn't. It was once again a collective defensive shamble from us which gifted a point to the opposition. We have come up short defensively umpteenth time this season. It's heart-aching to recall but Spuds, Newcastle, Birmingham games have left a dark botch on my memory. 

I think we should just forget about where we're in the league and where we will finish. Let's just play for the Arsenal pride now. Let's play to show all the suckers out there what we're capable of. Each of our player should now feel like a warrior whose kingdom has been duped away from him and all he has got left is his pride. We should play for our honor and beat those cock-on-the-ball Yids and those uncivilized yokels from Old Trafford. I will now take 2nd, or 3rd or 4th in the league but for once play like the real Arsenal.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cesc We Can!

Currently our team is in rampant form. On the back of three splendid victories, we're still in the mix for 4 titles this season. The win against Ipswich has brought us tantalizingly close to silverware and it looks like an omen of the good times to come. There are more reasons for the supporters to be happy and one of them is the strength, quality and overall balance of our team. Looking around at the others in the league, one could easily deduce that this Arsenal team is the finest of them all. But even if we compare with the teams abroad, only Barcelona and Mourinho's pricks could be rated better.

I couldn't care less for the puke-eating trolls of Jose and due to our upcoming encounter with the DNA-boys, it makes immense sense for me to restrict my focus on them. Barca without doubt is playing some fabulous football this season. They are scoring 3 to 5 goals in every game, against even the decent teams of La Liga. I think their opposition never plays with the mindset of winning the game but rather are happy to minimize the scoreline. Their team is a perfect mixture of home-grown talent and expensive acquisitions and has become the powerhouse of world football. Going into our two-legged affair with them, our team has been branded as the underdogs. The tag suits us, Arsenal is always uncomfortable under the spotlight and prefers to go about their job unnoticed. Many so-called Arsenal supporters whom I happen to know, also believe that our team has no chance of going past against Messi-ers and give the example of last year when Silvestre was one of the CBs. That says it all really.

The situation last year was very different and I believe that our current team can bury the hoodoos and come on top against the Catalans. Although Almunia gave a stellar performance in the first half of the game at the Emirates, he was at fault with his positioning for the Imbrahimovic goal. That goal would remind some of the Belleti goal in the 2006 final, his only goal for them, where Almunia had committed a similar error. But this time, we have two young Poles to start between the sticks. Fabianski's recent solid performances and Szczesny's confident start to his Arsenal career will require the much needed belief in the goalkeeping department. The CB pairing of Vermaelen/Gallas was quite good and I believe that Djourou/Koscielny can also put in a good shift there. 

There has been improvement in our midfield where we now boast of much better balance with Jack and Song putting in the defensive midfield duties, leaving Cesc to surge ahead and play his game. But the major change from last year has been the emergence of Nasri. He has grown in confidence and is playing with more swagger this season. Nasri scored few goals pre-season and has carried over that form and brilliance. He's our top-scorer and also shares the creative burden of Cesc. One can't ignore the growing maturity of Theo who has also given some very good performances. He has been at times faulty with his decision-making in front of the goal but his overall contribution to the team is invaluable. The main reason that makes me believe that we can beat Barca, is the comeback of the father of Shaqueel Van Persie, Robin Van Persie. In the last three games he has shown what he's capable of, destroying teams i.e. scoring goals from difficult chances and lifting the level his team-mates. Despite being tackled heavily, he has looked strong and solid. I think Arsenal medical staff has finally cured him, at least for good few months, and he's now playing without any inhibition and probably the same is true for other players too. 

This season, the approach of our players to the game is different. They're hungrier and stronger than last season. They know that the team has found the correct balance and if they work hard, they can beat any opposition in the world. Barcelona themselves are in top form and this season they're playing Messi slightly deeper which allows Pedro and Villa to also score few goals. I reckon it will be a close encounter between the two practitioners of beautiful football and Arsenal will eventually come on top.

Cesc we can!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

BOOM BOOM Persie and shooting issues

Once again, it was a good performance from the lads. They're on a good run and have found some consistency in their game. If we can keep this up, the silverware drought will definitely end this season.

Last evening we made a positive start to the game but after initial brilliance the players started to get restless. We put good pressure on Wigan but they were resolute in defense. Not to mention, their goalkeeper, Al Habsi who was caught in a stellar form. It's not unusual for opposition goalkeepers to have memorable evening against Arsenal and it was one of those days. After saving shots from Van Persie and Nasri, he was beginning to get on our team's nerves. But soon Wigan's defense was breached by an inch perfect through ball from Song, which Van Persie neatly thumped for our first goal. After the first goal it looked like Arsenal will run riot but Al Habsi kept his team in the game till half time.

