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It’s not the end of the world, is it?

February 28, 2011

Four years and two days ago, we faced Chelsea in Carling Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, losing 2-1 on a late Drogba goal. That was our first season at the Emirates, and I certainly did not think we would wait four years to reach another cup final. But we did, and today was a golden opportunity to secure the first trophy of the Emirates era. Looking around the blogs the last few days, I could sense confidence, but also apprehension – which I shared.

Yes, we were certainly favored to beat Birmingham City today – but Eck’s side is a team that who made the final on merit and I knew would be there to win the cup, not just make the numbers up.

As it was, Arsene picked the strongest team available at the time – perhaps some would argue with Rosicky starting in Cesc’s place, but I understood Arsene probably wanted the former’s experience, and preferred to move Samir into a more direct support role. Cesc and Theo were clearly big losses to the team, but Birmingham had key absences as well, such as Hleb and Dann.

We lined up as Szczesny, Sagna, JD, Kos, Clichy, Jack, Song, Rosicky, Samir, Robin, and Arshavin.

Our bench consisted of Al, Gibbs, Squil, Eboue, Denilson, Chamakh, and Nik. A squad of eighteen players which, in my opinion, should have been more than enough to overcome the absence of our Captain and Theo.

Yes, Rosicky played poorly, but he was hardly the only one. I expected far, far better from the likes of Song and our central defenders. If Arsene made a mistake and I think there are arguments either way, it was probably in omitting Diaby from the squad. Yes, he was recently injured, but this was hardly a long layoff. He had an excellent performance at Newcastle, right up to his ill-advised sending off, so I think he could have played today. He was certainly more in-form than Rosicky. Being that Arsene chose Rosicky and Denilson in the squad, there was no room for Diaby. We have seen too many times that pairing Song and Denilson stifles and inhibits the midfield. So of either Rosicky or Denilson, I would have started Rosicky also.

Before I discuss how the events unfolded, allow me to offer my congratulations to Birmingham City FC. I think they handled the occasion far better than us, played better when it counted, and took their chances – in short, I call them worthy winners of this trophy. They were extremely hard done by the linesman who wrongly called Bowyer offside in the first couple of minutes, but they did not seem to let that bother them and took the lead. And when we equalized and then threatened to overrun them in the latter stages of the second half, they stayed calm, held firm and took their chance when it came. I saw no dirty play, no persistent fouling, and no “anti-football” – rather a team considered heavy underdogs who were not going to sell themselves short. There is a lesson in here for us and our players, if we are willing to heed and learn…

Birmingham started the better of the two sides, keeping the ball and moving it with confidence. Only two minutes in, we had a huge let-off when Bowyer went clean through. Szczesny brought him down as the latter tried to round him, and our keeper should have been sent off with a penalty conceded. But the linesman…err…”referee’s assistant” wrongly flagged Bowyer offside – he was clearly onside, it was not even close.

This was the kind of call that would have led me to put my fist through a wall if it went against us, so I fully understand the Birmingham players and supporters sense of injustice. They controlled the first few minutes, with Gardner producing their first shot – which went wide – shortly after the blown call. Gradually, we began to get into the game, started winning the ball and getting attacking moves going.

Arshavin created our first chance and we really should have scored from it; he forced Foster to save from 12 yards out, but it appeared he could have placed his shot a bit better. We forced a couple of corners, but couldn’t do much with them, although JD did head one over the bar.

With a quarter of an hour complete, Szczesny made his first save, collecting a shot from Fahey. Birmingham enjoyed a short spell of better possession, and worked hard in midfield to deny us space and time on the ball. Just before the half hour mark, Birmingham opened the scoring through a corner. The ball was delivered into our area at pace, Johnson headed it to a completely unmarked Zigic, who easily beat Szczesny to score for the second time against us this season. We had certainly been warned about Zigic’s aerial prowess, so letting him get so free at this set piece was poor, poor play all around.

The goal stung us into action and Robin had a chance to immediately equalize, but sent Sagna’s cross wide of the post. Ashavin then forced Foster to punch his cross away. Kos then went in hard on Bowyer, who needed a bit of treatment.

Just a minute later, Gardner put Zigic through, who could not control the ball, allowing Szczesny to smother. We should have been 2-0 down at that point. Birmingham kept the pressure on, with JD blocking Larsson’s low shot. Kos brought Bowyer down with a late challenge and was rightly booked this time.

With our side in disarray and looking certain to fall further behind, we conjured up the equalizer. Out of nowhere, Jack rattled Foster’s crossbar with a powerful shot from the edge of the area. The ball broke for Arshavin, who crossed it back into the area, where Robin converted a brilliant volley to bring us level. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee colliding – accidentally – Johnson in the move leading to the equalizer. Robin was able to continue after a short spell of treatment, and Larsson was next into the book for complaining about a free kick to Arsenal. The 45 minutes ended with Bowyer needing more treatment – there was no bad challenge on this occasion.

Right at the end of the four stoppage minutes, Samir almost scored with a swerving drive that forced Foster into a difficult save.

So we went into the break level after having been second best for much of the half. We did finish stronger and I was hoping that would give us the momentum and confidence to push on and take control of this match. As expected, no changes were made at the break.

We started the second half much better than the first, keeping the ball and creating a couple of chances. Rosicky shot wide after good work from Sagna and we forced an early corner that we couldn’t convert. Clichy became the second Arsenal player booked after bringing Fahey down, and Birmingham won a corner from the free kick, but couldn’t convert.

Just before the hour mark, they almost went ahead as Fahey struck the post from the just inside the area. We traded corners and free kicks with Birmingham for a short spell, with neither side creating any clear-cut chances. Twenty minutes from time, an injured Robin was withdrawn for Bendtner .

We then applied a sustained spell of pressure, Samir forcing Foster into a smart save, and drilling a shot off the Birmingham goalkeeper’s face from a quick break. Nik then got into the act working Foster with a strong effort from the left flank. Arsene made his second change with Chamakh replacing Arshavin.

