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Credible in Defeat…

November 30, 2011

We know that many of our first team players are in the proverbial “red” and need a break. We also know that the Carling Cup is low on the list of priorities. Arsene made a point stressing the first aspect following our weekend 1-1 versus Fulham, so changes were certainly expected.

Just how many changes were open to debate.

Would Arsene resume making mass changes to the side, or would he retain at least a few of our regular starting eleven, with a view to resting these players in the upcoming dead rubber CL fixture in Piraeus? A match with less riding on it than this one, regardless of how one views the Carling Cup…

Arsene named the following starting eleven: Fab, JD, Kos, Squil, Miquel, Frim, Coq, Benny, OC, Ju and Chamakh.

Mannone, TV, Yennaris, Eastmond, Ozyakup, Gerv, and Arsh made up the bench.

Of that starting eleven, only JD and Kos have been recent first teamers – and that often as right back, not centre back. In the entire squad, only TV can be considered a first team regular. I had particular concerns about Coq and Frim together in the midfield, and I hoped to see at least a couple more first-teamers involved, but it is what it is.

Benny was designated captain for this match.

Mancini also made a raft of changes, but sprinkled some of his first-teamers in the lineup as well. Kolo and Nas returned to the Ems wearing sky blue, and Dzeko, deJong, Johnson all started in a changed, but not as weak as I hoped, lineup…

Just prior to kickoff, we held a moment’s silence for Wales manager, and former Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, and Sheffield United midfielder Gary Speed, who took his own life at age 42 on Sunday morning. City then kicked the match off.

The visitors applied the early pressure, but we took the first shot on goal, a tame Miquel effort from range which Pantilimon had no difficultly with. Ten minutes in and Johnson shot over Fab’s bar after good work from Dzeko.

Just a minute later, Ju had a great chance to open the scoring from Coq’s fine cross, but Pantilimon saved at point-blank range…Through the first 20 minutes, we had by far the best chance, while City shaded possession without troubling Fab. City continued to press and Dzeko had a shot blocked. We won a corner on 25 minutes. OC took it, but Savic headed clear. Then OC shot from about 30 yards out, but Pantilimon pulled off another great save.

We did nothing with the corner, and City went down the other end to win a corner of their own, which they couldn’t convert…

As we passed the 30 minute mark, the game opened up more. City and we traded successive breaks, but neither could get past the defence. Mancini must not have been pleased with how the match unfolded, as he brought Aguero (a first teamer) on for Kolarov just past the half hour. He quickly won a corner, as City ramped the pressure up and kept us pinned back. When we relieved the pressure, we put a series of crosses into the City box, but all were cleared, often by the first defender.

As we entered the final five minutes of the half, it remained anyone’s game. Our young side had the two best chances to score – and should have been at least a goal to the good – and contained City’s side relatively well. City had a late spell of pressure which ended when Fab claimed Dzeko’s cross from the right flank. The added minute passed without incident and we went into the break level.

We kicked the second half off with an unchanged side. Dzeko had an early chance, and went close, shooting just wide of Fab’s left post. OC then came to the fore, first winning a corner, and then forcing Pantilimon to punch his shot clear.

Hargreaves earned the game’s first booking for a foul on Frim. City cleared the free kick and broke, but Squil was alert to clear before Aguero could line a shot up. As we approached the hour mark, the match remained there for the taking. Surely Arsene had to consider changes.

While OC was lively throughout the match, Ju had the one early chance, then nothing. That was still more than what Chamakh contributed. With Arsh on the bench and Arsene talking about how he feels “sorry” for the latter not getting much playing time, it seemed a logical move to bring him on for perhaps Chamakh…

Dzeko had another chance from a Zabaleta cross, but couldn’t get his effort on target. This started another spell in our half for City, as they won a couple of throws before Hargreaves shot over from a decent position…We then broke, but that ended quickly when Chamakh shot wide from close range.

On 67 Arsene made the first change, but it Gerv on for Ju. Gerv got right into the thick of things, but his notorious poor finishing saw one effort go way over the bar. He then won a corner and OC worked a shot, but couldn’t trouble Pantilimon. We continued to apply pressure, although we didn’t really look like scoring. We did get a warning when Dzeko got on the end of another Zabaleta cross, but headed it over.

As the match entered the final ten minutes still deadlocked, extra time loomed. Arsene brought TV on for Miquel in the second change. Even though our finishing was poor, we defended solidly and restricted City to mostly half-chances. JD cut a Dzeko cross out, leading to a break which earned us a corner.

