Sunday, 30 December 2007

4-4-2 is better - Everton 1 Arsenal 4

Fabregas the King and I both commented on the issue of formations before the game. My view was that 4-4-2 suits us far better than a 4-5-1, especially domestically. We had struggled against Chelsea, Spurs and Pompey with this set up but had managed to scrape 7 points from these games. However we had played some poor football. There was no doubt the team had to find its slick passing game again and we struggled to make chances in these games. We needed something to change. Yesterday seemed no different in the first half and maybe the formation was not the problem.

Everton played us off the park with some excellent football and we were lucky to be only 1 goal behind at half time. However, the second half did show why 2 strikers helps considerably. The midfield was run ragged but that happens at times in the Premier League. With the pace the home side played at, you cannot blame the midfielders and you cannot put a fifth player in there just to dominate midfield if it will not bear fruit further up the field. With the midfield area dominated by Everton the defence opted to pump it long and showed precisely the effect of a partnership up front.

Bendtner was up top wih Eduardo and the ball was aimed towards the Dane. He did not win the ball but he drew out a centre-back. The ball ran loose and Eduardo had time and space to do what he does best. Yet another calm finish from him. Had Bendtner been alone up front, the ball would have run on to the keeper. Had Eduardo been a lone striker there would have been no pressure on the man who jumped with Bendtner. Either way, it is unlikely a goal would have come from this long punt from Clichy.

Again, the second goal came from the same type of pass towards Bendtner and the same applies as to whether we would have scored and taken the lead. Rather than being surrounded by two defenders, Edaurdo had only one man to beat and he did it brilliantly, once more with great calm and composure. He did handle the ball but from the angle the ref had it was impossible to see and Jagielka - his marker - had no idea and was bamboozled by our no.9.

I hope yesterday showed Wenger that having two strikers gives us both an outlet and a constant threat. Whether we have to go long or have the time to build up play, the chances of scoring rise considerably. Yesterday, the midfield was finding it hard to get a foothold but in the end we were able to miss them out to win this game. We ground out a result but it may have been very different had we not just gone long.

The players showed great character to come back from 1 goal down, especially at Goodison Park, which, for me, is one of the hardest places to go. Everton were clearly up for it and for the first half we had no opportunities to get on the ball. We were sloppy in possesion but after half time the players changed tactics to suit the pattern of the game. With Everton looking to play football most envisage those in red playing, Arsenal were forced to play direct, something they only look to do on rare occasions. In the end, the first three goals were long passes to the tall man up top.

When we went down to ten men, we did not panic and kept to this tactic. I have to be honest and say the game was made a whole lot easier with the mistake that gifted Ade the easiest goal he’ll score. At 2-1 I was expecting a barrage of pressure but at 3-1 it was always going to be a bit much for Everton and the fourth goal was a bit of an insult to injury, however sweet Rosicky’s strike was. Now for him to chip in with a few more goals.

What did disappoint me was the ill discipline of Bendtner. If I had been knocking on the door for a few weeks and been granted a first team chance, I would not throw it away. Bendtner lacked maturity in his first booking having been too easliy wound up. His second tackle was a disgrace and he was lucky he was shown a second yellow before the red. He did have a part to play in both Edaurdo’s goal which is what I was calling for and in this he showed the talent he has but also showed he has a lot to learn regarding maturity and behaviour.

Many have questioned Eduardo as an Arsenal player - me included I admit - but Wenger always asked us to wait for the second half of the season. Ironically, maybe deliberately ( I wouldnt put anything passed Wenger ), Eduardo started in the first game, of the second half of the season and scored twice. Wenger played him where he plays best, not on the wing but right on the last defender. He showed great assurance in front of goal as he has done on a few occasions. There is no doubt the guy will get us goals if presented with chances. Yet, he must be played up front in a pair to do this.

Toure led the defence well and once more I was impressed with how they stood firm under great pressure. The Boro game aside, they have done well, away from home especially and we will miss Toure desperately when he leaves. Clichy seems to grow in every game and Sagna really has made us more solid at the back. Gallas too, has continued to lead the back four even when we go 1 goal down.

Once more we are top of the League, top at new year and that after a really tough run of fixtures in December. Now, if we can get a good run going and put pressure on those behind us to keep up, the run in could be fantastic. It starts with a home game against West Ham, a team buoyed by a 2-1 win over Man Utd (Get in!!). I think Rosicky will come back in for Diaby, Adebayor for Bendtner and maybe Eboue for Hleb. Hleb has played quite a lot of games now and Wenger may rest him. Adebayor will partner Eduardo who will want to get more goals to cement a place.


Come on Arsenal!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Scrap 4-4-1-1, bring back 4-4-2 (AFC vs Pompey)

Once again Wenger went with 4-4-1-1 in the Premier League last night. He went with Hleb just behind Adebayor, as he did against Chelsea and Spurs. I know we won those two previous games but, to put it simply, we were not very good in those games. We did not create much and Adebayor was isolated on his own. We got goals to win it with our only real chances but last night we did not get away with it. We were very poor and failed to create anything of note until the final 5 minutes. If we want to win the League, that is not good enough.

