Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Kingdom of Joy: Henry is back

Arsenal suffered a disappointing loss in the dying minutes of the match in their last game at Craven Cottage. Our team lacked the cutting edge and a paid a heavy price for their Christmas exertions. With the dearth of goals and lack of creativity in the midfield, Arsenal was down but not out. We're buoyed by the imminent return of the King, Thierry Henry. After a lot of  yo-yoing, Titi's loan deal was completed in a typical Arsenal fashion. Most importantly, Arsene had ensured that his "best" son was eligible to start against Leeds United for a 3rd round FA cup tie.

Before the game, the excitement was palpable. There was abnormal Twitter activity and every Gooner wanted Titi to make a winning return and begin another glorious chapter in Arsenal's history. He started on the bench and for once I hoped that we don't leave the job for him. But it was as if written in the script. Arsenal produced a dominant midfield performance albeit with few half chances. Leeds defended deep and were happy to take the tie to Elland Road. Our players huffed and puffed, one got injured  but to no avail. It was as if the stars were aligning for the King to make his comeback in the most grand manner. Only 20 minutes left in the game, Arsene introduced Titi. When he came on the pitch, Titi looked very focused and determined to not let his comeback game become a dour affair. After 10 minutes, Titi scored with the side of his foot beating the keeper and curl the ball at the far post. It was a classic Thierry Henry goal and it led to celebrations at the Emirates which I've never witnessed before (not even when we beat Barca). It was a historic moment which will add to the legend of our new stadium. Titi was buzzing with adrenaline after the goal and the whole Goonerverse was chanting the name of one and only Thierry Henry.

It was one of the moments I will never forget in my life, it was something very special. The goal shows that Titi's still got that touch in him and Arsene was not wrong to sign him up for a short-term deal while he searches for a long-term solution. In his post-match interview, Titi appreciated the performance of young gunners Yennaris and Miquel who put a decent shift last night. He also mentioned about behind-the-doors Arsenal legends Tony Colbert and Paul Johnson, people who make the backbone of this glorious club. Last evening's result and the manner of the win will lift the morale of the team and strengthen our self-belief. With Gervinho away at ACN, next few run of matches along side Thierry could possibly do wonders for Arshavin.

It was one heluva night for me where I could manage only for 4 hours of sleep but it was worth it. I witnessed something magical, something which only happens in the movies. I had witnessed the Return of the King. We love you Titi and we welcome you back.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Arsenal slips at Craven Cottage, waits for the King's return

Fulham (Sidwell 85', Zamora 90') 2-1 Arsenal (Koscielny 25')

After signing off 2011 in winning style, it was time for Arsenal to begin 2012 in the most terrible way. We traveled to Craven Cottage yesterday looking for 3 sweet points only to be punched in the nuts in the dying minutes of the game. It should be noted that Arsenal had a rest of only one full day after a hard fought victory at the Emirates against a resolute QPR side. But premier league table is not very forgiving especially when it comes to the Arsenal. Our second game in 3 days meant our starting lineup was already jaded from their NYE efforts. What it lead to was a match of two halves, one which showed promise and spirit and the other where we had our back against the wall.

Despite the recent shortage of fit fullbacks, we were able to field a reasonable eleven who on paper were good enough to claim at least one away point. We hit the ground running immediately and Gervinho was presented with an opportunity at the edge of Fulham box in the first minute. Our Ivorian roadrunner had ample time to aim his shot but his strike was wayward and half-hearted. It frustrates me to see how many half chances we miss, an area where we really need to work on. It was not a clear cut goal scoring opportunity but Gervinho should have at least tested the keeper. Fulham fielded an attacking team and tried to score on counter attack. But misdirected crosses and slow pace meant they never provided a real threat to Chesney. We settled well in the game and had our first real chance when Gervinho made his typical run at Senderos. The former Arsenal defender was beaten by Gerv's trickery and bungled him over in the box. In any other league or for any other team in the premier league, it would have been a penalty. But Lee Probert, who I've never liked because he's average, once again showed why I don't like him. An incident which was a stonewalled penalty was ignored by the referee and it left Arsene fuming on the sideline. We were robbed once again of a penalty in last three games. Ramsey was our creative midfielder last evening and he didn't disappoint with his distribution. He could improve the accuracy of his passes but he showed real desire to make an impact in the game.On one of his deflected cross, Koscielny found himself in the Fulham box. The resultant header saw Frenchman scored his first goal in 2012 and his fourth goal for Arsenal. Fulham looked to equalize immediately but Koscielny made some great interceptions and one-on-one challenges which left Zamora look like some stupid muck. As the first half tailed off, Fulham grew in the game and looked to create chances through Bryan Ruiz. He almost scored after a mazy run in our box but Song made a superb sliding tackle to nip the ball off his feet. We finished the first half one goal up but the late Fulham surge meant that it was always going to be difficult to defend the most slender of the leads.

Both the teams who started the game looked completely different in the second half. Fulham attacked with more purpose and looked threatening going forward whereas Arsenal looked knackered and completely off pace. Theo who was anonymous in the first half was once again sloppy in his decision making. At times I wonder what goes on in his funny little brain whenever he gets the ball. As Fulham grew in confidence, Theo's misplaced crosses and wayward shooting only added to the pressure. There was an omen of the impending doom when Chesney came off his line needlessly on a Murphy free kick. He has had a brilliant start to this season and looked flushed after that mistake. As our work rate dropped Dembele and Ruiz grew more and more influential in the midfield. Djourou and Coquelin were made to work very hard by Fulham wingers in the second half. The intense defensive workout got the better of Djourou when he seemed to clutch his thigh, apparently due to a groin strain. He decided to play through the pain but the mild injury definitely slowed his reflexes. It immediately drew a foul out of him when he slammed into a Fulham player from the back. If only our team had an omen reader, he could have heard the alarm bells ringing. All hell eventually broke lose when Per came off the defensive line to make an interception. He was beaten off the ball and Dempsey tried to send Zamora clear who was then slightly held by Djourou. It was a definite yellow card and second for Djourou which meant that we were left with only 10 men.