But it was from this corner that we conceded. Our set-piece deliveries were not great, and this one by OC was cleared at the near post, with Dzeko picking Johnson out, and latter finding Aguero, for a simple finish. 0-1 down, with only six minutes to go.

We tried to respond and Gerv shot wide from inside the City box. With three minutes of regulation, Arsene made the final change, bringing Arsh on for OC – who I thought had an overall solid game. At this point, City sat back in order to try and pick us off. We came forward, and Frim won us a corner. Arsh took it, and found TV at the back post, but the latter stretched to reach it and could not get his header down and on target.

As we entered the minimum three minutes of extra time, Chamakh won a corner. We sent Fab up for the corner, but Pantilimon was able to collect the delivery and our keeper was almost stranded. As it was, he made it far enough back to head the ball away before Aguero could get to it and score. We then got a free kick, which Frim took, finding Arsh who shot on goal and forced Pantilimon to save.

That was basically that. The final whistle went a few seconds later, and we were out of the Carling Cup…

While I am certainly disappointed to have relinquished the opportunity to win the cup we should have won last season – the first for this crop of players – last evening’s performance was positive and encouraging. For all my reservations about the composition of this starting eleven, I am quite happy to hold my hand up and say I got it wrong.

The team played quite well, I thought this mix of kids and second/third stringers largely outplayed City’s side and deserved better than to lose. But, as we have so often seen with our first team, if you don’t take your chances, then you open the door for results such as this.

When you don’t take your chances, and the opposition is able to bring a quality forward such as Kun on, well…

As I saw, our two biggest problems were misfiring forwards, and poor set piece delivery. Perhaps better delivery would have seen us score at least one goal. Ju had that early chance, and then very little afterwards. Chamakh made absolutely no impact again, and once again gave no evidence that he can once again function as a reliable goal-scorer. And if he cannot be counted on for that, then just what is the point of keeping him in the squad?

Ju did little to show he can effectively deputize for Robin – albeit he has had very few opportunities to do so. But as long as Arsene persists with Chamakh as second choice, we are unlikely to really see what Ju can actually do. However you look at it, this is something we will need to sort sooner rather than later. Someone is going to have to step up and take responsibility for scoring goals in Robin’s absence, and at the moment, we don’t appear to have anyone we can trust to do it.

Second striker issues aside, I thought most of the rest of the team played well. Of the kids, OC and Coq were particularly impressive, Frim did well – particularly when let Nas know he was there – and Benny showed he may really help us with more regular starts. Kos was excellent at the back, as was the much-maligned Squil, who defended calmly and competently in a makeshift back four.

I was pretty critical of Squil on more than one occasion last season, but he did well tonight and deserves credit for a good performance.

One thing that should not be overlooked is that while we are no longer in the league cup competition, we did accomplish what was probably the first priority – resting much of the first team – while performing credibly with a shadow side. Szczesny, Santos, Mert, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Theo and Robin all got the night off. That’s eight first teamers who needed a rest.

As I said at the start, I would not have rested that many first teamers at once, but Arsene did and we should have them rested and ready for the DW.

So farewell to the Carling Cup for another season and many of us will not be too bothered. Personally, I would like to see us win it at some point; not because it is such a big deal, but because that is the only domestic trophy not on Arsene’s resume, and I would like to see his team win it before he is done here.

So, we’ll try again next season. Hopefully many – if not all – of the young players we saw tonight will be first team regulars when we play our next Carling Cup tie. Even though we lost tonight, we were not outclassed and this experience will hopefully serve the kids and squad players in good stead.

We visit the DW this weekend, and we owe Wigan for our last two trips there: the catastrophic folding of a 2-0 hand into a 3-2 loss last season, and the 2-2 where we conceded an equalizer just after Wigan had been reduced to 10 men. Our last trip to that area was the dreadful capitulation against Blackburn.

Wigan is in similar relegation trouble, and we cannot afford to lose to them if we want to be taken seriously as title/top four contenders this season.

Hopefully a rested first team will be able to get the job done.

Written by Oliver

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Nasri is the exception, Podolski in talks & Vertonghen replacement lined up for January..