We did have the ball in the net against Chelsea a few times towards the end and did look a bit more potent towards the end last night. Why was that? Wenger put on a second striker and suddenly the opposition defence had an awful lot more to think about. With the speed of the Football we play, two strikers make us so much more of an attacking force. Defenders are always marking and cannot step out to pressure the midfield runners. When Adebayor is on his own there is always at least one defender spare who can stifle any threat from him. It requires a moment of brilliance (1st goal vs Spurs) or a set piece (vs Chelsea and Spurs) to unlock defences. When we had two up front, we always looked like we could score, last night we did not.

Our biggest wins and highest scoring games came with 4-4-2: Slavia Prague (h) 7-0, Derby (h) 5-0, Blackburn (a) 3-2 (CC), Portsmouth (h) 3-1, Spurs (a) 3-1, Sunderland (h)3-2.

We scored far more goals with the two forward men.

Our best results with 4-4-1-1 are: Reading (a) 3-1, Spurs (h) 2-1, Villa (a) 2-1, Chelsea (h) 1-0.

We also lost against Boro with it and drew to Newcastle, Liverpool (no shame), Man Utd (no shame) and Newcastle.

The pattern it seems is we score far more goals with 1 up front and games are far closer.
Many might say that with Van Persie out, we have noone to come in and do a better job than a fifth midfielder. However, it is not about whether he is a better player, it is about the system. Look at Eduardo for example; whenever Wenger has played him up front recently he has scored (Sevilla away, Sheffield United away and Blackburn away x2). Yet on countless occasions, Wenger has insisted on trying out Eduardo on the left but it does not work. He is a goalscorer, that is it and by no means is this a bad thing. Just look at the way he took his only real chances of note against Blackburn and Sheffield United.

Also, Nicklas Bendtner has changed countless games recently. I have heard a lot of fans claim he is better than Adebayor, for this reason, but Ade has done well all season. In my opinion it is partly to do with the system. A lone striker has to bring players into the game and if you do not get runners from midfield, you will not make opportunities. Yesterday, when we finally went with two strikers (way too late), it changed as each striker had more space and could work together as well as creating space for the midfield. Bendtner and Adebayor can play together, if Wenger is still unsure over this then give Eduardo a shot. It is now the second half of the season and he has shown what he can do down the middle, but for christ's sake, do NOT PLAY HIM ON THE LEFT.

People might draw attention to the Villa match as one where the system worked and I see their point, we played some brilliant passing Football at times. Yet our goals came from simple crosses and a midfield runner gambling. We didnt make many amazing chances but simply passed Villa out of the first half. Flamini was playing the Cesc role but in one way went further forward than Cesc does. We have seen recently that he has dropped deep and for me he needs to get forward like Flamini did. Hleb plays a role in this.

Against Villa, Hleb played as a second striker coming deep. Recently he has played as a fifth midfielder getting forward in support. This difference is huge. As an extra midfield player, I believe he stifles Cesc when he tries to get forward. Whenever he plays much further up, closer to Adebayor, he is a major threat. The wide players looked good yesterday and when Rosicky cuts inside, there is no need for another player in the centre of the park. It is too congested. If one of the strikers come short to collect the ball then that is fine but we do not need an extra player in this area against teams who defend deep.

I call for Wenger to be bold against Everton - play Bendtner or Eduardo alongside Adebayor and re-think his midfield. He could drop Eboue who, despite a decent performance last night, has looked weak, predictable and still has no league goals to speak of. Hleb could re-take his place out on the right and from here he can dictate play without leaving his forward role in a 4-4-1-1.

Maybe the formation will work in Europe where the pace is far slower and against a Milan team whose midfield is the main threat.

As I touched on, there is not much to note about last night. The defence was solid enough and when they needed him Almunia did well. Rosicky was brilliant for me, the shining light. He got the ball and made things happen with some brilliant driving runs and skill. Eboue was decent on the flank but went missing in the second half. Fabregas was too deep to create much and really should have done better when put clean through by Ade. It is not like him to mess up his first touch but he did on this occasion. Flamini also impressed with some tough tackling and pressing. Ade got isolated and had to come deep and left the box void of Arsenal players. Hleb needs to get further forward in that role, if he can, goals will come again.