We continued to dominate, and Samir brought the best out of Foster with another fine effort. At this point, it appeared that there would only be one winner, as we dominated the ball and were creating all the chances. Birmingham continued to hold out, and with five minutes of normal time left, Eck brought Martins on for Fahey.

With two minutes to go, Rosicky had the chance to shoot from the edge of the area, but opted for a pass to no one and what might have been a chance evaporated.

Just a few seconds later, disaster struck in our area. Szczesny and Kos both hesitated on a nothing ball into our box, with neither taking charge to clear it. It was served up to Martins on a plate, and he duly tapped it into our goal. Our young keeper and defender will be pilloried for this, but I have seen plenty of ‘keepers/defenders do similar – the difference is that on this occasion, the stakes were huge when it happened.

While the manner of the goal was hugely disappointing, Birmingham still needed to put the ball in to the net. If the positions had been reversed and we profited from a similar defensive mistake, would we give the goal back?

As painful as it was to see this moment unfold, I cannot begrudge Birmingham the goal in any way – they did what they had to do. We had four minutes of stoppage time – Birmingham even had a couple of players booked in that spell – but we were closer to going 3-1 down with Szczesny saving after Martins looked like he might have been through, than we were to equalizing again.

The final whistle went, Birmingham celebrated their cup win, and we reflected on another missed opportunity.

All I want now is for our players to come out for the next and subsequent matches determined to put this right. We lost today, the cup is headed to St Andrews – it’s done, and there is nothing we can do about it.

The big unknown will be how our players react – they were clearly shattered at the end. Previous seasons have shown our sides to be unable to shake off devastating defeats, leading to losing runs…

Our annual injury bug is belatedly hitting, with the news that Robin may be on the sidelines for a while again – so the task will be that much harder. But what choice do we have? All is not lost – we are still in three competitions and still have a chance of winning all of them. I will concede that looked highly unlikely before today, and looks even less likely now, but our players should at least give it a go.

It starts on Wednesday, with the FA Cup replay against Leyton Orient. Barry Hearn has had plenty to say – both about our side and manager – since last Sunday’s tie. How about we stuff them and shut him up? How about we take the pitch wanting to make someone pay for what happened yesterday?

I cannot remember the last time we seemed to play with an edge, where we wanted to go out and absolutely pulverize someone – and make teams afraid of us. I would not make wholesale changes for this match, either. I think some of our starters need a quick turnaround to help them get over this match.

Sunderland looms on the weekend, and then over to Camp Nou, so we are going to have to get the disappointment out of our system quickly. Arsene will decide who plays Wednesday, but for me, it is imperative that we give some starters – Szczesny and Kos among them – an opportunity to get this out of their systems quickly.

At this moment, rebuilding morale and confidence among our starters and responding immediately with a statement win are far more important that providing rest to members of our starting eleven.

At least that is how I see it…

Written by Oliver

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Cup Final Day against Birmingham, time to stop the ‘Arsenal, who haven’t won anything’…….. comments!

February 27, 2011

So the day is finally here, it’s Carling Cup Final day and for the first time since 2007 we are taking part but for every Arsenal Player and fan, today is not about just ‘taking part’.

Today is about winning, it’s about Arsene Wenger outwitting Alex McLeish, the Arsenal players playing better than Birmingham, us taking our chances and lifting the Carling Cup later on today.

This is it then..........

Of course it’s disappointing not to have Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott available today but a club like ours should have enough in reserve to overcome our opponent today.

Head to Head

Arsenal won the only previous League Cup meeting between the sides, winning 4-1 after extra-time at Highbury in 1997.

We are unbeaten in our last eight games against Blues (W5, D3).

Arsenal

We have scored 13 times and conceded twice in the League Cup so far this season but have lost four of our six League Cup finals.

Arsene Wenger has taken us to eight cup finals, winning four but losing out to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final and Chelsea in the 2007 Carling Cup final.

Birmingham

Blues have not kept a single clean sheet in their last nine League Cup matches, conceding a total of 13 goals. In fact the last they didn’t concede was in August 2008.

Stats show that six of the eight Premier League goals we have conceded against Birmingham have come from set pieces – simples, don’t give them and free kicks in our own half and don’t concede any corners. The last time Blues kept a clean sheet against a side from the same division in a League Cup game away from home was in August 1992

Leading Goalscorers

Arsenal

Nasri: 14 goals (2 in League Cup);

Van Persie: 13 goals (0 in League Cup)

Birmingham

Gardner & Zigic: 7 goals (2 in League Cup)

Well that’s all the facts and stats thanks to the BBC Website but as I always say, this is a cup match, both teams will want to be lifting that little trophy later and facts and stats go out the window, especially in a Final at Wembley.

On paper we are favourites but there is pressure on us to finally claim silverware after a bit of a drought. That all needs to be forgotten today we need to just play our own game, use the size of the Wembley pitch and take every chance that comes our way.

Arsenal and Birmingham have never been the ‘best of friends’ and the rivalry has been more intense since ‘that incident’ in 2008, you know the one! We ended up drawing the game and going on a rotten run which cost us the league that season. Get this win today and we may just go on a very different kind of run with more silverware to follow! Confidence comes with winning!

With Mike Dean in charge of the whistle we cannot afford to give him an excuse to help Birmingham so its pure football needed today from us, leave Birmingham to play what ever way they choose and don’t react!

Go out there Arsenal, play with pride for the shirt you are wearing, for the club you play for and of course for all Arsenal fans.

Do yourselves and your manager proud and finally get rid of that ‘Arsenal, who haven’t won a trophy for nearly six years‘ label off your back.

Go get em Arsenal….

Have a good day all…..


Szczesny believes we will win tomorrow, he’s crazy! Samir agrees new deal.

February 25, 2011

Well our young Polish keeper says he’s a bit mad and with it comes great belief in himself and the team ahead of Sunday.