November 29, 2011

I don’t condone violence in the game we all love, however if we get into the last second of extra time tonight with the score at 1-0 and one of our fringe players can hoof him into row z, I’d be quite happy! As long as he takes the ball first of course! ;)

I absolutely despise the player, the way he turned his back on the club and manager who bought him into the limelight of the English football beggars belief. Wenger though is trying to calm the home supporters…..

You want to respect the players who have played for us, that is what we expect. But it is always more important to support our team on Tuesday night, than to be negative towards the players of Manchester City.

What is important is we are united to win the game.

Ok, let’s not waste our time booing him or anything similar as that will only make him feel good, let’s just beat him and his new side and give him a bit of food for thought!

Beating Citeh tonight though is a huge task but its Carling Cup night and anything is possible, despite us being huge underdogs.

Two players of ours who are more than likely to start tonight are Yossi Benayoun and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Arsene Wenger has been talking about them:

Overall, Alex has the quality and I can only show that I believe in that in buying him.

Secondly I can show that by playing him – but also by working with him on the training pitch. Alex is developing very well. He is very positive and he works very hard.

On Yossi:

He has been absolutely fantastic but we have so much choice in midfield and we play with three strikers.

The chances for the midfielders are not so big and that’s why he has not played as much as he deserves.

The attitude of all the players that came in has been great – everybody helps focus the team to win and he does that as well.”

So, Wenger has bigged them both up ahead of tonight’s game so I strongly suspect they will start, who else will join them?

That’s anyone’s guess and I am not even going to bother trying but whoever plays should realise that tonight is all about pride, it’s about grafting from start to finish, it’s about not worrying about how much money the opposition has or about whom we face.

It’s about the Red and White which is The Arsenal, it’s about working hard with the right tactics and with the passion to win.

In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that’s tonight is not necessarily about the result, it’s about the performance.

Whoever plays tonight, just be proud, be strong and play with heart, passion and desire and you never know, that may just see us beat the biggest money bags in football…..

Sometimes it is not always about the destination, it’s about the journey……

Let’s make this journey a great one…..

Snippet from The Daily Express – According to a source in Cologne, we were again watching Lukas Podolski on Friday:

We are aware Arsenal are watching Podolski and they were at Friday’s game.

Some reports even go on to suggest we are already in talks over a deal.

The same paper suggests that we are also in for Jan Vertonghen after Ajax confirmed they have a replacement lined up for a January move.

Those two would be a good opening for the up and coming transfer window…

Have a good day all….

International defender in? Chamakh on his way out? Striker ruled out for tomorrow….

November 28, 2011

Before anything else and I know we all talked about it yesterday but, the world of football truly lost a really nice guy in Gary Speed, may he find peace and may his family and friends find strength as they try to come to terms with such a loss.

Ok, onto the post…..

First up its Chamakh and despite Arsene Wenger trying to convince the player and all us Arsenal fans that the player is very much in the future plans of our boss, the amount of appearances he makes suggests a whole lot different.

Yet again PSG are in the news about wanting to save our Moroccan’s career and suggestion is that they are about to make a £10M offer in January. They can afford that amount; they are the French version of Man City or Chelsea.

Personally, if I was Arsene Wenger and this offer came in, I’d bite their hands off in a flash!

Chamakh breezed in, played his part when we needed him last season but something has happened to him, maybe similar to what has happened to Arshavin – both have lost all confidence they joined us with and now for the sake of our football club they need to be allowed to leave. More importantly though, they need to go for the sake of their own career and Arshavin doesn’t have too many more years left in the game, he deserves to be more than a bench warmer.

Next up is the mass sale that’s reported to be on the cards at the Etihad Stadium in January. Having recorded and reported a huge financial loss over the last few months, it would appear that they are planning to recoup a few pennies by selling off a few players. In fact as many as twenty-three players could be on their way out as they look to shape up ready for the introduction of the FFP……

Wonder if we could get a few bargins in their January sale? ;)

Staying with Citeh, Mario Balotelli saw red yesterday in their 1-1 draw with the Dippers so he won’t be available to face our young side for tomorrow’s Carling Cup fixture.

Nottingham Forest defender Jamal Lascelles is the latest young player being looked at by Arsene Wenger. Lascelles is already featuring for England at Under 19’s level and £2M sure be enough to secure the 18 year olds services as long as Chelsea don’t get in there first.

That’s about it for today, tomorrow the rich kids are in town……

Have a good one….

Mental fatigue, tiredness and a hangover to blame……..