Gallas should have scored from 6 yards and Rosicky probably should have hit the target with the last shot of the game. That is it. If you only watched Match of the Day, you might think it was an exciting game but when you realise we were in the second half after only 2 minutes of highlights, it tells the whole story,

One last thing to question is: What is going on with Van Persie? Wenger claims he played him against Steaua as it was not a risk. Then he plays against Chelsea for 20 minutes and looks sharp but is suddenly ruled out for 3 games in a row (out of Everton game now!). The reason given was a thigh injury that was not being risked against Spurs. Is this another load of cobblers from the medical staff as I am worried if a precaution means players miss 3 games at a time. I guess it explains Rosicky's constant absence!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Arsenal 2 Spurs 1 - Not a classic by any means but a derby win nonetheless

After what was a pretty dire first half in which Spurs had the better chances, the lads managed to go up a gear or two to just about finish Tottenham off. The first goal was a moment of beauty and from here there were a few inevitabilties. Arsenal have never lost a game when Emmanuel Adebayor scored and the players and the fans celebrated like we were on the way to three more points. However events swung the other way and having equalised, Berbatov won a penalty.

Robbie Keane is one of the best penalty takers in the League. He simply does not have a set method to his penalties and it is very hard to predict where he will put the penalty. Normally one would back him to score, this time it just seemed fate that he would miss. I just had this feeling he would be denied, and denied he was by Almunia. Praise must go to the Spaniard who has been brilliant recently and this topped it off. If this gut feeling was right, the next was nearly at the level of very wierd.

Rosicky tumbled in the box under what looked like an unfair challenge but Adebayor did well to win the corner with no support whatsoever. It was then that Arsene Wenger earned his money. He wanted to bring on Bendtner for the ineffective Eboue (more of this later) and he was desperate to get him on before the corner was taken. Spurs are susceptible from set pieces and from the moment he jogged into the box my mind was saying: "Go on Nicklas, head that ball home!". Guess what, he did and what a header it was. It was madness, how did I know it was going to happen? I don't know but it doesn't really matter. Once more the Emirates exploded and it was one of those hug the guy in the row in front moments.

From then on we held on a bit, as we had done really all match
but once Berbatov got frustrated and almost gave up - the game was won. As I have said Tottenham were arguably the better side in the first half and had the better chances. The problem was the space granted to Berbatov. I lost count of the times he was allowed to bring the ball down unchallenged and was able to dictate play. Neither the centre backs nor Flamini got close to him. Clichy could not leave Lennon free and one of the three mentioned really should have taken it upon themselves to sort him out. Another inevitability was that Berbatov would have a say in this game and he very nearly won the game for Spurs. His goal was a great finish and had Keane scored the penalty won by Berbatov I would not have seen us coming back.

Almunia was solid with what he had to do and excelled with his penalty save. Sagna and Clichy were fantastic for me. Clichy was up against one of the best wide men in the League in my opinion and he rarely gave him a sniff. Lennon had one or two good moments which should have led to a goal for Keane but for most of it Clichy stuck to his task, as well as getting forward as much as possible. Sagna was brilliant going forward and seemed to be doing two jobs for a lot of the game. Why was this?

Emmanuel Eboue is the answer. He really is the most frustrating player in our team right now. His "injury" disappeared very quickly when it looked very serious and today he really did look off the pace with a lack of commitment. He rarely went past his man and his crossing was poor. He cut inside quite a lot and dallied on the ball too long. He had one moment of note and this was a shot Robinson did well with. He failed to track back with any urgency and left Sagna two on one on numerous occasions. One moment really summed Eboue up. He was going at Lee in the Spurs box, he stopped, then tried to accelerate on the outside, was easily shrugged off and he fell to ground way too easily. Sounds very familiar where Eboue is concerned. He was then substituted and the game changed.

We went from a 4-4-1-1 which for me does not give us nearly has much potency as a 4-4-2. Adebayor was isolated in the first half and there was not enough midfield runners to give that cutting edge. In the second the runners started to come but the goal was our only real chance. As soon as Hleb moved to the right and Bendtner partnered Ade, the Spurs defence had far more to deal with. Up till then, Adebayor was marked by two defenders and had to come wide to get the ball. Once we had a two pronged attack, he was left alone 1 v 1 and he caused far more problems. Hleb also looked good out on the right and was able to link with Cesc and Rosicky a lot more. The same happened when Van Persie came on against Chelsea and earlier in the season we scored more goals with two up front. I cant wait for Van Persie to start up front and we can bench Eboue and put Hleb back to the right where he does look more comfortable.

I have a feeling Wenger told Cesc to push on in the second half. In the opening 45 he was far too deep and we could not link midfield to attack but in the second period he gambled a bit more, vindicated with the perfect pass for the first goal. What a pass it was as well! What a sublime backheel to Ade, many would not have had the vision to see Ade and the skill to pull it off. That is why we missed Cesc so much.

Rosicky came into it more in the second half but I thought he was one of our better players. He was always trying to make things happen but also made sure he helped Clichy as much as possible. He drives the team forward and adds a perfect balance to Cesc and Hleb who like to be patient and wait for things to happen. He can carry the ball as well as joining in with the passing game. He always gives his all and if he can keep fit he will be a massive player this season.

