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Flattering end to a flattering season?

May 12, 2010

Bet you were thinking, Why couldn’t we do this last month? You know thrashing a team that is by accounts much weaker than us. At least then we wouldn’t have worried – just a little bit – that Spurs could have overtaken us had we actually lost to Fulham.

That is something we would never have imagined just before we played Barcelona. I actually thought that losing to Messi et al’s team would make us stronger. It didn’t. From losing (comfortably) to one of the best to losing to err, one of the worst …Wigan, Blackburn. Take your pick really.

Our season started with a resounding win. You remember it? 6-1 at Everton felt like it was in another decade until we finished off with a 4-0 win over Fulham.

When we were good, we were really good. At one point we were going to score a 100 goals in the league. Then our current favourite Dutchman picked up an injury and it kinda went downhill. RVP’s injured..that’s our season fucked. How the hell are we supposed to win anything without our best striker? Except until he scored two poacher ike goals against Spurs, RVP himself said how he wasn’t a very natural striker.

And didn’t we lose 3 games that RVP actually featured in after he returned? A bit of a co-incidence really that though.

There were some really good moments. Fighting back to win in Liege and against Bolton after we were 2-0 down. Showing some spirit at Anfield after the worst first half that Wenger saw. And not many teams thrash Porto as easily as we did. Cesc and Van Persie didn’t play that game. Oh and how about sticking it up to Stoke after one of their own did you know what to Ramsey.

But when we were bad, we were bad. Injuries we had a plenty and we topped the injuries league table for most of the season. However a team cannot excuse the defeats against the likes of Wigan and Blackburn not when we had a lead against both. Neither could a virtually full strength team offer any excuses when they threw a 2 goal lead against West Ham.

As good as Utd and more so Chelsea were, there is no way they should have beaten us with such an emphatic scoreline on our own turf. Those were moments where the team failed to realise the collective potential it had. Next season, this must not happen. If we can’t beat them, we shouldn’t let them walk over us. It was embarrassing.

And so we finish where we deserved to. Is it that bad? Above Man City. Above Villa. Above Liverpool. Above Everton. And above all, above Spurs. All of these teams who (save Everton slightly) spoke big but still couldn’t overtake us when the league finished.

Finishing third also means we play two games fewer next season. That itself is an improvement because you know how long that “game in hand” discussion carried on for. And by then a lot of our players were probably having that discussion in the treatment room themselves.

Not that by finishing third we can be completely satisfied. Those teams I mentioned will all try and better themselves next season especially Spurs and City. The next few months will reveal a lot about our club’s mindset for the future ahead. More on that in another post.

It is time for us fans to show a siege mentality

April 19, 2010

I started this blog as someone who thought he knew a lot better than the existing playing and non playing Arsenal staff. My first post was pessimistic, skeptical – negative to say the least. As I began to look around for other blogs (something I really should have done before as I didn’t know of the blogging scene), I read some of the most positive stuff written about our club that can leave us feeling frustrated. I also came across some really negative stuff written about the club we love.

After reading how Zamora was irked about the abuse he received on internet forums, I began to assess how critical I could be. Professional players they may be but they can make mistakes on and off the field and we need to more understanding. They are human like you and me.

Yesterday however, when the final whistle went I was angry. All this season I’ve tried to downplay disappointing results and focus on the positives. But not yesterday. Tried as much as I could but my glass my not even half empty. There was barely a sip in it. The only other time where I was largely negative was after that draw at West Ham. In a way that was possibly a worse result than the one yesterday. We had a much stronger team then and somehow threw away the 2 goal advantage.

But even if the team was missing key first team personnel (5 were definitely out, RVP not quite fit to start), there was no way we should have surrendered so readily as we did. Did we deserve our goals based on the performance at the time? I’ll glady admit that on the whole it wasn’t. At that point they only players who were doing well for me were Sol, Rosicky and Theo. Individual moments of magic can change a game for good but collective effort can seal a positive result. The latter was desperately missing.

As poor as we were, Wigan were terrific. It takes a special kind of motivation to thrive in adversity and Martinez’s men had it. Even before Walcott scored the first, they looked a lot more sharper than us. Then they could have had a penalty before Silvestre scored but didn’t get it. We couldn’t find any rhythm in our passing for the first 20-25 minutes. But that is done now. We need to put that past it us.