November 27, 2011

It isn’t the first let-down we have had following a big mid-week result, and it certainly won’t be the last. Having won our Champions League group and qualified for the knockout stages a few days ago, this match – at home against one of the lower-half sides – was an opportunity to rotate a few of our players, while hopefully still getting three points to continue our league momentum.

As soon as the final whistle went on Wednesday night, speculation abounded that we should change some of the side for this match; we all speculated about just how many changes Arsene would make.

As it was, Arsene kept the rotation to a minimum. JD started at right back for Kos, and other than Arsh in for Gerv, we lined up the same as recently: Ches, JD, Mert, TV, Santos, Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Arsh, Robin, and Theo.

Fab, Kos, Diaby, Frim, Gerv, Benny and Chamakh comprised our bench…

We had the late afternoon kickoff today, and started the day in our now customary seventh place. In the mid-afternoon kickoff, Spuds and Chelsea both won and Man United and Newcastle drew in a match that had absolutely everything.

This meant that a big win could potentially move us to fourth, ahead of Chelsea and Newcastle (on goal difference). With Liverpool hosting leaders Man City today, we certainly expected to move at least into sixth.

Fulham got the match underway, and almost immediately it was apparent that something was not quite right. To use an oft-quoted Arsene-ism, we “lacked a bit of sharpness”…

That is not to say we didn’t create anything – in the fourth minute, Arsh put the ball in the net after collecting Robin’s fine through ball, but was correctly flagged offside…Then a few minutes later, Schwarzer just got a hand up to claw Ramsey’s goal-bound chip away after more good set-up work from Robin…Ramsey then fired high from a good position.

Despite these chances, we didn’t seem to have that much spark. We were patient, almost seeming to think “don’t worry, the goal will come”, and we also seemed to take heavy touches, and misplace plenty of passes.

Fulham didn’t threaten much early, and didn’t get a shot off until around 20 minutes in, when Zamora fired over Szczesny’s cross-bar. Theo then forced Schwarzer to block at his near post. We forced a series of corners, but were unable to do anything with them.

Shortly before the half hour, Santos earned the first booking, handling the ball as attempted to stop Ruiz. Zamora kept yapping at referee Dean, who booked him, then gestured for him to “zip it” and get back to the task at hand. A couple of minutes later, we had a bit of a scare when TV blocked the ball with his knee, went down and then got up gingerly, favoring the knee. Fortunately, it was nothing and he was fine within a minute or so…

The pattern continued until the last few minutes of the half. Perhaps the most excitement was a cameo of Jack (Wilshere), showing off his white iPhone 4G/S from his seat in the stands. Just before the 45 minute mark, Fulham brought the ball into our area, and our defenders converged around Dempsey, who picked out Dembele, umarked near the right corner of goal. The latter took a touch and drew a fine, diving save from Szczesny. That was the best chance of the match until the first (only minute of stoppage time), where Etuhu was booked for fouling Arteta, and Mert headed the free kick narrowly wide.

The whistle went just a couple of seconds later and the half ended as it started: 0-0.

We did not make any changes at the interval and got the second half underway. Fulham started quicker and forced a couple of corners, which we cleared comfortably. We slowly built pressure, and right at the hour mark, should have gone ahead. Arteta picked our captain out, who brought the ball into the box and shot across Schwarzer, the ball headed for the far (left) corner, but Baird got back to clear the ball off the line. A few minutes later, Robin burst into the box, and went down. There were several minutes before a replay, but when I saw it, I thought Dean made the right call (no pen).

We have conceded goals from an ascendant position before, and it happened again on 64 minutes. Murphy put the ball into our box, former Liverpool defender Riise chested it down, and TV slid in to clear, but instead steered the ball past Szczesny, and into our net.

Within two minutes, Zamora thought he doubled Fulham’s lead with a smart finish; instead, he was (correctly) flagged offside during the build-up.

Arsene had seen enough, and responded by bringing Ramsey and Mert off, for Diaby and Gerv. While Song officially replaced Mert at the center of defence, although his role was fluid enough for us to resemble a 3-3-4 or 4-2-4, depending upon what he needed to do at the moment.

Going behind gave us a (belated) sense of urgency, and Diaby and Gerv both proved more direct and more willing to run at the Fulham defence. We forced a corner and JD produced a powerful, point-blank header, which Schwarzer brilliantly saved. We pressed for another and Fulham made the fatal mistake of letting us come at them. Chamakh replaced Arsh with 15 minutes to go, and seven minutes later, we drew level.