We made a slow start in the second half but gradually started to look our normal self. Van Persie scored his second from a brilliant running volley on a long Fabregas pass. It was a great finish and once again it reminded us of his excellent quality. I don't think many strikers in the world could get to the end of that ball and finish like that. The vision from Fabregas was brilliant and the finish was even better. With these two going hot, Wigan was pinned back in their half and was made to work hard. Amidst this rampage, Wigan players constantly tried to contain Fabregas and as a result our captain was kicked around the park. But he's no pushover and he showed that when he cheekily brought down Gary Caldwell. The defender was furious with Cesc, more so because they were losing the game to a brilliant Arsenal side. Inevitable soon happened and Caldwell was shown red card when he brought down Fabregas inside their box. Alex Song put a brilliant through ball which pierced Wigan's defense and found Fabregas at it's end. His first touch took the ball away from the onrushing Al Habsi but before he could shoot, he was bundled over by lunging Caldwell. It was a clear penalty and a clear red card, no arguments sir.

With Van Persie never to have scored a hat-trick for Arsenal this was a perfect opportunity but the Dutch sent the ball in orbit. And soon after when he struck the left upright, it looked like the hat-trick will elude him once more. But the cosmos has it own way and our no. 10 was rewarded for his hard work. Theo Walcott nicely held up the ball in front of Wigan's goal and rolled it along in the path of approaching Van Persie who scored from a very tight angle. That goal capped a fine night for Arsenal and a wonderful individual performance from our Dutch talisman. It was a brilliant night for him and equally brilliant for us who have been dying to see him work his trade for our team. Curiously, the cameraman didn't feel so and was busy showing stupid David Beckham and his son ignoring the fact that Van Persies were also in the house.

Anyhoo, we're Arsenal and we never really worry about the spotlight. We like to play our football and win trophies...

Apart from all the positives from last evening, there are still two departments where the team can really improve. We had too many shots on goal but many of them were shot too close to the goalkeeper. If we had been more clinical in our shooting, we would have definitely ratcheted up a cricket score. It will sound quite odd but the other department is our lack of shooting. Last night in many one-on-ones our players opted to square the ball where they could have comfortably scored. We know that Arsene likes team-play but even he was frustrated when Theo laid the pass for Fabregas where he could easily have scored the goal from various different angles.

I'm sure Arsene will have a word with them and the issue will be worked out in the training. And until we're winning these things will not matter. It is only against the top sides, someone like let's say Barcelona, where a small opportunity can make a large difference. When it comes, we need to grab it with both hands and put the game to bed.

Next we play the return leg of Carling Cup and I hope that our team come out with their surf-boards and ride this nice winning wave we are on.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Van Persie Gang and the others

Against West Ham United, "that was the real Arsenal" claims Theo Walcott. It was a splendid performance from our team, with Van Persie getting his sharpness back and as a result we looked more threatening in the final third. Theo also chipped in with the scoring and secured a penalty which Van Persie neatly buried at the back of the goal. Overall it was also a good midfield performance which made life easier for us. The combination of Wilshere and Song is maturing in their understanding and it gives a perfect cover to Cesc who can pull the strings upfront.

The star of the match was Robin who now looks very much like his normal self. He's started to shoot from outside the box, score swivel-and-turn goals and create chances for his team-mates. With a fit Van Persie, no doubt the players look more confident with their attacking. If he manages to stay like this for the rest of the season, Arsenal will be like a heavy-weight boxer going for the KO.

Although with all the positives upfront, the major worry lies at the back of the lineup. In the West Ham game we saw what could happen if you play the same CB in every single game. Johan Djourou has been a rock at the heart of our defense and has given tremendous individual performances over the last few games. But in the last match, he looked jaded and made couple of errors. His errors were made to look more serious because of the irresponsible behavior of Eboue. Djourou has been made to work harder than normal because  in the last three matches which Sagna has missed, he has also performed the duty of a right-back. This makes it a two-fold problem, neither we have a good cover for Bac nor we have another good CB.

Looking at the latter, it's understandable that with Vermaelen and Squillaci out injured we look a little short in the CB department but still except for Vermaelen we don't really boast of a world-class CB. DJ looks like one in the making but his game is still maturing. With Verminator undergoing a surgery, Arsene calls it "a procedure, exactly a procedure", I don't see him playing any part of the remaining season. It will be too ambitious and foolish to count on his services in our title challenge. The logical step will be to buy a good world-class CB but everyone knows that Arsenal will find none during the winter shopping. But if Arsene is reluctant to buy someone, he should give a chance to Miquel to show his mettle in a crunch match and prepare him for bigger things. Rafael though being a young prick and horrible player, has done reasonably well for Man United and I believe that Miquel can also become a new young star. It will sound stupid but I guess he will start against Leeds tomorrow.