The already tired players were forced to defend out of their skin and our resistance gave away eventually when Chesney, once again left his line early and flapped Alminia-esquely on a Fulham corner. The loose ball was duly buried in our goal by Sidwell and it only looked a matter of time when we would concede the second. As if to hasten that process, Arsene replaced Ramsey with Squillaci, a player so below par that no other team is willing to sign him. In the dying minutes, Squillaci with his only touch of the game, headed into the path of an unmarked Zamora who duly obliged by scoring past our hapless defense. It was the final blow of the game which brought an end to the miserable evening for Arsenal.

We not only lost the game and slipped to fifth place in the league table, we also lost another fullback which means we will be scraping at the bottom of the pan of our defensive resources, read Squillaci. But then I don't blame the player for being average or below average. It's Arsene's fault who keeps giving him chances to make our life more painful. Squillaci has never impressed with his performances and if we start him in the next game, it could only bring more misery to the team. Coquelin was impressive playing out of position at left back but was at fault for not marking Zamora for Fulham's second goal. Per Mertesacker generally looks convincing but his adventure to leave the defensive line did cost Djourou his second yellow. Per should realize that he's slow in his movements and can't attack the ball as a defender. I'm sure Chesney would be unfazed by his goalkeeping blunder but he needs to learn from the mistakes. The more worrying signs for me is in our attacking department where once again we lacked the cutting edge. Gervinho has been with us now for six months and someone should ask him to work on his shooting. Theo continues to play Jekyll and Hyde. He should also spend less time on the golf course and work on his crosses or soon The Ox will take over his position. Our attack is crying out for help, it needs a messiah. We can't call Dennis but Arsene has called back the King. Let's hope he can bring back the good times to the Arsenal. Over to you Titi.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Arsenal celebrates New Year's Eve with 3 points

It was our last game of 2011, the year where we have endured many heartbreaks with a few highs. But the lows were deeper than the highs were high. 2011 was a bittersweet year for us. We capitulated quite dramatically in the Carling Cup final, Cesc and Nasri left the club acrimoniously, our horrendous start to the season with an 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford are just few incidents which left a bad taste in our mouth in the year 2011. But it was not all doom and gloom in the poo-filled season. There were swift summer signings of experienced internationals: Per, Arteta, Benayoun and our new  Brazilian Santos to plug the holes created by the summer departures. The new guys have now settled well and have formed a good understanding. The team looks solid and oozes mental toughness which bodes well for the second half of the season in 2012.

The recovery after initial poor results was also made easy by Robin's form. He has now gone on to score 35 goals in 2011 which is the second best in an year after Shearer's record of 36 goals in 1996. On Tuesday, Wolves gave us a tough time at the Emirates so winning the game against QPR was very important. We started the game in a circumspect way, trying to find that killer pass. But that killer pass never came in the first half and QPR created better chances. Chesney made couple of crucial saves in the first half which kept us in the game. With the absence of fullbacks, our game was narrow and the wingers were almost anonymous in the first half.

When the game resumed, QPR again looked dangerous and keen on ruining our New Year party. They played with more vigour and were running at us in numbers. But against the run of play, from one of their corner, Ramsey laid a perfect pass for Theo and sent him clear. Theo was chased by a lone QPR defender and should have rounded the keeper or chipped the ball to score. Instead he chose to shoot wide. It was a terrible miss and it shows why Arsene doesn't play him as a central striker. The team looked frustrated and our problems were exacerbated when Vermaelen started limping. He was promptly replaced by Coquelin at left back. The substitution was in fact a blessing in disguise and had an immediate impact on the game. Coquelin was able to make forward moves, overlap with Arshavin and stretch the game. Ramsey also found more space in the midfield and our distribution improved considerably. We started to create more pressure on the QPR defence and it looked like the goal was coming.

Arshavin, who started in place of Gervinho, in a typical Arsenal move, passed the ball for Robin to latch on to. The pace on the ball was just enough, thanks to the hesitation showed by QPR defender, and Robin scored at the near post. It was a beautiful goal one which will help Arshavin to exorcise the ghost of his past performances. I hope he can find back his confidence and rhythm because when he's in the groove, he's ruthless (ask any Pool fan). Theo was subsequently replaced by Gervinho who wrecked havoc in QPR's half. There were few missed chances and if Gerv can improve his shooting skills, he could be the next Drogba of premier league or even better because he doesn't dive.

We held on to our one goal lead and leapfrogged Chelsea to finish 2011 sitting fourth in the table. The players would hardly be able to enjoy the victory as they will be on the pitch again on Monday at Craven Cottage. We were not ruthless as Arteta had urged our team to be but we never lost the belief in our ability. The determination of players to win the game was laudable. I'm sure the Gooners who were at the Emirates for the game must have partied all night. Hope 2012 brings better things for Arsenal and with the return of Thierry, it certainly looks to be the case. Wish you a Happy New Year. UTA.