Theo made the goal, whipping in a great cross (one of several good crosses he put in today), from the right flank. Chamakh jumped for it and didn’t reach it, but TV was on hand to head the ball into the bottom left hand corner. Cue huge sighs of relief all around…

We pressed for the winner, with Gerv and Theo shooting directly at Schwarzer when each had time and space to do better. Three minutes from time, there was a shout for handball inside the Fulham box. Replays showed hit either Dempsey’s arm or chest – either way it looked inadvertent and not a pen.

As the match moved into stoppage time, Fulham pressed for a late winner. They forced two quick corners, and as sub Kasami tried to play keep ball in our corner, Chamakh deftly robbed him, swapped passes with Robin and Gerv. The move broke down, but we were still able to force a corner, from which Robin fired wide. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Fulham broke and Dempsey brought the ball into our area. We cleared before he could line a shot up for find another white shirt, and that was that.

At the end of the day, a point isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things. We were never going to win every game, and this performance – if not result – was probably due. After the match, Arsene conceded the players had a “hangover” from the midweek win over Dortmund, and I think that was certainly evident.

The hangover was not the entire story, Fulham deserve full credit for making this one difficult and getting a deserved point here. They coped well with most of what we threw at them early on, created a couple of chances and grabbed the lead in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Even when we equalized, they were resilient enough to hold on for a point.

So we’ll have to make do with the point. Should Man City beat Liverpool tomorrow, we’ll remain in sixth. If the home side claims at least a point, we’ll probably find ourselves back in seventh. We have Man City in the Carling Cup on Tuesday, another chance to rotate…

On the subject of rotation, after the win over Dortmund, I expressed the hope that Arsene would rotate only as necessary, and minimize the changes in order to ensure we get a result today. This match served as a reminder to me that I have the luxury of making those comments from here; Arsene and our coaching staff have to make these decisions based on how the players look in action and training. If yesterdays collective performance is anything to go by, we have several players who can use a breather – or will need a rest break before they start to look jaded.

We have the Carling Cup tie, which as much as I would like to win, I think we now have to prioritize rotation. Then we have the dead rubber CL tie at Piraeus the following week, another opportunity to switch things up. I still think we should try and ensure we can field a good mix of first teamers and squad/youth players but judging from today’s performance, I now think giving our key players a break is most important.

With two matches, perhaps we can do it.

We’ll see how Arsene approaches Tuesday’s tie. We won’t know whether yesterdays result is good or bad in the grand scheme, until later in the season. For now, I will characterize it as not the best result, certainly not the worst, but overall a fair one. We’ve been on a good run over the past several weeks, so this result is not the end of the world.

We just have to be careful to put this behind us and get back to winning quickly. If not Tuesday in the Cup, then certainly on the weekend up at Wigan.

Written by Oliver

Wenger hints at midfielder return! Best keeper up against best striker today….

November 26, 2011

We have all been wondering what to make of the absence of Andrey Arshavin, when was the last time he started a match?
Over the last few weeks he hasn’t even made it onto the pitch from the bench either but today could see his return which suggests Wenger could rotate a little tonight.

Talking about Arshavin, Wenger said:

He’s not a back-up player but at the moment he doesn’t play, maybe he will play on Saturday.

I feel sorry for every player who doesn’t play but it is part of our job. Competition is part of our job and you must accept that in some periods of your career somebody can get in front of you.

It must be difficult, right now things are not broken so why fix it but on the other hand, if players don’t get a rest when they need, injuries could set in…

Personally, I’d start with the same side that won midweek, we didn’t have to travel and surely they have had chance to rest those weary legs in time for today’s home match.

From Wengers comments though, maybe the Russian is about to make his first appearance for a little while today but will he be the only change? I don’t think so, I reckon the big Frenchman could be in for his first start in what seems like years.

We all know it’s Fulham up today at 5.30pm and here are a few stats:

As said, Diaby is fit and Rosicky has also available for selection after recovering from an ankle injury which kept him out of the midweek game.

Fulham are without both Damien Duff and Stephen Kelly, old boy John Arne Riise is back after becoming a father.

We are now on a five match winning run in the league, our best run in near on 20 months so things really are looking better. The side seems so much more gelled, more ‘team like’ and things seem to be defiantly on the up, long may that remain. We finally have a captain who when talks on the clubs website, does so about others and not just himself. He makes it clear how important each and every players contribution is paramount to us improving and no matter how the media want to call us a one player team, he obviously doesn’t agree with the idiots!

