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.