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"