Fulham have never beaten us on our own blades of grass….

Did you know that Alex Song’s performance against Dortmund midweek was one of the strongest seen by a central midfielder this season in the Champions League – shame he was guilty of a gaff in the last few minutes of that game, it could have been the best rather than ‘one of the best’.

Some suggest we still have weaknesses in defence, maybe they are right but we are certainly a great deal better than we were at the beginning of the season, a clean sheet today may just go a long way to shutting the critics up.


We have never lost to Fulham at home – out of the 25 matches played, we have drawn just three and in the ten Premier League fixtures played, they have managed just six goals.

Fulham have scored 13 goals this season and our number 10 has scored that same amount all by himself.

Theo has notched up 8 assists this year and each one has been finished by Robin.

Fulham, well they have managed just 12 victories in their last 101 away fixtures in the Premier League but this season, our one time goalkeeper target, Mark Schwarzer has kept five clean sheets, equal best in the league so getting past him won’t be easy.

So, their keeper is in form but he hasn’t faced the most potent striker in the league yet has he?

The big question is, will he today and if he does, will he keep a clean sheet?

I doubt it……..

Ex Spurs man is definitely on his way to The Emirates……

November 25, 2011

Ok, it’s Friday and after our fantastic victory on Wednesday night, I thought just a bit of  fun today.

Come on Mr Official... All I want is one win, please help me .......

Ex Spurs manager, Martin Jol brings his Fulham side to The Emirates tomorrow for another evening kick off. Jol has never managed a league victory against us I think in all  his time of managing our noisy neighbours between 2004-07. I can’t see that there is a reason to think that record will change either, just because he has switched sides of London…..

We’ll worry about that match tomorrow eh?

Today is about a quick round-up of the gossip and stuff from the ever not so reliable journalists that get paid so much money to ‘guess’.

One bit of interesting news the Daily Mail broke yesterday and that involves the introduction of technology into the game. Football Association general secretary Alex Horne has said goal-line technology could be used in the Premier League as early as next season, if of course FIFA give the seal of approval.

Long way for that to go yet……

The same paper reports that we are one of many top sides who are interested in signing the new kid on the block – that is 15-year-old Spaniard Javier Gonzalez who has scored an amazing 20 goals in just seven games for Laredo SD’s youth team. Old Red nose is the odds on favourite to get his signature at the moment, well good luck to him, we need another kid like a hole in the head, especially a Spanish one who will one day want to go and play for either Barcelona or Real Madrid!!

Talking of Spain, Steve Bould has been talking about the home-grown talent, not only at Arsenal but in England and he believes we have what it takes to match them.

I really do believe that this country should be producing the best players in the world with the amount of money and facilities we have over here now.

The way the sums are going, we’re all going to have to produce players. And why shouldn’t we all? That’s our jobs.

We should be looking towards another 10 years. We can be another Spain – there should be no reason why not.

We only have to look list of players in our youth set up to realise he is perhaps not far off the mark but sadly, each season we think the next player is going to be ready to burst onto the Arsenal scene, they seem to be sold on.

They may have the ability but do the English players always have the right attitude to go on and do what their Spanish counterparts do?

There are a few that would suggest not……


Owen Coyle wants any bids for Gary Cahill to be made early in January and reports suggest £8 Million would be enough to secure the player, isn’t that what Wenger offered in the summer?

Lille have reportedly slapped a £43M price tag on Eden Hazard so that pretty much rules us out and Dortmund have confirmed that Goetze is staying put, at least until the summer.

Bit of injury news to end with and thankfully there isn’t any after the midweek game. Diaby hasn’t suffered any set-back and Kosceinly was subbed due to tiredness so he should be ok for tomorrow. Jenkinson should return in three weeks and Gibbs is penciled in for four weeks.

That’s it folks – you all have a good day all…..

First English Team into the Last Sixteen, could we be alone??

November 24, 2011

After what feels like an eternity, we were back into Champions League action, with our home tie versus Bundesliga title-holders Borussia Dortmund. We opened this group phase with a credible 1-1 on their ground back in mid-September, and going one better would send us into the knockout stages, with the possibility of winning the group outright very much on.

Anything other than a win would send us to Piraeus on the final matchday needing a win just to be sure.

So if we needed to take care of business at home last night and the task ahead was not in any way going to be easy!