I have mentioned Ade a little but feel he des
erves further praise. Early on in his Arsenal career he may have missed the chance from which he opened the scoring. Now he seems confident he will score every time. He works so hard and when he can he holds the ball up so well and waits for support. He does look more comfortale with a strike partner but will always try if up on his own. Bendtner was the one to partner him in this game but will it be the Dane or RVP? Van Persie is such a threat when he plays and in that withdrawn role makes Arsenal tick but Bendtner has impressed so much of late. If he can add more goals in open play he really will give Wenger a selection headache.

The last thing to say about this game is: Please sell Gilberto. He came on to add security to the midfield but kept giving the ball away and could not get close to the Spurs midfield. Diarra was brilliant in midweek and surely it is only a matter of time before Diarra replaces him in the squad of 16? Maybe Wenger is putting Gilberto in the shop window? It is backfiring as teams are seeing his weaknesses, take the money and run.
Creidt must go to Spurs - however much I hate to say it - but we got the three points and that is all that matters in these derby matches.

Almunia - 8
Sagna - 8 — Gallas - 7 — Toure - 6 — Clichy - 7
Eboue - 5 (Bendtner - 7) — Cesc - 7 — Flamini - 6 — Rosicky - 7
Hleb - 6 (Gilberto - 5)
Adebayor - 7

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Arsenal vs Tottenham - Expect some abuse!!

It seems most appropriate that the abuse debate should come up this week, sandwiched in between games against two of our most bitter rivals in Tottenham and Chelsea. Last Sunday, I must admit, I was one of the many booing Ashley Cole, one of those maybe going a bit further than this. I guarantee you that certain people really do hate Ashley Cole. I do not mean when they enter the football stadiums, I mean that if they saw Cole on the street they would find it hard not to confront him. It is part of the rivalry. When it becomes violence I do not like it, but when it is abuse from the terraces towards an opponent, where is the harm?

I ask you, in what other way can fans express their views towards players? Footballers live in a whole other world to most of us, the only time we get a real link to them is on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Tottenham are our local rival and the tension over the years has grown and grown. If one of their players fouls one of ours, do the officials and players expect us to sit there in quiet and condemn the tackle in our minds? Of course they do not. Part of creating an intimidating atmosphere at home is the roars from the crowd when the game gets fiesty, it is part of the game.

If someone like Sol Campbell moves from Spurs to Arsenal, what does he expect on his return? There is no way he would ever get a good reception at White Hart Lane again and fair enough. He became a fan's favourite at Arsenal and a hated one at White Hart Lane. Many Gooners forgave his past after the humiliation he caused towards those in white. How could Tottenham fans let it lie? Come on Sol. The only way they could get at him was abuse from the stands. It is the same with Cole. Did he expect we would welcome him back? Of course we would not. His move to Chelsea was a disgrace, he knew it, we knew it, we were not going to let him off easily. The taunts addressed to him were simply an expression of our frustration.

It felt right to discuss the abuse with the Tottenham match approaching and the Carling Cup draw; and what a draw it was. Dare I say it, it looks to be the easiest draw of the lot. With their leaky defence I can see us getting goals against them. I would just have preferred the first leg to be away. It could well be a repeat of last season's final if we can overcome Spurs and Everton succumb to Chelsea - we have unifinished business from last season.
Enough of all this: to the match on Saturday. Spurs have won two on the trot now, including a, dare I say it, well fought and admirable performance away at City. It was City's first defeat at home and they played 80 minutes with 10 men. They will be full of confidence coming into Saturday but this might favour us. Many times they have believed they had the beating of us, only for us to knock them back to Earth. This happened earlier this season when we won 3-1. If we can get a similar result I would be delighted.

I have a feeling Wenger will finally go with what I believe is our best team at full strength:

=======Adebayor=====Van Persie======

With Eboue and Walcott out, the 4-4-1-1 formation with Hleb behind Adebayor seems an unlikely option. Now Van Persie is back I hope him and Adebayor can re-kindle the form they showed early in the season. When we went with two up front on Sunday, we looked far more of a threat in front of goal. Van Persie really is dangerous and showed this when he got into so many good positions in a 20 minute cameo. Hleb has been in brilliant form and he can continue this in his free role from the right. Hleb, Rosicky and Fabregas really work well together as they roam across the midfield linking the play together. Rosicky looked so much more comfortable with the two other back for the Chelsea game.

The game will be won tomorrow if every player wins his battle. As I did for the Chelsea game I will look at the big battles in what is a very big game.:

Almunia vs Robinson - Both keepers will be very busy and were both in great form in their last match. Almunia made some very good saves against Chelsea and Robinson did the same against City. Two of his saves were some of the best I have seen in a long time. If one keeper can perform better than his opposite number, the game could be decided here.

Toure vs Berbatov - Toure is Arsenal's rock but Berbatov seems to be back to form just in time. It will be a big test for Toure but if he can keep Berbatov marked tightly and keep him quiet Arsenal may be in business. Toure will look to bring the ball out of defence and start attacks. He may be given this space and hopefully he can exploit it.