This time last season we were all crying out for a new goal keeper, both Almunia and Fabianski were displaying their weaknesses – every keeper linked to us raised hope but we didn’t forget about our young Pole who was showing his class on loan at Brentford. ‘Too young’ some cried, others disagreed citing Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas – others meanwhile kept belief in what we had!!

Who would have thought back then that it would Szczesny playing in the Carling Cup Final tomorrow…

Picture from afcnews.com

Who's Mad, Me??

Many a time we have heard the old saying about to be a great goal keeper you have to be ‘a bit mad’ and Jens Lehmann was/is living proof of that and Szczesny agrees with that theory.

All the top goalkeepers are crazy, you’ve seen in the past where they are a little bit bonkers so maybe I have a piece of that, nothing worries me, not really, I am just very confident, I keep my feet on the ground.

I was born this way. I believe in my own ability and that’s why I’m confident that every time I go out on the pitch, whether it’s Stoke and we have to face a lot of crosses in the box or Barcelona and the best strikers in the world, I believe in my ability and I am confident before the game.

I love the atmosphere, I love the surroundings and I’m just looking forward to playing at Wembley. It’s a massive occasion but I believe I’m going to enjoy playing there. You always dream to play at stadia like that, so when you do get to play there you have to enjoy yourself.

We maybe the bookies favourites to win but that will mean nothing tomorrow, it’s a one-off do or die match which both sides will be desperate to win. There is no taking this game for granted, that’s for sure.

It’s hard to talk about favourites in the Cup because for Birmingham it’s the only chance they get to win a trophy this season, they will be up for it. It’s hard to say who is the favourites but we believe we can beat them and win the trophy.

It would be a massive boost and I believe if we do win the trophy we will have more desire to push on from there and win all the trophies.”

Szczesny will be watched by his biggest fan on Sunday, his father Maciej who himself was a great goal keeper in his day and represented Poland; he remains the only player to have won the Polish championship with four different clubs.

Most would be nervous playing at Wembley and in front of their idol but not our Chesney, he believes having his greatest fan in the crowd along with a few more members of his family will spur him on and give him a greater incentive to win his first piece of silverware….

So, a bit of craziness from a young man who firmly believes in himself. In front of him will be a very strong back four and another fab six!

Birmingham’s Cameron Jerome may think our defensive unit is our weakness, I however believe they may just turn out to be our strength…

The red tops are reporting that Nasri has agreed a new five-year deal with us and gets a pay rise with it. Good, he’s worth every penny! AFC.com are yet to confirm that piece of news but Wenger has expressed his ‘delight’ that Jon Miquel Toral Harper of Barcelona has decided to join Arsenal. The young midfielder is poised to join us in the summer. Always nice to get one over the Catalan Club isn’t it…

That’s it for today! Have a good Saturday, tomorrow is Cup Final day and we’re in it…..

How good does that sound?

Don’t forget our regular blogger Rocastle is having a Birthday bash on Sunday at Club CK2, so if you are in the Wembley and don’t have a ticket for the match, why not go and join him and many other Gooners….

Happy Birthday Rocastle.....


Two out and three back for Sunday…..

February 25, 2011

So then what we all feared has come true, Captain Cesc and Theo are out for Sunday and someone needs to take their place. Suggestion is that Cesc has 48 hours to beg Wenger to change his mind and let him play, so we may yet see a turn around.

Will it be our season??

You know what it’s like, players go off the boil, they can’t play an accurate pass, can’t hit a barn door when it’s right in front of them and their body language just suggests that all is very wrong in their footballing world and subsequently some fans….

Recently though, two of our strugglers have got themselves on the score sheet, one won us a very important game against Barcelona and the other made sure we didn’t go out of the FA Cup.

Both Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin are class players and on a day when all things click for them they are quite capable of causing any side real problems.

I remember when the news broke about Tomas Rosicky having been allowed to leave the Czech camp in order to take part with a medical with us. I bet I wasn’t alone in feeling pretty chuffed that this guy wanted to play for us… A Czech international!

He’s had a tough time over the last few years and you don’t need me to tell you all about that but finally against Leyton Orient he broke what felt like a ten-year duck and scored a goal…… And with his head!

Tomas Rosicky hopes that this will get him back on the goals trail in the closing weeks of the season.

It’s true, we don’t see too many of those! It was a good cross from Nicklas and I just had to aim the ball towards the far corner across the goalkeeper.

Fortunately it worked out and it’s a relief to score. It’s true when people say that it can do big things for your confidence, so I just hope I can carry on now. Scoring for the Czech Republic was important too, so hopefully this is all a bit of a turnaround for me.

We all have to be patient, everyone wants to play, of course, but that’s why this team is so successful in all competitions – because we have a good squad with a lot of decent options for the manager to use.

We are the only team still in all four competitions and that’s because we have so many good players. Speaking personally, I had a difficult period when I was sick for a while and it always takes time to come back. I’m feeling better again now, and sharper, so I hope to keep performing well and want to make the best contribution I can.

On Sunday…

It’ll be important for the whole team, remember there are a lot of young guys here that haven’t won a major trophy before so it could be a very big boost for everyone – I think that beating Birmingham could lead to more success, it’d be a huge step for the future. Once you’ve tasted how great it is to win something it makes you even hungrier for more, so it’s a vital game for us on Sunday.

The second player is our little Russian, Andrey Arshavin – his strike against Barca was just awesome and after a flow of football that some teams can only dream of being able to play. He’s also been on the end of a few fans criticism and I have to put my hands up, I was one of them.

Arshavin admits that things haven’t been good for him and he partially blames the wonderful British media for that.

I think it was a combination, my form and the media chased me a little bit as well, normally everyone expects something more from me and that is good to hear, because only from good players does someone expects something.

It’s a normal situation for a big club to have competition for places. I don’t do anything against both of them [Nasri and Theo Walcott], I just try to be in my best form.

We must be together, focused on every single game and hopefully we can sort one of the titles this month. Then only three titles will be left.