Right now we're going strong in four competitions and it is necessary to keep the players fit and hungry for win. The key for Arsenal will be the fitness of Theo Van Nasregas and the quality of the center-back pairing. You put in a hungry-to-win Russian assassin and you get a Barca thrashing team right there.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Letter from Iwo Jima

"West Ham lie at the bottom of the league table, we will just turn up and win the game, simple. We've done that against Leeds, beat them 4-0 and Ipswich, we hammered them 10-1. It will be a trivial task to repeat that performance." 

No, please stop thinking like that Arsenal! This complacency has costed you...well extra matches but unbearable pain to us. There are people who pay and travel to watch you play and there are people, like me who remain awake at ridiculous hours to witness the lovely footie,  which you're supposed to play. The last week has been difficult to both sets of supporters and the results are unfair given the effort we put to watch our team. Everyone of us is sad, some have stopped eating, some have stopped talking to Mancs friends, some have stopped shaving and some have been weeping for days. The misery is widespread and it just can't be captured in words.

But for a moment forget about us. The question I want to ask is that as a team do you like to lose? I guess no, but then why doesn't it look like it when you play. Why do as supporters we feel that some of the guys don't put the required effort. I will not take names but Arshavin and Bendtner are good for a start. We understand that none of them are playing in their favorite position but the desire to win/succeed transcends all that displeasure. Nick had earlier claimed that he should start the games for Arsenal but looking at his last two performances we certainly don't agree with him. He has been sub-par even by his standards.

And what can we say about Andrei. His performance graph has gone down like an inverse exponential curve. He was magnificent when had newly arrived but now looks completely disinterested. What's the matter with him? If he's not happy he should talk to Arsene, he may not know so please somebody tell him. As supporters we will be very happy if he can be his normal self again and play like the Arshavin who used to destroy teams with his precise shooting and crisp passing. Ohh how I would love it...

But the problem we now face is deeper, it's not about one or two players, it's about the team as a whole. Against Ipswich you guys were supposed to maraud them. But what we witnessed was more of an army running on donkeys trying to run down a herd of elephants. You guys were slow and ugly to watch. It was as if nobody wanted to take charge of the performance, take the game by the scruff of the neck and win it. You're going about it quite aimlessly and at the end, deservedly lost. I'm not sure whether it hurt you but it certainly did a lot of damage to us. We've been trying to fathom the reason for these shambolic performances and figuring out the possible mental block but are unable to lay our finger on one.

There could be many plausible justifications and explanations for this Jackyll and Hyde attitude but none of them would appease us. What we would love to watch is you guys playing in those red and whites and destroying the opposition as they come. We would love you to do some soul-searching and recall the belief that we showed against Chelsea. And once you find it, keep it as it will be needed in the cup ties too. Don't forget that we're very close to winning a silverware, no matter how small it is. It could very well be our stepping stone to bigger things in football. If not for anything else, at least play for that glory.

1. I'm not writing this from Iwo Jima. 
2. Ipswich score, courtesy Sian.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To win or not to win

Arsenal take on Ipswich Town tonight at Portman Road. Ipswich were recently demolished by Chelsea 7-0 in the third round of FA cup which gives you a fair indicator of their quality. The only noteworthy opponent they have beaten during their runup to the Carling Cup semi-final is West Bromwich Albion, by a goal which was scored from the spot. I happened to watch their championship defeat against Nottingham Forest and frankly they were abysmal in that game. Apart from their striker Connor Wickham, no one else looked lively.

But we're Arsenal and on our off day we can make shite teams look great. We managed to do this against Wigan at DW and Newcastle at home. The last time we met Ipswich it was at Highbury and we came out 2-0 winners. I'm sure that Ipswich's recent and past performance will give our team the required belief but it may also be sufficient to demotivate them to put any hard work tonight. As we'd seen and observed that you can't just turn up and win a football game be it at any level. Sports is always about putting the hard work and if you have quality to accompany with that you will, on an average, come out as the winner.

There's no dearth of quality in our squad but what's missing sometimes is the hard work and the desire to win. The team which started against Leeds in our FA cup tie possessed seasoned internationals but still required Theo and Cesc to come on and get them out of jail. Ipswich must have noticed our weak performance and with their new manager, they will fancy their chances. It will be a long shot and they will have to come up with a stellar performance but it's possible. What is required of us is to be wary of the threat and come up with the goods.

I suspect that Le Boss will start with almost the same team which started against Leeds. Song looked knackered so Wilshere will slot in his position and Rosicky will make way for the "real" captain. At the back, Djourou will be given a breather before the league game and will be replaced by Koscielny. Squillaci being down and out looks like an opportunity for Ignasi Miquel to make his debut for the first team. The possible line-up will look like Szczesney - Eboue - Koscielny - Miquel - Gibbs - Denilson - Wilshere - Fabregas - Arshavin - Bendtner - Chamakh.

On paper, our back four looks the weakest possible combination but given Ipswich's quality, they will do just fine if they stick to the basics. I will be burning the midnight oil to watch this game, so please make me happy, come on you Gooners!