Fabregas vs Jenas - These two are the creative players in the centre of the park. Fabregas had a slow return from injury and looked slightly off it last Sunday but by now he will be ready and primed. He has been in great goal scoring form and hopefully he can start this again. Jenas gets up and down the park and has a good shot, he will need to be closed down by Flamini who will give Cesc the freedom he needs.

Clichy vs Lennon - This could be the best battle of them all. Lennon will look to get at Clichy throughout and it will be a tough and interesting test for the Frenchman. Clcihy will look to get forward and I doubt Lennon will want to track him. This may give Clichy a lot of freedom down the flank but Flamini may need to act as cover.
Kaboul vs Adebayor - Adebayor came out on top earlier on this season and he will be confident of doing the same come Saturday, Adebayor will look to hold the ball up well and bring his team mates into play. If Kaboul can limit the supply to the big man he could stop a major part of the Arsenal attack. He will have to dominate at set pieces but he will be a threat when he comes up from the back.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Blackburn 2 Arsenal 3(Carling Cup Q.Final) - Young Guns march on...

First and foremost - what a fantastic result. Many teams will go to Ewood Park and struggle. Many will be lucky to go there and get a victory. Even our first team only got a draw there this season. Ok, the victory came after extra time but considering our second string have knocked out another full strength Premier League side is magnificent. Last year it was Tottenham, this year it was Newcastle and now Blackburn. We rode our luck, but you must expect this with such an inexperienced side, but we also played some sublime football.

Each goal was a moment of beauty in itself. The first came after some neat build up play and Diaby put away Bendtner's inviting cross. Eduardo then finished off moves ending with two perfect through balls. I know Samba missed the ball through from Denilson, but the weight and direction was still perfectly into the striker's path. We did look shaky at the back after the break but when a team has a striker of Santa Cruz's quality, one has to expect a busy evening. He had looked quiet all night to be honest but still took his goals like a true finisher.

One problem I have from tonight is Wenger's persistence to try Eduardo out on the left wing. IT DOES NOT WORK. It has failed many times before and did so again. We started the game with two strikers and looked so dangerous. As Blackburn piled on the pressure we went with just the one, Bendtner became isolated and the outlet of our two strikers was lost. As soon as this became clear Wenger moved Eduardo back to his orignal position and we were a far larger threat once again. Eduardo finally showed what he can do as he caused the opposition problems all night alongside the magnificent Bendtner.

The tall Dane was fantastic all night. He held the ball up well, linked play as was required and showed some really neat touches. He also displayed real confidence when he tried to chip Friedel from a wide angle; it so nearly worked but for the crossbar. Bendtner has looked really good in recent matches and it does not seem too far away before he starts to bang in the goals. If he and Eduardo can perform as they did tonight, Wenger may have a major selection problem on his hands.

The midfield was excellent and one thing I must say now is that if Diarra can play like that regularly, PLEASE KEEP HIM. He was outstanding and rightfully given the Man of the Match award. He broke up play, resisted challenges, put his foot in and also showed he can play the Arsenal way. He played some brilliant diagonal balls which found their target with seeming ease. Like Flamini he added bite to the midfield, and the whole team infact, which in previous years has been bullied by teams like Blackburn. If someone like Gilberto has to be sacrificed to make room for Diarra, so be it. That is my view, it might be controversial, but I stick by it.

Abou Diaby is such an interesting player to watch. He is so tall and lanky and one might think he would be all about strength and drive. However, although he is unbelievably strong, he is technically gifted aswell. He keeps the ball so well in tight situations and combines this with his strength to go past players and hold off others. He has been fantastic in the last two games and for me is the most natural back up to Cesc we have. He has the vision and passing skills to take up this role. All night he picked out players and one ball was absolutely brilliant. It did not reach its target due to a fine interception but the pass was hit with reverse curl with the outside of his boot and was running perfectly into the path of Eduardo. It would have been one of the passes of the season had it come off and showed he can pick a pass aswell as anyone. He can get up and down the pitch like one Patrick Vieira did and seems to be scoring more aswell.

With a few youngsters coming up from the reserves, it was interesting to see which one would start. We knew one would get the nod due to Theo's "illness" (no wimpish accusations intented) and it was Mark Randall who was given his full competitive debut. There have been many good words coming out of the club about this lad and in pre season he got a few games under his belt. Tonight, he looked like he was a first team regular. He always wanted to get on the ball and fitted perfectly into the passing game we play. He showed neat touches and was heavily involved in the first goal with a great disguised pass to Bendtner. Randall is an example of the group of young ENGLISH players coming through and if they have the potential Randall showed, then we are in for exciting times.