I don’t think it will get easier though because we still have to play Barcelona away and the end of the season is always much tougher than games in the middle or at the start.

If ever there was a perfect time for these two wonderful players to regain their form, it’s at Wembley and on Sunday….

Oh, the third, well that’s Diaby – he has served his ban and IS fit but I can’t see him starting this final but that’s good news for the Leyton Orient game.

Just what is it about us and injuries……

Have a good day all, it’s getting nearer…..


Back into the Trenches as Arsenal beat Stoke 1-0……..

February 24, 2011

Back to league competition for an important fixture against Stoke City at the Ems this evening. This match was originally scheduled for Saturday, December 18, 2010 but was postponed due to the pre-Christmas deep freeze that hit England. So two months on, we tried again, with our Arsenal squad in arguably better mental and physical shape than on the original fixture date – remember that this was supposed to be played just over a week prior to what turned out to be a watershed win over Chelsea, and at a time when we were coming off a disappointing loss at Old Trafford.

Although Robin and Kos were ruled out of this match yesterday, both have “have a chance” (Arsene’s words) to play in the Carling Cup final, so Tommy and Fabianski remain the major long-term absentees (not counting Diaby as he may be back before too much longer).

The associated subplot, of course, is Ramsey and Shawcross; the apparent personal dislike between Arsene and Pulis another one. There were no surprises regarding the reaction for Shawcross – now Stoke’s captain – every time he touched the ball; and I imagine that Cesc and many of our players will hear similar from the Brittania crowd on May 7th. My concern was that the players on both sides would look to settle some scores on the pitch. I hoped this wouldn’t be the case. What is done is done, Aaron is returning from his loan spell at Cardiff this weekend and we are in the thick of four competitions, our players focus should be on winning matches.

While I understand that bitterness and anger linger with many supporters, I have moved on from that particular incident…

With 9 of our 11 second string players featuring Sunday at Brisbane Road, a predominantly first team was expected. With Kos and Robin out, deputies would be required at the back and up front, the rest being our strongest eleven.

We lined up Szczesny, Clichy, JD, Squillaci, Sagna, Jack, Cesc, Song, Samir, Nik and Theo.

Our bench featured Al, Gibbs, Eboue, Denilson, Rosicky, Arshavin and Chamakh.

Almost straight from the kickoff, Cesc played Theo in and he smashed his shot off the inside of the post. We very nearly had an immediate goal, but we wouldn’t have to wait too long for the opener. On eight minutes, Nik earned us a corner. Jack delivered, and Nik helped it on the Squillaci, who buried his header for a 1-0 lead – Squil headed a similar goal for us earlier in the season, so this was a welcome return. Just a couple of minutes after, however, spirits sank as Cesc pulled up and then signaled to the bench.

Arshavin warmed up and then replaced the captain with less than a quarter of an hour gone. No immediate indication as to the nature of the injury was given, but it looked worryingly similar to previous instances when Cesc’s hammy flared up.

So Arshavin came on, and Samir moved into Cesc’s midfield position, with Arsh taking up a striker support role. The unexpected change clearly stalled our momentum, as we began to pass sideways, and with Stoke sitting back and looking to deny us time and space, our tempo dropped and we kept the ball without doing all that much with it.

Arshavin took a pop from distance, but did not trouble Begovic. Just past the half hour, Stoke broke out of their shell long enough for Carew to force Szczesny to make a fine diving save. Late in the half, Shawcross chopped Arshavin down, Samir wasting the free kick from a good position. Stoke finished the half with more of the ball, but were unable to trouble us, and it remained 1-0 at the interval.

Arsene made no further changes during the break, and as the teams came out for the second half, word came through that Cesc came off as a precaution, not an actual injury.

Here is hoping he will be fit for the Carling Cup final on Sunday – that is for later, at this moment, we still had a game to win. Stoke immediately put in a few rugged challenges, preventing us from finding an early rhythm. Former Arsenal player Pennant was sharp with his crossing this evening, and he put a peach in for Shawcross, who headed narrowly wide. Stoke continued with the fouls, Whitehead catching Sagna with his studs, no booking from referee Walton. Clichy was booked for a payback foul on Pennant a few minutes later, and Stoke conjured up their best opportunity so far, as Huth headed a Delap throw narrowly over the bar.

At this point, Stoke seemed on top, but we found another gear and started to create chances again, with Jack and Arshavin coming to the fore. Jack forced Begovic to make another save, and Arshavin fed Theo, who could only shoot wide. A few minutes later, Whitehead brought Theo down just outside the Stoke area and the latter stayed down in pain. After a few minutes treatment, he was brought off with what appeared to be an ankle injury, Denilson coming on in his place.

We resumed taking the game to Stoke and forced a corner, which Jack delivered to Nik, who headed over the bar. Stoke made their first change inside the final quarter of an hour, with Fuller replacing Walters in an attacking move. Arsene made our final change with just over ten minutes left, Chamakh replacing Nik. Walton finally got his card out, booking Wilson for hacking Chamakh down.

Arshavin was flagged offside after Jack nearly put him in. Right at 90 minutes, Denilson conceded a foul to give Stoke a free kick in another good position. Pennant put our collective hearts in our mouths with a fine delivery that rippled the side netting. That was Stoke’s proverbial last gasp; despite five minutes of stoppage time, we smartly kept the ball, took our time on a corner, attacked and ran the clock down for a 1-0 win, putting us a solitary point behind Man United.

So we survived another bruising encounter with Stoke. As of this typing, Arsene stated that Cesc has a hamstring problem which will be assessed tomorrow, at which point a proper estimate can be provided. Theo’s injury is characterized as an ankle sprain, and Arsene ruled him “definitely out” for Sunday. I am particularly gutted for Theo – the most recent player to score for Arsenal in a cup final.