No doubt there is a lot of venemous stuff being written around at the moment. If they can do so when we’ve lost in the CL semi final (how distant would that be if we finish below 4th!), they will definitely do it again. It is their right even I don’t agree with such extreme resentment. Arsenal is the only club to have so many blogs about. We can’t afford to encourage the media and those who are anti-Arsenal to equip themselves with some more ‘Arsenal are the worst club ever’ rhetoric. We still have a lot of positives to take on the whole so far and it would be foolish to ignore that. Having been tipped to miss out on the Top 4 altogether before the season began, we’ve done rather well right until injuries deprived us of our stellar players like it has now.

We have to stay together and back the club we love. We can’t be passive, hesitant, skeptical when it comes to showing our support. The team that will play won’t be the best but with our support they can try harder to get up there.

While we are alive with fervour, no way are Man City going to walk all over us next weekend.  No way will they and Spurs do the unthinkable and overtake us. It is time to create a cauldron where our team knows we back the club and in doing so backing everyone within it. Maybe just maybe this might be the turning point that will change Arsenal for a lot better.

We have two home games remaining. Let’s make the most of it as fans. Here’s hoping the players will reciprocate and perform for Arsenal.

What do Heitinga, Wenger and Ferguson have in common?

April 15, 2010

You’ll get the answer but let me get this bit out of the way first.

Well done Tottenham. I know. It hurts to say it but it was due. For over 11 years we never tasted a day like this in the league. No other team enjoyed such fortune over their most bitter rivals. We lost statistically yesterday but then again we’ve lost a game or two psychologically before that. For me the 4-4 hurt a lot more than what happened yesterday. In the Lasagna season, Henry came on and scored a goal we scarcely deserved that afternoon. Both teams last night missed out key players so no excuse this time on the injuries front really.

We lost to what I thought was a really good goal from Rose. Once again you can point out Almunia’s inability to catch the ball from a corner and his reaction time once Rose hit the volley. But his strike was fantastic. If one of our players scored that goal we wouldn’t have pointed towards defensive mistakes like when Cesc scored the solo goal in the home leg against Spurs.

Now back to my question in the post title. All 3 men had been “moaning” about the injuries they’ve had. Arsene even said back in November that this season was exceptionally bad and we’ve had more injuries since. The latest being Vermaelen last night and possibly Denilson as well. At this rate, we’ll have to bring back all our players out on loan. At least they’ve been somewhat immuned from this injury curse.

There was a lot of discussion, theories even as to why have such bad luck when it comes to keeping players fit. Is it our style of play? Is it that our players cover a lot of distance? Are our players brittle? Etc etc.

I don’t think there is one single reason where Arsenal can be held accountable for the injuries our players have suffered.

And then Clichy mentioned the issue that was on my mind even before he said it.

We are the only championship in Europe who are not having a rest during Christmas. I don’t want to hide behind anything but when you are having two weeks off during Christmas you have time to recover, but we are playing game after game every three days and so of course you are going to get injuries. If you look at the Barcelona game we had six or seven players out who could have been in the starting XI. That shows you that at the end of the season whether you are Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, English football suffers a little bit because we played so many games. We like playing on Boxing Day but it can be difficult.

Yes, that’s right. The Winter break.

Apart from tradition, I couldn’t find many reasons against it. Would it be difficult to do in a year where there are the Euro’s or the World Cup? Possibly. But the other leagues can find space for it so why can’t it be done in the EPL? Just a 2 week break from the vigours of league football.

It wouldn’t prevent leg breaks like the ones suffered by Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey but it could lessen the amount of minor injuries that occur when the games come, excuse the cliche, thick and fast.

Apart from Arsenal, this season has seen

  • United play a game without any recognised central defenders against Fulham and at the time they had only fit defender (Evra).
  • Everton at one point have more injuries than us. They even had 2 players withdrawn once in a Europa league match within the first 20 minutes due to injuries.
  • Liverpool and Spurs have had key personnel out due to injuries and so forth.

It doesn’t help that some players are risked even they are even ready. Something wasn’t quite right when Gallas’ name was on the teamsheet when we played Barcelona at the Emirates. Something was even more fishy when Rooney was declared fit to play against Bayern. Both players didn’t last even 2 thirds of the matches they played. How rigorous and valid are these tests? Did these players get tested in a low key friendly match before?

I don’t follow the other leagues in Europe like I do with the EPL but I can’t think of any non EPL team that have had such a woeful season with regards to injuries. Arsenal are just one club badly affected in the EPL who have had it worst but like I said other clubs in the Premiership haven’t had it too easy either.