Both of us won at the weekend but Dortmund notched the more significant win, against a far stronger opponent than we faced at Carrow Road. Dortmund’s defensive display at Bayern was excellent, and this allowed Goetze to take virtually their only chance over 90 minutes, for a 1-0 away win over the current Bundesliga leaders.

In many ways, their season has mirrored ours so far. Both teams had slow starts, and both have really picked up in the past month-and-a-half. One major difference is that Dortmund’s run has catapulted them up the table, to within two points of the summit.

Despite the fact that we keep winning, we cannot seem to move out of seventh place. Dortmund is clearly a much better side than the one we faced two-plus months ago but we too are much improved from the one we fielded that evening…

In his Tuesday press conference, Arsene revealed that Rosicky sustained a thigh strain in training and would miss out against his former club. The other big news was Abou Diaby’s return to the squad after his latest prolonged absence through injury.

While Arsene did not outright say that Diaby would be in the squad tonight, most of us expected it based on the point our manager made about the player being ahead of schedule and it being “good to have him back”…

So we lined up Szczesny, Santos, Mert, TV, Kos, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Gerv, Robin, and Theo.

Fab, JD, Frim, Diaby, Benny, Arsh, and Chamakh formed our bench.

Dortmund kicked the first half off and set about pressuring us, denying both space and time. Kagawa tried an early shot, but Szczesny gathered without too much trouble. Santos created our first chance about ten minutes in, crossing for Robin, who could not get enough power or direction on his header. Weidenfeller saved it comfortably.

The game started to open up a bit from there, Mert came up for a corner and got to the ball but couldn’t head it on target. We forced another quick corner and Robin put a good delivery in but Dortmund was able to clear.

Then Theo latched on to Ramsey’s pass, but Weidenfeller came out quickly to block the shot.

We had an injury stoppage about 25 minutes in. Bender went down hard after a collision with TV, the former catching an inadvertent boot. The Dortmund man was stretchered off in a neck brace to polite applause from both sets of supporters. This forced Klopp into an early, emergency substitution, with Leitner coming on.

Play resumed, and Lewandowski shot wide.

They say good (or bad) news comes in bunches. Just before the half hour mark, Goetze pulled up and needed to come off, Perisic replacing him, so that made two early substitutions for Klopp prior to the half hour mark. While Goetze’s departure was definitely a plus for us, it is worth noting that his replacement is the player who scored Dortmund’s late equalizer in the earlier tie.

As we entered the final third of the first half, the pattern continued as before. Dortmund pressed and closed down quickly, with neither side creating many chances. With five minutes remaining, we suddenly sprang to life, as Robin played Theo in and the latter fired the ball into the net. Unfortunately, Theo was just offside when the ball was played, so the decision was correct.

A minute before the interval, we had the best opportunity to open the scoring. Just after Schmelzer shot straight at Szczesny from a good position, Theo turned (almost) creator, putting a fine cross towards Robin. Weidenfeller cut it out, but could only push the ball into no-man’s land, but there was no red shirt on hand to turn the loose ball in.

We played through three uneventful minutes of stoppage time and went into the break all square. On the whole, I thought Dortmund looked the better side but we came alive as the half wound down and had the better chances to take the lead.

We kicked the second half off with no changes to our starting eleven.

It was Dortmund who started quicker, as a Grosskreutz cross was deflected across the face of our goal, before Mert put it out for a corner. A minute later, Kagawa went through down the left, and forced Szczesny into a difficult save.

Just as it looked as though Dortmund would over-run us, we hit back. While Robin – yet again – finished the move, Song deserves huge credit for creating the opportunity. With little on down the left, he took the ball, beat three yellow shirts and crossed for Robin to head past the diving Weidenfeller. 1-0 and one foot into the knockout round.

With a precious lead, the last thing we needed to do was sit back on it. Schmelzer earned the first booking for a foul on Theo as we looked to increase the lead. As the match moved past the hour mark, our passing game looked in rhythm, as we kept the ball much better than earlier and moved it about crisply.

Right on 60, Gerv should have doubled our lead when Robin’s perfectly-timed pass put him in alone on Weidenfeller. Unfortunately, Gerv hesitated after rounding the keeper and Hummels was able to get back and clear. That really should really have been two…

A few minutes later, Theo earned a rather silly booking for getting into it with Schmelzer…

With 25 minutes remaining, Klopp made his only remaining sub, bringing Barrios (striker) on for Captain Kehl. A 1-0 defeat would not do them much good, so he had to roll the dice. For us, it would an opportunity to try and hit them on the break. Barrios immediately won a corner, which came to nothing when Mert was fouled in our box.