Cesc has indicated via twitter, that he will do whatever it takes to lead the team out at Wembley on Sunday. Unfortunately, this is his hammy and that’s given him trouble before… We have to hope that he can play but if there is a doubt, I would not want to risk long-term injury with him. As important as it is for him to lead the side out in our first Cup final as Captain, I don’t want to see him risk longer-term damage for this. Although our task just got that much more difficult, losing Theo and having questions over Cesc, Robin and Kos for the final, we have the players to compensate and see Birmingham City off.

Going in, we knew tonight would be difficult; we were fully aware that Stoke would put us under pressure and try and rough us up. They did that, as expected, but we did well to stand our ground and not wilt. I expected them to bring it from the opening minute, but they were surprisingly passive in the first half.

As they stayed defensive and we passed rings around them for most of that period, I had a fair idea of what to expect in the second half, and Stoke came out immediately and got stuck in. They got several hefty challenges in – what we would characterize as “hard fouls” in basketball parlance. In other words, fouls and tackles intended to frustrate, intimidate, and put us off our stride. I am very pleased that Stoke accomplished none of these things – they had their best passage of play at the start of the second half, but we did not wilt and regained control around the hour mark.

Whitehead’s late, studs-up challenge on Sagna was the worst of their fouls, in my opinion. Walton did virtually nothing, so Clichy gave Pennant a taste of it. Our player was booked for the retaliatory nature of his challenge, but I am pleased that we stood up for each other and let Pulis and his players know that we would give it right back.

Arsene seemed ok with what transpired, injuries notwithstanding. He commented on the good spirit of the game, the commitment, strong challenges and “overall correct” play between the teams. I thought there was a spiteful undercurrent on the pitch, probably due to lingering hard feelings on both sides, but things thankfully did not get out of control. Besides the Whitehead’s challenges on Sagna and Theo, Carew’s late challenge and subsequent push on JD could have been a potential flash point but we kept our cool.

One player I am pleased for is the oft-maligned Sebastian Squillaci. I have been critical of him, but tonight I thought he had a very good overall match. He was Johnny-on-the-spot to covert Nik’s cross, giving us an early lead, and played solidly in defence. Fairly recently someone suggested to me that he plays better with JD than Kos; I kind of shrugged it off, but tonight I saw exactly what the person that mentioned this means. He also played well when partnered with the rook (Miquel) at Brisbane Road, so I am rapidly coming around to the idea that it may not be anything worse than he and Kos just not having an effective partnership. He did well against a difficult opponent this evening and if he can sustain this form – getting meaningful match minutes will help – then we should be in good shape at the center of defence for the remainder of this season.

Jack had an excellent match as well. Once our captain went off, it was he that pushed us forward often, got back to defend when necessary, kept things going, never panicked, and calmly saw the last few minutes out as Stoke made a late push. In the first minute of stoppage time, he did some fine work to win us a corner – an opportunity to take more time off the clock. His corner deliveries were excellent tonight, as well.

Even though we didn’t play particularly well collectively, so many others had solid games. This was a match where we had to stand up not allow Stoke to bully us. We did that admirably, and were rewarded with another three points. The win will be overshadowed by the injuries to Theo and Cesc – especially if our captain is sidelined for more than one or two matches. Unfortunately, that is part of the game.

We are almost in to March – during the past few seasons, we have more often than not had to field injury depleted sides for key matches. Even if the missing players are all out for more than a match or two, we are still in better shape than in previous years. We should be the best in the league at coping with this situation by now. Even if the news on the two players we lost today – as well as Robin and Kos – is not good, I think we have the quality, depth and strength to cope. But before we even worry about that, let’s wait for the prognosis on these players.

Sunday is the Carling Cup final. Whatever happens, after that match we will only have three competitions to worry about. Not that it will get any easier, but I think a trophy win can give us extra confidence for the remainder of the season.

No matter how one looks at it, there is still plenty of football remaining and an opportunity to have a really special season here!

Written by Oliver


Denilsons days numbered as Rambo set to return?? Stoke up tonight….

February 23, 2011

December 18th 2010, Stoke were heading to The Emirates to face us in the Premier League but the weather put pay to that fixture.
We had not long found out that we had been drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League and near on everyone wrote us off as soon as their name came out of the hat. In fact back then I think the same people wrote off our chances of winning anything this season, let alone a home fixture against the so-called ‘best team in the world’.

So here we are two months later and things are a tad different – we have beaten Barcelona in the first leg of Champions League fixture, we are in the Carling Cup Final on Sunday, still in the FA Cup and sit second in the league only a few points behind the leaders.

Do those same people still write us off?

Of course they do, they sit around just waiting to be proved right about their judgement of this current Arsenal squad. Let them continue and let us concentrate on our job. Maybe then we will be able to shove it right back at them at the end of the season.

Tonight is another chance for us to gain some ground on the Mancs for a few days, a win will see us just one point behind the current leaders. Let them feel the heat going into their next game. We cannot afford a slip up, especially against a Stoke side who is responsible for you know what…

We may be without Robin van Persie and Koscielny but this is the time for those coming in to step up, show all us fans that they have more about them than we saw at the weekend. Chamakh, Bendtner or Arshavin will no doubt step in for Robin and Squillaci will probably play alongside Djourou at the back. All of those players stepping in for the injured/rested need to earn their wage tonight and not just strut around for 90 minutes on a jolly….

Sunday is on every Arsenal fans mind I am sure but tonight is equally important in a very different way, tonight is about maintaining the long haul in the league, Sunday is all about a one-off game which happens to hand out a trophy to the winners… (Who am I trying to kid ;) )

Tonight is massive, not just for our Premier League pursuit, it’s not even about Tony Pulis, Stoke City and Shawcross, it’s about football and us maintaining our momentum!

I'm coming home Gooners and I cannot wait......

Let’s get three points off them just for Aaron Ramsey and let football win this game, nothing else.

Talking of Ramsey, how great was it to see our Welshman help Cardiff earn three points last night.