RVP return likely? Fergie loses it & Uncle Sam a closet Gooner?

April 12, 2010

No. No. No. Not this Uncle Sam. But Uncle Sam, the uncle of Blackburn Rovers. The one who never gets much affection from Arsenal fans. But after this weekend he might just get a little. About 0.000001 % of it.

Forget that Spurs lost to Portsmouth. Had the regular happened at Wembley i.e. Spurs won – what would be the result that made our sunday? It would have been Utd firing blanks at Ewood Park. Given the friendship between Allardyce and Fergie (word is and this never slips away from my mind, they shared a few drinks after Bolton kicked us off the park back in 2003), I expected Utd to win comfortably.

Yes Utd were without Rooney and they do depend on him quite a fair bit but this is Blackburn, Sam’s Rovers who’d bark and bite when Arsenal are in town but surrender when Utd gave them a biscuit. So not only have Blackburn held Utd to a draw, but claimed a point against Chelsea. Co-incidentally both Utd and Chelsea played Rovers after their Champions League exits. We won’t have such issues thanks especially to one Lionel Messi…

Rovers’ draw vs Utd wasn’t that suprising considering Fergie ‘s ‘Rafa’ moment on Friday. In 5 minutes he:

  • demanded praise for Utd’s 3-0 lead.  Yeah just like the hare demanding praise for take an early lead against the tortoise.
  • accused the press of cheering for Barcelona last year in the final – based on the word of one journalist who had no proof to back his claim.
  • Took a dig at UEFA’s rules that managers speak straight after the game even though this has happened for years.
  • Accused the press of sensationalising the now infamous “typical germans’ phrase (as if it needed any sensationalising)
  • Agreed with Van Gaal that the English league the most honest in Europe – forgetting that his team have been probably the least honest in the EPL.

Well that’s a lot of bullshit to go through in 5 minutes. And Arsene is meant to be the whinger eh? To top it off, Fergie used the phrase “and that’s a fact” to support hearsay. Oh we laughed.

So, that was a fun weekend for us Gooners and hopefully the fun won’t stop there. Wednesday is the ideal game for us to show we’re better than the result at the Nou Camp. The NLD has the feel of a straightforward win but it never is. Since 2001 we’ve triumphed at the Lane 3 times which makes our overall record against them even more remarkable when you think about it. Harry’s Spurs are never to be taken lightly especially after they capitulated against Portsmouth. I have a feeling that our players will be grateful that Palacios isn’t playing. When we played them last year in February, the man was “fully committed”. Given our luck with regards to injuries, it is a blessing that Palacios is unavailable.

Word around is that RVP might return, possibly a place on the bench at worst. This is good news in a way. For far too long our season has had a feeling of “If only RVP wasn’t injured”. Well, the Dutchman is back, training hard no doubt, to help end our season on a high. In a way this news is bad for the fringe players – i.e. Eduardo, Vela and dare I say it Bendtner. It is better we have a squad that is fit and raring to go then to rely on a player who might not be fully match fit. Besides we saw what happened to Utd when they risked a Rooney with one fit ankle. Then again, considering our injury list we don’t have that much of a choice do we? There is also the incentive for Robin to show some form right in time for the World Cup and that is reason enough to include him as soon as he declares himself available.

Against all odds

April 1, 2010

Two nil up and they cocked it up. Not very good this Barcelona side are they? Well apart from having 12 shots at our goal in the first 29 minutes, dominating possession for the whole game and chasing every one of our players down for the first 70 minutes.

Still, the word “character” was thrown around after Theo, the lone Englishman as the commentators like to point out came on to rejuvenate what seemed to be a wholly lost cause for us.

Had we come in at half time being 2-0 down I would have accepted it. Barcelona played some phenomenal stuff, that too at our ground. No other team has ever done that and we’ve watched quite a few games. “It was men against boys” a phrase the media here like to use when we lose to Utd and Chelsea. Outfought, Outplayed, Outhought. I know Barcelona are the best club in the world but it was all too easy. The first tackle made in anger resulted in a yellow card and an injury. Arshavin often criticized for not doing his bit defensively, tried and didn’t succeed. He would be later replaced by Eboue.

The effort was there but it came at different times.

