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!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sorry state of boos

I remember sitting in front of my laptop refreshing BBC Live text on 2nd February during the wee hours, checking if Arshavin had been signed by Arsenal or not. It was very clear from our persistence that the deal will go through but I was still worried because he was a marquee player and it's not Arsene's way to sign superstars. The deadline was extended the next day and between some confusion, we finally signed the star we wanted.

We'd seen Andrei play at the Euro 2008 and were very excited because if he could replicate that form for Arsenal, we would become even a bigger threat and a serious title contender. And replicate, he did. He was magnificent for that half season in 2009 and his performance at Anfield was surreal. He scored goals shooting from long range. His shots were unstoppable given the power he generated even without much backlift. After that performance, everyone was sure that we have a player who can create chances out of nothing very much like Bergkamp or Henry.

The next season was not very spectacular in terms of individual performances but his work-rate and link-up play was superb as he was made to play many matches as the lone striker given our injury problems. He never looked to complain and played happily out of position for us. Although I felt that he was bogging down because of lack of playing opportunities in his more favored position just behind the striker where he plays for Russia. But he should have known better because we always had Cesc for that role and I think the growing maturity of Nasri was also a reason for his displeasure.

In this season, we've simply witnessed a whole new Arshavin. He misses the ball too much, misplaces his passes and the first touch is poor. People also point out that he doesn't trackback but as a matter of fact he never did. He's more of a player with a classical football mentality who doesn't accept the philosophy of modern football which says that you defend as a team.

Even with all the negative things pointed out in his performance, he still manages to create goal scoring opportunities and score goals. We've never had major injury issues with Arshavin which is unlike Arsenal because every player in our team has spent considerable time in the treatment room but no sir, not Arshavin. He has been turned into a winger from more of a left-central midfielder but he still performs albeit averagely. Keeping in mind this perspective, I couldn't understand why there's Arshavin bashing during every match, be it on Twitter or on field. Arsenal fans like every other fans in the world, pay to watch the match at their stadium. Like every other fan, they're also passionate for their team but you will rarely find this vitriolic environment elsewhere in the world.

As Arsene mentioned in his backing of Arshavin that he's going through a slump in form and as true supporters we should help him rediscover his form. We should not repeat the crime we committed against Eboue and Bendtner. I believe that if we have any chance of beating Barcelona, it's with this guy at the top of his game. You will not get any magic from starting Theo instead of him, we will need the real Shava on the pitch at Nou Camp.