It was ‘Cracking’

Dave Jones had hoped to keep hold of Ramsey for the rest of the season but Wenger has other ideas:

He is on loan until Saturday. After that he comes back.

I intend to use him. I have had good reports from Cardiff. He could be available for the second game against Leyton Orient on Wednesday.

Great news for all Gooners, maybe not such good news for Denilson……

Have a good day all, three points tonight are a must…..


Alex Song is too slow and doesn’t know where he’s going in London…

February 22, 2011

Stoke at The Emirates is tomorrow night’s fixture. The hoofers, long throw ins, the ‘in yer face’ tackles will all be in the tactics dished out by Tony Pullis before the game I’m sure, all we need to do is keep the ball on the ground, find the perfect pass, find the perfect finish and let football win the battle.

This fixture was due to take place a couple of months back when the snow lay all around and inevitably the match got called off. Our team were already at the ground and most just packed up and went on their short journey home. Not Alex Song though, he had a tough old-time…..

He went that way......

Here’s what happened to our big midfielder…..

Oh, it was unbelievable. We arrived at the stadium and everyone went to their cars and began to drive home. I got just outside and found myself stuck in a queue for about two hours.

Nobody was moving. I decided that, at that rate, I would be there all day – so I turned back, parked my car back in the stadium and thought ‘OK, maybe I’ll try to walk up the road a little way and jump into a taxi’.

I walked and didn’t see anything – kept walking, still nothing. I kept going and going, and there was no point turning back. So I walked all the way to Brent Cross, taking the same route as when I go by car because I didn’t know the side roads very well.

I walked for four or five hours, because you have to go quite slowly and carefully in the snow. I had my coat pulled up, but nobody recognised me along the way – it was a very strange afternoon.

I must get me a map of this place.........

When I arrived at Brent Cross I found a taxi company, but the guy said there were no cabs. I begged him to help and he said he’d call somebody at home but it would cost me double. I said ‘No problem, I’ll pay triple or whatever it takes, I just want to get home!

I waited about 20 minutes and the driver arrived, I jumped in the taxi and got home eventually! I’m never doing that again – if necessary I’ll sleep in the stadium! As soon as I got home I had a very hot bath and went straight to bed.

We were all pretty cheesed off about the game being called off that day but maybe we should have spared a thought for Old Billabong Song who was on a long, cold, adventurous and expensive journey home. …..

Still, he can afford it :)

I know Wenger doesn’t spend much but maybe he could at least stretch to a few A-Z’s of London…..

Two snippets about players:

Young midfielder Kyle Ebecilio has signed his first professional contract with the Club. Having snubbed the Chavs last summer to sign for us, he’s now turned 17 – he’s another up and coming exciting young midfielder. Talking of which Young Guns reported yesterday that Wenger has secured another young midfielder from the Barcelona Academy. His name is Jon Miquel Toral and he’s an under 16 International with Spain.

For the more details please go to Young Guns website.

http://younggunsblog.co.uk/2011/02/arsenal-agree-deal-for-barcelonas-toral/

Have a good day all……


The worst of both Worlds….

February 21, 2011

On the heels of our magnificent midweek Champions League first leg win over Barcelona, we headed into FA Cup weekend with a tricky away tie against League One mid-table side Leyton Orient. This was considered tricky primarily because, as we have already seen on more than one occasion this season, we tend to struggle against lower league opposition. Another complicating factor was our heavy run of fixtures: Champions League first leg tie versus Barcelona, this FA Cup tie, midweek league fixture versus Stoke City, Carling Cup Final the following Sunday versus Birmingham City. That is four fixtures in four different competitions packed into a twelve day period. In light of this punishing schedule, squad rotation at some point was inevitable, and this is the only logical fixture in which to do it. So much of the pre-match anticipation was regarding how many players Arsene would rest for this fixture…

Let me state up from that I do not believe in rotating more than half the squad for any one match – unless injuries/suspensions leave no other options – at this point in the season. My personal preference is to see us give our best in every single competition and try and win every one – something that is difficult to do with mass changes to the side.

If I were in charge – not that I ever will be – I would approach a match such as this by looking to make no more than four changes to the starting lineup: say goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder, and one forward. Then, as things evolve, I would look to use my three substitutes to get additional first eleven players some rest, and give some match minutes to other second eleven players. While this approach is usually dependent upon how the match unfolds, it gives opportunity for rotation, while maintaining continuity of performance and effort. When a full ten positions are rotated – such as today – should we really be surprised that what we saw this afternoon was a poor, poor imitation of our real side?

Regardless of my feelings on this issue, the call was Arsene’s and he duly made ten changes to the side. One of the players restored to the side is a first eleven regular (Sagna) who was suspended for the midweek tie, but otherwise only Song remained from the eleven that lined up against Barcelona.

In came Almunia, Gibbs, Squillaci, Miguel (making his initial first team appearance), Sagna, Denilson, Song, Rosicky, Arshavin, Chamakh, and Bendtner. We had a strong bench available with Szczesny, Clichy, Koscielny, Eboue, Cesc, Samir and Jack.

My confidence dropped when I saw who was going to start. In particular, I was concerned that Song and Denilson together would leave the midfield devoid of creativity, particularly considering Rosicky’s dire form. I was also concerned with the decision to start Miguel alongside Squillaci. I understand we have to start the former somewhere, and if we were going to do it any time soon, this was the fixture to do so. But I would much rather he started alongside a better defender than Squillaci, either JD or Koscielny, whomever could cope with the extra fixture better.

I can probably save myself the keystrokes and save you the time it takes to read a couple of paragraphs by saying that we did not cover ourselves in glory. Almunia sent pulses through the roof after only a minute or so, fumbling Dawson’s low shot – fortunately no red shirt was on hand to capitalize. We dominated possession, as expected, but the midfield provided little creativity or service, with Song and Denilson both sloppy and careless with the ball. Of the two, I thought Denilson was actually the better player this afternoon, with Song a huge, huge disappointment. It appeared to me that both he and Bendtner exuded an “I am above this” air about themselves and their work. Arshavin put in a good 90 minutes of effort, even if he was not so effective.