Denilson played well but did not impress me as much as the other 3 midfielders. He linked play well but did not shine as the others did. That is not to say he played badly, to be honest no one did, but he did not do as much as the others to tell Wenger they are ready for more first team action. He made the second goal, granted, but other than that the only thing of note was to get sent off. Denilson really must learn how to tackle properly. On so many occasions he has tackled with similar technique he showed tonight. He cannot lunge like that and really must change this in his game. To be fair Savage probably made the ref show a straight red rather than a second yellow but there was no excuse for the challenge.

At the back Hoyte and Traore really impressed me. Many have struggled against the wingers of Blackburn, they are top quality players, but Hoyte and Traore did well. They were never going to stop every cross into the box but did very well to limit the supply. Hoyte really is developing into a good player and able back up to Sagna. Traore, as Wenger said, really has become a man recently. He was brilliant going forward and seems to have improved defensively. Derbyshire got in behind him for the goal but with the striker offside, it was harsh on Traore. Like Hoyte, he showed he is a more than capable back up to the first choice left back, Clichy.

One pairing I was keen to watch tonight was Song and Senderos. For a long time I have had my doubts over big Phil. I have been worried about his ability against stronger and faster players. Drogba wins the battle everytime against him and tonight Santa Cruz did the same. Players like this always seem to come out on top; Kanoute did the same recently. Senderos lost a lot of aerial battles and was caught off the pace at times tonight. He nearly cost us a goal when he did not step up with the rest of the defence and duly missed the interception to allow Santa Cruz in on goal, only for Fabianski and Song to bail him out. So why was I interested to watch these two?

Well, Kolo Toure leaves for the African Cup of Nations soon and Wenger must decide who will come in for him. If Song is not selected for Cameroon I would be tempted to bring him in. He had a tough start to his Arsenal career but since he moved to centre-back he has shone. He reads the game well, has decent pace and is very strong. He made some crucial blocks, interceptions and headers today and showed he could fill in for Toure if needed. One advantage he has after his time in midfield, is his ability to join in with play and start attacks from the back. He did it many times today and it was his sublime through ball that set up the winner. Song seems to have found his position now and could he push Senderos down the pecking order? I guess it all depends on the Cameroonian coach.

Another player I was interested to watch was Fabianski. With many fans worrying about Almunia as a long term option in goal, it was good to see Fabianski in goal and put under real pressure as he was tonight. I have to say that I was impressed. He looked a bit shaky at crosses but to be fair to him his own defence had dropped right onto his toes. He got the ball away when he needed to and made some crucial catches and punches when it mattered towards the end of extra time. He did not complain when the pressure put on him may have been a bit much and his shot stopping was excellent. He looks a real talent.

All of this just shows how good this performance was. The only disapointments were that Denilson got sent off and Barazite was stretchered off. I think he may have a dislocated shoulder, I hope it is no more serious than this. Other than these two incidents, we were brilliant. A dodgy offside call and suspect marking from one set piece made the game more interesting but we made the best chances and played by far the better football. On to the semi's, but who do we want?

Everton and Tottenham are already through and either Chelsea/Liverpool will make up the fourth team. For me there are two dream events I would want. The first is to play Tottenham in a replay of last year's semi final where our kids humiliated their first team. It would be brilliant to ruin their chances of getting to a rare domestic final. Then maybe we would get a re-match against Chelsea where we can avenge last year's travesty!

However, maybe a better one would be to play Tottenham in the final itself. This would mean a very tricky semi-final against sides who are solid at home where I would not be so confident. It would just be sweet if it was us trying to prevent their winning of a first piece of silverware in years.

Wenger's kids seem to thrive in this competition with yet another scalp tonight. The football played was reminiscent of the first team and the fight showed for 120 minutes was awesome - well done lads.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Blackburn vs Arsenal (Carling Cup) - a very tricky tie

So, Blackburn away - never a nice trip to make. A 1-1 draw this season was far less than we deserved but also more than we have got there in recent visits. Last season we went out in the FA Cup to a late Benni McCarthy strike after, in my view, Wenger underestimated Blackburn. He went with an understrengthed side that seemed to lack a cutting edge and we were duly dumped out of the cup. Tomorrow a similarly understrengthed team will walk out in the freezing cold at Ewood Park.

As we have seen in previous years Wenger has gone with a reserve side in the Carling Cup. This team has had two brilliant results: a 2-0 victory against a strong Newcastle side and a comprehensive 3-0 win up North at Sheffield United. These results give me confidence that this side can give Blackburn a real tough game, but will it be enough? Mark Hughes will go with his first team and it will be a really hard game for the Young Guns to win. They have power up front mixed with creativity and fight in midfield. Like last year - I fear they could end our cup run. However, saying this, the pressure is off for the players Wenger puts out - they may just want to prove the bookies wrong and lay down a claim for a more regular place in the first team.