Ramsey then picked Theo out with a fine pass, but the latter shot over the bar. Theo then put a good defensive shift in, winning the ball from Piszczek, and starting a move which ended with Robin flagged for offside.

Arsene made the first change with 15 minutes to go, Benny replacing the disappointing Gerv. Santos then fouled Kagawa to concede a free kick and Ramsey was foolishly booked for kicking the ball away. I say foolish on the referee’s part, as there did not look even a hint of dissent, rather Ramsey moving the ball to where the kick would apparently be lined up.

A couple of minutes later, Benny was booked for a late challenge on Piszczek.

As the match entered the last ten minutes, we were boosted by the news of Fetfatzidis’ goal for Olympiacos. That put them 1-0 up at Marseille and if both scores held we would win the group tonight. There was still ten-plus minutes to go, however.

In the 82nd minute, Benny had a chance to grab our second, but he too hesitated, allowing Dortmund to clear. Arsene then brought JD on for Kos.

With five minutes to go, we earned a free kick around 30 yards from the Dortmund goal. Arteta took it, smacking it off the Dortmund wall and out for a corner. Just before we took the corner, Arsene made his final sub, bringing Diaby on for his first appearance in half a year, for Theo.

Diaby immediately proved a lucky talisman, as we got the second goal we should have scored back in the first half, from the corner.

Once again it was Robin, who drifted almost un-noticed to the back post. Arteta swung it in, TV fed it on and Robin tapped in from three yards out! 2-0 and on track to qualify for the knockout stage.

We navigated the remaining regulation and first minute of injury time. In the second minute, however, Song got a bit too cute down by our corner. He and JD combined to give the ball to Leitner. He picked out Lewandowski, who fed Kagawa for a close range consolation.

Much too little, and way too late, It made little difference, other than to flatter Dortmund.

The whistle went a few second later, followed by the final whistle at the Velodrome.

Our win, combined with Olympiacos’ win meant we won this group with a game to spare. Dortmund are all but out and if Olympiacos beat us on the final match-day (which, if Arsene chooses to over-rotate, is highly possible), then they may be able to overtake OM for second spot.

For the team who was expected to crash at the first hurdle – indeed, the team that many projected would not get past Udinese in the competition qualifiers back in August – has again assured CL football in the New Year.

We join Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Internazionale as group winners; Bayer 04 Leverkusen (at Chelsea’s expense!), AC Milan, and APOEL FC have qualified, and Ajax are all-but-in. It is worth noting that we are the only Prem side to secure qualification.

United and Chelsea will probably both find ways to get through, while City no longer have their fate in their own hands. Should all three of these sides fail to progress from matchday six – highly unlikely, but nevertheless possible – then the much derided Arsenal will stand alone as England’s only representative in the competition…

As it is, the above scenario has little to do with us. If any or none of the other three sides qualify, that will not change the fact that we will need to worry about ourselves first and foremost.

Winning the group means we won’t draw the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern or Inter in the next round, but there are still some difficult teams on order. These include Milan, Leverkusen, Napoli (if they finish ahead of City), Ajax, and the winner of the Zenit – Porto clash.

We can now put this competition to one side for a few months. I would like us to win the dead-rubber (for us) match at Piraeus, but I recognize that the result will not be first priority for us. Nevertheless, I hope we rotate responsibly.

We have some players that absolutely should not be risked – Robin first and foremost – and others who can use the breather. But I think the club will be better served by starting a balanced mix of first team regulars and squad/youth/reserve players. I think those getting a rare opportunity are likely to do better alongside first team regulars than they would in a side of 8-10 squad/reserve/kid players.

Like the quarterfinal ties, we’ll worry more about the final group game when we come to that point.

Next up is Fulham, a match that we need to win to keep our good league run going but before that, well done to our players and coaching staff.

We beat a tough, credible opponent last night, and won our group cleanly. Some quarters will give us credit, others won’t – that’s life, and the haters (of which plenty remain) will continue to hate, because that is what they do.

We are not yet where we want to be – or should be but only the most blinkered hater will refuse to acknowledge we are on the up….

Crisis? Go to Stamford Bridge if you want to see what a crisis resembles.

That most certainly is not us…

Written by Oliver


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