I thought Chamakh brought the right attitude, but the wrong quality. He headed tamely at Orient keeper Jones early, and then shot wide of an open goal from a low Gibbs cross late in the first half. The longer the match went on, the more peripheral he seemed to become. When Robin, Arshavin and Bendtner went through similar spells, Arsene stuck with them and they were able to sort things out. The difference for me, however, is they were able to get going playing with and getting service from the likes of Cesc, Samir and Jack. Chamakh and the other forwards had to feed off scraps from our unbalanced, out-of-form midfield. Bendtner produced a couple of lazy, wayward shots and Arshavin tested Jones with a first-time shot, but we produced little as we went into the break scoreless.

Eight minutes in to the second half, and we finally made the breakthrough, as Bendtner produced a good cross for Rosicky to head (!) the ball into the net, his first goal for us since God-knows-when…I had hoped that would cue a deluge of shots and a couple more goals so we could relax and play out the remainder of the game. But it didn’t. By falling behind, Orient needed to take some risks if they wanted to get anything from this, and they did. 15 minutes after our goal, Rosicky should have killed this match off. A good move involving Bendtner and Arshavin in the buildup saw our Czech midfielder force Jones into a very good save. The ball rebounded back to Rosicky, but he could only send it right at the keeper. With about eight minutes left, Orient worked a good move down the right, and Revell smashed a shot off Squillaci’s face. Orient players absurdly appealed for a penalty, despite the ball clearly striking our defender’s face, not hand. Nevertheless, Squil probably did not know much about that one.

With three minutes remaining, we let another chance to put this away slip, as Arshavin struck the far post with a shot across the face of goal. A minute later we paid the price, as Gibbs and Miguel stood of substitute Tehoue, allowing him through to shoot under Almunia and equalize, helped by some shoddy goalkeeping from the man who still wears the number 1 on his jersey. When our second team has previously struggled and conceded goals, Arsene usually responded by bringing on Cesc and one other first eleven player to try and retrieve the situation, he did no such thing today and Orient survived the final minutes of regulation and four minutes of injury time to earn a replay at the Emirates on March 2nd. That will be excellent for them, as they stand to rake in a bumper payday, but is probably the last thing we need right now.

So an already congested fixture list got even more congested. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, as they say. But I will also say that I was concerned when I saw the starting eleven Arsene named; I thought there were too many changes and not enough balance. Ninety plus minutes later, I think it is reasonable to ask just what Arsene accomplished with these changes. Yes, nine of our first choice eleven got a Sunday of rest. But will some of them still be able to rest on Wednesday, March 2nd? If we fall behind early to, say, a deflected goal or Almunia howler (easily foreseeable), how many of our first eleven will need to come on to turn it around? If Arsene finally agrees that Song and Denilson together in midfield simply do not work, then surely either Cesc or Jack will start? Can we afford to have Miguel and Squillaci in the same defence? Or Chamakh and Bendtner as two of our front three? For many of our starters, I think we may have just traded a Sunday off for a Wednesday at work.

We did get many of our second/third choice players rare starts and ninety minutes of action. Considering the performance, how many of these players do you think feel good about performance and effort? I wonder what Chamakh’s confidence is like now after his ineffective – often irrelevant – ninety minutes? Al – regardless of how any of us feel about him – is our second choice goalkeeper. If Szczesny should get injured, he will start for us – on today’s evidence, would you trust him in the big matches we have on the horizon? I wonder how he feels about where he is after these just completed 90 minutes.

My point is that we got these players minutes, but by lumping them all together, instead of responsibly mixing and matching with in-form, first team regulars, we may have done more harm to many players confidence than good to their “sharpness”…This is one of the biggest reasons I am not a fan of these mass changes that Arsene sometimes makes. Yesterday, Man United featured a similar massively changed side at home against non-league Crawley Town and they struggled to a 1-0 win that many consider harsh on their opponents.

We are no different; we struggle as well when we make so many changes. But this goes back to my original point – is it really necessary to make all these changes? Confidence and momentum are two of the most important ingredients in any successful side; these elements are often the first to disappear when we completely change our sides, regardless of the opposition. If we want to sustain our momentum, keep confidence flowing through the squad, and go from strength to strength, we simply cannot afford to make so many unforced changes to our side. In my opinion, that is…

Unless, of course, winning this competition is not really a priority after all. Arsene has said that we will go for it in all competitions on several occasions…Just this week he was quoted saying we have a chance to win four trophies this season. But I am starting to wonder if this desire to “go for it” on all fronts has not given away to prioritizing rotation with upcoming matches in mind, and a tacit, unspoken understanding that not having to play any more FA Cup matches would not necessarily be such a bad thing…If this is anywhere close to reality, then we got the worst of both worlds today – not out of this competition, and having to deal with another fixture jammed into an already congested calendar.

Let me quickly say well done to Leyton Orient FC. They were not overawed by our side, competed well in the first half, did not give up when we finally scored and wasted a couple of good chances to add to the goal, kept competing and ultimately got a deserved (I thought) late equalizer. Regardless of my complaints about our starting eleven, it is still packed with several international-caliber players – including a couple of national team Captains. Orient never appeared overawed to me and looked as they always thought they could get something from this game. I expect that we will win the replay on home turf, but I do not expect them to come over just to make up the numbers…

The winner of the replay has been drawn against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the quarterfinals on March 10th. Should it be us, there will be many associated subplots. I shan’t concern myself with any of it until after the replay, provided we are the side going to Manchester…

In closing, I’ll just say that squad rotation and quality of our second/third eleven has been a major polarizing issue amongst Arsenal supporters this season. I am not against rotating the squad – right now, I think it is absolutely necessary, considering packed our fixture list is. I am, however, against making these unforced wholesale changes to the squad. Today’s result showed me, again, that it is often self-defeating, does not get us the results we want, and potentially stalls momentum and drains confidence.