Almunia had the game of his Arsenal career. Just after half time Jens said he had never seen a keeper in Europe make so many saves in such a short space of time. He was my hero for the first 30 minutes. If I was an Arsenal outfield player, I would have ran up to him and hugged him. Or done this at half time. His saves kept us in the game.

Then in the early part of the second half, two long passes over the top ala Stoke or Chelsea (against a more creative side) style gave Ibrahimovic the service his ego demanded. Having missed a few chances he made no mistake. The first was a clever chip after Almunia came off his line trying to narrow the angle. The second was more simplistic – That’s all I’m going to say on that.

I sat motionless as the goals went in. We’ve been here before. It was Barcelona but I could later understand Arsene’s anger at the type of goals we conceded. An Arsenal team in 1999 (featuring the old English defence) were outplayed 4-2 at Wembley in the first round. Keep it in perspective I thought.

25 odd minutes to go and Arsene not given enough credit for his substitutions – our subs have a great record of scoring goals in the Premiership by the way – brings on Theo just as Barcelona are seen to be taking it a little too easy. Theo gives problems to Maxwell and anyone on that right flank. His pace, his desire to drive forward something Guardiola’s team wasn’t too familiar with. Then Diaby having a forgetful game starts a move of sorts.

 Diaby intercepts play and passes it to Cesc. Cesc finds Bendtner and the Dane threads it to Theo. Theo cuts in and takes a shot. It isn’t the strongest shot but somehow it beats Valdes. 1-2. Game. On.

Barcelona don’t know what to do. They try to shock us n the counter. Guardiola brings Henry on. A ploy to distract us tactically and mentally. But Soldier Cesc, Captain Cesc battles on and is just about to rifle a shot past Valdez from a Bendtner pass when he is taken out by Puyol. He’s off. He’s off. Well if they can take out Cesc by diving, our skipper can take their skipper out legitimately.

Cesc to take the penalty. He has to score. It’s Barcelona – it is his chance to leave his mark.

Straight down the middle and Valdez is beaten.

Amidst the mini commentary for those two goals, I forgot to say how impressed I was by Nasri’s performance in the first half. He didn’t do much  but caused much confusion in the  Barcelona camp.

Otherwise it was scrappy from us but hey coming back from 2-0 down to draw against the Champions of Spain, Europe and the World. We only had 2 shots on goal and scored from both. Who would have thought we would be more clinical than  Barcelona?

Oh and I haven’t even mentioned Messi. Who is that guy anyway? Just kidding. I bet he is saving himself for the Nou Camp. Then again this Arsenal team won’t be so charitable. A tough assignment made tougher but not impossible.

A dose of realism please

March 28, 2010

Now and then the good ol’ trusty internet fails you. You go back to old habits – switch on the telly for updates, anxiously hoping that Arsenal are 25-0 up. Nothing less will make you content let alone happy. We were a minute or so away from getting a fantastic win.

Only Aston Villa and Bolton have won at Birmingham this season and that was ages ago. Utd had their bargain signing Own Goal to thank after they snatched a draw at St Andrews. Chelsea used their usual tactics of let’s bore the opposition and then sneak a winner. (It was Birmingham so they couldn’t “bully” them you see). They failed and played out a draw. The Brummy Blues also have a mean defence at home, conceding only 8 goals at home prior to the match today.

This game was always going to be difficult. Before today’s match, our last three results with Birmingham – relevance because its McLeish’s Birmingham and not Bruce’s Birmingham that always surrendered even before a ball was kicked – read thus

  • Arsenal 1 Birmingham 1
  •  Birmingham 2 Arsenal 2
  •  Arsenal 3 Birmingham 1

Now if you look at those results you’ll notice that Birmingham have scored in all of those three meetings. In the first two meetings, they scored the equalizers after we struggled to find that decisive goal which would have ended their resistance. Even at the Emirates earlier this season, we outplayed them for the first 30 minutes. Then Bowyer ‘s goal was somehow allowed and we delivered the most cagey performance for the next 70 odd minutes before Arshavin curled in the 3rd in the game.

So clearly there is something about Birmingham which meant none of us should have predicted an easy win out there. Given our penchant for scoring late goals, I was relatively content to see a 0-0 score. Then comes the news we all want to hear. Nasri has scored. Just saw the goal and what a finish. He is starting to show what he’ll be able to do on a more regular basis. Advantage Arsenal.

I celebrated when I heard the news. But recalling previous meetings with this team I stopped. It couldn’t happen surely. Lightning couldn’t strike twice. 10 minutes later and Kevin Phillips drilled a massive low for us with his goal. 