I think Wenger will go with the team below:

GK: Fabianski - When he has played he has looked very solid and he has a real chance of pushing for the no.1 jersey on a permanent basis very soon.
RB: Justin Hoyte - He will be up for the fight and if Wenger wants to keep him, these are the games he must play him in.
CB: Phillipe Senderos - After such a bad game against Sevilla he has a hard job in this game and has to prove himself with Toure's imminent departure.
CB: Alex Song - he has done well in this position in the Carling Cup - is this his natural position?
LB: Armand Traore - A real talent in the eyes of the coaches and fans - Bentley will test him and maybe this will develop his character and experience.
RM: Theo Walcott - His injury looks to have healed and all I would like Theo to do tomorrow is be positive and go at the defence time after time - and score!!.
CM: Gilberto/Lassana Diarra - Whoever plays has the job of protecting the back 4. Gilberto has a lot to prove and Diarra has to show why Wenger should keep him.
CM: Denilson - He has not been at his best this season but he has to be at his best in the creative role tomorrow.
LM: Abou Diaby - He had a great return from injury on Wednesday night and he has the ability to beat players with seeming ease - key player tomorrow.
ST: Nicklas Bendtner - Looking good recently with his hold up play and strength on the ball - can he get more goals?
ST: Van Persie - to start according to Sky Sports. Hopefully his apperance is preparation for Saturday and he comes through unscathed.

Our main creativity is going to come from Denilson and Diaby, maybe Walcott. They will have the job of turning defence into attack with their passing a pace. Denilson has great vision and if he can find Bendtner and Eduardo early they can get into good positions. Diaby will start on the left but by no means will he stay there. It is likely he will roam from here and try and get in and around the Blackburn defence. Van Persie will look to drop off the front man and his passing can give Bendtner lots of openings.

Santa Cruz will be the main threat to our defence. Blackburn were poor on the weekend but he nearly got them something from the game. Bentley will provide a constant supply from the right and the two centre backs must be alert all evening. Our wide players must track back to help the full backs aswell as their attacking duties.

This game is likely to be tough, there would be no shame to go out at in this tie but a win would be a big bonus. With a busy month coming up, I think Wenger won't risk any of the first team and will tell the players, as I have said, that the pressure is off.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0 - Ashley - what's the score??

What an absolutely amazing game of Football; it had everything; fous, cards, end to end football, and a barrage of fans' abuse. How ironic it should be William Gallas who got the winner. How typical that the final act of the game was a bad tackle by Cesc Fabregas on none other than Ashley Cole, the same guy that said the Spaniard had no commitment and did not have enough experience. Yes, we were lucky Wright Phillips has not learnt the finishing ability of his father. However, today I was proud to be a Gooner. Chelsea normally like to bully their opponent, but today it was not to be. We stood up to all they threw at us and forced them to resort to tactics far passed the border of dirty.

The ref had no control of the match and countless times Mikel, Joe Cole and Lampard were diving into tackles, something closer to assault than anything near fair. The ref seemed to let this go on so many occasions with yellow cards very lenient for the constant fouls that were comitted. It simply was not the same in our case. Arsenal players were called up for fouls that did not come close to anything the Chelsea players carried out. Flamini was booked for constant fouling, why was Mikel not sent off for this, combined with some very dirty challenges? Arsenal players are said to be soft, yet when they give some back, they are accused to going too far.

Enough of the rant at the ref and those thugs from South London - we won after all. A 1-0 win is just so sweet, if not extremely nerveracking. The first half was not really a great example of Football, Arsenal kept the ball with little penetration but with little threat to our own goal from Chelsea. The goal came out of the blue a little and I have to say I was so surprised to see Cech misjudge what looked like a routine catch. It just had to be Gallas though, how he resisted the urge to run over to the Chelsea fans and celebrate right in front of them I don't know. Queue pandemonium in the stands, aswell as continuous replays of our goal from all angles at half time.
The game had been feisty and after Chelsea gave as good as they got, it was hard not to smile when John Terry was forced off after a tackle from Eboue of all people. It was probably the cowardice of Eboue not to commit to the challenge with a proper tackle that ended his afternoon. It was probably karma that resulted in Eboue's departure on a stretcher.

When the game settled and the football came through, it was end to end stuff. Arsenal relied on the counter attack and I am not sure I can complain with the disallowed goals, however much I did at the time. Maybe one could question the decision to penalise Adebayor after all the challenges that had gone before. We were holding on at the back but always looked dangerous on the break. How we did not score a second baffles me, still! The defence were required to hold strong with our poor finishing and they stood up to be counted. From the moment Gallas was determined to carry on after his injury, the defence were brilliant, what a soldier!

Clichy was the official man of the match I think but it could have gone to any of the back 5. Sagna and Clichy dealt with their wingers brilliantly, with one lapse allowing Wright-Phillips to show he will never be like his famous father in front of goal. Gallas and Toure did not have a lot to do when Shevchenko was up front but
Pizarro added a whole lot of other problems. They had to be strong in the air with the constant barrage of long balls and were sharp in the tackle when they needed to be. I really will miss Toure when he leaves in January.