For me, the right way ahead is to rotate no more than four a match, and look to make additional rotation through in-match substitutions. None of us can know how today would have alternatively played out, but if we had changed only a handful of positions, and looked to use substitutions to make additional changes, is it so outside the realm of possibility to believe that we would have won comfortably and saved ourselves a full extra fixture in the form of a replay.

For those who believe that wholesale rotation such as today is completely justified, I respect your opinion, but also believe that events – from today, FA Cup tie versus Leeds, league fixture at Wigan – lend more support to the opposite view. In the end, I guess much also has to do with how important winning the FA Cup is to each of us.

For those who want to win this cup – such as me – changing the side in the manner we have today is irresponsible and potentially self-defeating. For those who feel that this cup must take a back seat to resting our starting eleven and getting match minutes for members of our second/third eleven, than this result can fully support their view as well.

It is what it is…

Written by Oliver


Six years, six flippin years, One step closer today please Arsene…

February 20, 2011

Well, what can I say, you wait for what seems forever and its over in 90 minutes. Yes I’m talking Champions League and I’m well aware we are only at half time but the euphoria that I have been experiencing lasted one day and an evening of ups and downs.
But that’s gone now for a while; today is all about focusing on another competition we are still in, the FA Cup and today’s opponents Leyton Orient.

Cesc in 2005

Orient may not be Barcelona but they could be just as dangerous if taken too lightly. In my eyes all the competitions are as important as any other and this one is no different. Orient would have prepared well for this game and they must be rubbing their hands together that we had a game midweek against a team that would make us work for the full 90 minutes. They however would have been sat watching with their feet up on a pouf with a beer or similar no doubt – ok, lemonade!!

This will be a tough test for us and we must field a team that can do the business, this is no time for eight or nine changes.
Arsene Wenger has stated that he considers all competitions in the same light, and I hope he means that. From that statement I expect to see a team of adequate proportions to overcome the opposition.

By that I mean no slip ups, a good hard fight and culminating in a comfortable victory, anything else would be catastrophic in my little mind. The season is long enough now so no replay please boss, we need to get in there, get the job done, and get out. Simples!

So who are we playing then?

LO are a Division one side that sits 52 places below us our current position but as we all know, that means very little when it comes to the FA Cup – every minnow wants to one over on a shark one day don’t they? They have a couple of injuries to Matthew Spring and Adam Chambers – both could miss this tie. We have met on ten previous occasions and won seven of those but we have never lost to LO in the FA Cup, despite playing them four times – the most recent being in the quarter-finals in 1972 and semi-finals in 1978.

As for the LO victories in the league, even I didn’t watch those as they were back in 1913 and 1915…

LO have got here by knocking out Championship high-fliers Norwich and Swansea and this is their first appearance in the last 16 in 29 years, in fact their best run in the FA Cup was back in 1978 – we knocked them out in the semi’s that year!.

Right now they are in good form, winning their last three games and scoring ten goals in the process. They haven’t suffered a loss since New Years Day, winning seven matches and drawing four, so anyone who thinks this will be a walk over, think again! Add to that it’s been fourteen matches since they lost a match at home and that was back in September.

On to us, Sagna is back available, Diaby is still banned and JD remains a doubt.

The rest, well that’s up to Arsene Wenger but we cannot afford a loss, we cannot afford a draw and a subsequent replay so best the big man picks the right side to go and get us a win.

It’s been six years since we last won this competition and I miss it – and as the film goes, yes I do remember what I wanted that day and like every Gooner, I got it too. We all sat, watched and cringed no doubt at the way we got battered in the FA Cup Final against the Manure but we held on…..

I loved penalties that day, I loved them yesterday too :)

Thanks for yesterday Cashley.......

Have a good day all…..

Written by Steve & a few odd bits by rico….


Messi and Villa won’t keep missing chances but will we?

February 19, 2011

That is of course according to everyone other than fans of Arsenal.

Barcelona sit top of the Spanish equivalent of the Scottish Premier League with 62 points, their nearest rival is Real Madrid who are on 57 points. In third place is Valencia on 47 points. Yep, just like the Scottish PL, the La Liga is a two horse race.

They have scored 71 goals, Real Madrid 53 goals. Ronaldo and Messi are the league’s top scorers so far, both with 24 goals and David Villa is next on 15 goals.

We sit second in the English Premiership which in most peoples opinion is the hardest league in the world to play in, the best league to play in and that’s why so many players move to England and for the money of course but the Premier League is not just a two-horse race every season, not anymore and right now there are five teams still in with a chance of winning it and we are one of them.

The highest goal scoring side in the PL is Manchester United with 57 goals and we sit second on 56 – ok, we may not be scoring as many goals as the Barca’s and Real Madrid’s but I’ll ask you this:

Discounting Barcelona and Real Madrid,

Does La Liga have teams with great goal keepers?
Does it consist of teams with great defenders and defensive units?
Does it have teams with top managers who can get the best out of their side each game?
Would Messi and Villa score quite so freely during this current PL campaign?

I don’t think the answer is yes to any of the above and that’s why it’s easy for them to score so freely in La Liga, I bet even Nikki B could score regularly in Spain ;)

Barcelona may be able to boast the best defence in La Liga but in my opinion but they don’t come up against really solid defences week in week out as we do here in the Premier League.

The pundits can sit and admire Barcelona from afar suggesting that they are so good they won’t keep on missing chances against us, they also need to realise that we missed a few good chances that night too, just as we do so often in the domestic league but one day those chances will start going in.

I hope we show that on March 8th 2011 in Camp Nou. Then every tiny minded football commentator will have to stand up and eat a huge chunk of humble pie and give credit where it’s due!

My, that would hurt them wouldn’t it…….

I want to play for Arsenal, they are better than us.......

Don’t forget, we’ve been playing well away from home this season, I’d even take a 4-4 draw ;)

Have a good day all……


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