But you have to laugh really. It hits him rather than the other way around and went in. If Utd or Chelsea or anybody else were on the receiving end we would’ve had a good laugh at that. So maybe we should just see the funny side of this and accept that luck wasn’t on our side today.

Yes Almunia made a mistake and it hasn’t been his best season but he showed his class last week saving that Diamanti’s penalty. And he also saved one against Hull at the Emirates. Besides I’ve looked at the equalizer again and again. We had about 7 players back and still couldn’t prevent a cross from coming into Phillips in the first place.

We had our chances to seal the game and didn’t do it.  We win points as a team, we lose points as team. A good example of why certain players shouldn’t be held accountable for the whole result. No not for this game.

And let’s not forget we had the 3rd choice* (debatable if you bring Djourou in the equation) central defence pairing thanks to the FA’s incompetence. I was furious that Vermaelen’s red card was not over turned. Not only was it fully undeserved but the match officials and the FA also failed to notice the card waving gesture from Franco. I knew today’s game was going to be tight. Of course there is no guarantee that had Vermaelen played then Birmingham would not have equalized. But him playing helps a bit doesn’t it? But thanks to the FA, Vermaelen missed the one game I didn’t want him to miss.

It has been a funny ol’ season. Weren’t we out of contention in February? And weren’t we predicted to finish 5th below Liverpool AND Man City? And weren’t Spurs meant to win the title? Okay the last one was a joke but you get what I mean.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m looking forward to our game against Barcelona.

Porto won’t be as forgiving but do Arsenal owe Gibbs a fightback?

March 9, 2010

The banners were out; the pre match shirts had the messages. Do it for Aaron. Get well Ramsey. Sentiments every Gooner shares. Supporters, Management, Players, everyone connected with Arsenal Football Club made their point before the match against Burnley.

Win the League for Ramsey. Win the Champions League for Kieran Gibbs anyone? Whilst our season has taken the feel of ‘if only we had Van Persie fit and if only we didn’t have as many injuries’, Kieran has ended up merely as a footnote (excuse the pun). Did he not suffer a massive setback in his career too? I missed the last 40 odd minutes of that match and I haven’t been lucky in my attempts to find footage of that tackle. He has been out injured since mid November and is unlikely to play again this season. Moreover, Wenger’s revelations since then speak for itself.

Before the accident with Gibbs [in the Standard Liege game] I stood up to the referee five times in the last 15 minutes and said ‘calm this man [Eliaquim] Mangala down because he will kill one of our players.’

It was so obvious. They’d lost the game and he was just looking to kick people. What happened? He broke the metatarsal of Kieran Gibbs. It could have been avoided.

Where were the get well soon shirts for Gibbs and even Van Persie? Perhaps Ramsey’s misfortune has brought everyone connected with Arsenal FC – supporters, players and management together. It would be great if we showed such support for our other players when they are out injured.

Considering Gibbs’ injury happened in the Champions League, do the players not have an obligation to win this competition for Kieran? I believe the players are obliged to do it for the management – who work with them day after day fine tuning their technical and tactical attributes. I believe they are obliged to show their commitment, desire for the fans who appreciate such effort when they see it. But most of all they are obliged to do it for themselves. Only they would know what sacrifices they made when they were young and the sacrifices they would/should make now. Winning matches or competitions for players is a worthy tribute to the unfortunate player (i.e. Ramsey, Gibbs, Van Persie, Djourou) but the day we have an off game I do not want the players or anyone else to suggest the preposterous idea that they failed to do it for these players.

We will need to be at our very best tomorrow. Porto is the ideal team to show that lessons have been learnt from our high profile defeats to United and Chelsea. Currently the score is 1-0 to Porto and we have to play a measured game against the Portuguese side. Porto are adept at playing on the counter. Last year they scored twice at Old Trafford and even in the first leg at Porto last month they sought to punish us on the counter. Starting too gung-ho and we might be looking at an all too crushing tale.

Without Cesc this task becomes harder, but not impossible by any means. Our skipper has been without doubt our talisman but this game is one where the team have to rise and show it can cope without several key personnel. Theo and Nasri in particular gave glimpses of their mental strength against Burnley but nearly saw their efforts thwarted. However, Porto won’t be as generous.

 History reveals that we have only turned a deficit in Europe once in 32 years. Tomorrow is the ideal opportunity to add one to that.