Fabregas and Hleb were very busy at the start but did seem to fade. They did look like they lacked match fitness slightly and their passing was not always as sharp as it can be. Rosicky thrived with them back in the team and the link up play really started to come together. It was brilliant to see and Rosicky really shone in both his defensive duties and as a key member of the counter attack brigade!!! Flamini was also fantastic. He gave Lampard no time on the ball with the midfielder having one shot on goal all afternoon. Not many have done a similar job on Lampard this season, and many have failed in the same task during past seasons. Eboue managed to get at Cole and beat him a few times. He has not been in the best form at all but he did well today.

Adebayor had a hard job up front but was a real menace for the Chelsea defenders. He was unlucky to have a goal chalked off but showed what Chelsea missed with Drogba out. Hleb was slightly off his game today - as expected - and Ade really worked hard to link the play, holding the ball up till support arrived. All of these players I have mentioned were brilliant but massive praise must go to Almunia. He made many saves that kept the score at 1-0. He had one dodgy moment as he flapped at a long range Shevchenko shot but after that he excelled. Van Persie was a bit rusty and showed this with two skied efforts on goal - at least it didnt cost us!
The fans did well also - the Emirates was a cauldron at times and I think they got the right blend of hatred for Cole and support for the team. There was no way Wenger's call for "respect" for Cole would be adhered to, but it could have been far worse for old "Judas".

I called for everyone to win their battles today and we did. This was what we needed to do to win.

Almunia vs Cech - Cech's error cost them dear and Almunia saved us many times. Almunia
Terry vs Adebayor
- Terry lost the battle, but mainly due to Eboue rather than Ade. Adebayor (eboue)
Flamini vs Lampard - Flamini shackled Lampard all day and gave him no room to play. Flamini
Toure vs Shevchenko - No contest. Toure

These personal battles may have been won but we won battles all over the pitch! Well done Arsenal and we are still top of the league, now bring on those from across North London!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Arsenal vs Chelsea - Grand Slam Sunday

So, here we go, the big one. Lets be honest, ever since the Boro game, all Arsenal fans have been waiting for Sunday's game vs Chelsea. Even though the game in midweek took on some importance regarding our fate in the knockout stages, Sevilla's victory put the game back in its place, the very back of many Arsenal fans' minds. The only boost it had was: a first victory in three games and a return from injury for Robin Van Persie.
The Dutchman played brilliantly on Wednesday, setting up one goal and creating havoc in the Steaua defence all night. He linked well with Bendtner and dropped into the hole behind the striker, reminiscent of the way Dennis Bergkamp used to do. We have missed Van Persie over recent months; we have missed his calmness in front of goal, his passing range and even his delivery from set pieces. These will all be so important against Chelsea.

On the injury front it seems a possibility that Cesc Fabregas will return. He trained on Friday, along with Hleb and Flamini; if we can get all three back, we could be in business. We have missed this trio recently and the creative spark and defensive prtextion seemed to have been drained out of the team in the last two league games. Only Theo Walcott has been added to the injury list which is a blow for me personally. In my view he played well on Wednesday. Although he did not get a goal, he was a constant menace when he attacked the defence; they could not handle his pace and this could have been a real bonus, if only off the bench.

The Arsenal team sheet is hard to pick ahead of this game due to the injuries. But if Hleb, Flamini and Cesc are allf it, they WILL play, maybe with one or two off the bench. Should their be no risk - I would start them. It might be a gamble but a win in this game would surely be worth it. Should Flamini be out I would play Diarra in the holding role, his pace and tough tackling is the closest we will have to what Flamini has done so well this season. Should Cesc be ruled out once more, I would play Diaby in central midfield. He played well against Steaua; he has amazing ball skill for such a tall guy and he gets up and down the pitch well. He can also add much needed bite to the midfield. If Hleb is injured, Eboue will play unless Theo can get fit.

========Adebayor======Van Persie========

For me, there are a few key battles where the game will be won on Sunday:

Manuel Almunia vs Petr Cech
Petr Cech will take some beating tomorrow and we will have to be clinical in front of goal. He is dominant from corners and the Chelsea defence is so much more confident with him between the sticks. Almunia has looked confident at set pieces but we all know he is prone to the odd error. He has not shown it recently but made a mistake in the Man Utd game. I just hope the pressure does not get to him.

John Terry vs Emmanuel Adebayor
This could well be the most key battle of all. Adebayor was poor against Boro but showed against Newcastle that he can produce the spectacular out of nothing. Ade was beaten in the air many times by Woodgate and the same may happen against Terry. However, on the ground, the Togo man might have the beating of Terry with his pace and dribbling skill, he just needs to take his chance when he gets it. Terry is dominant in the air and believes in no nonsense and robust defending. He will look to frustrate Ade but can his lack of pace be exposed?

Mathieu Flamini/Lassana Diarra vs Frank Lampard
With Drogba out, there is no doubt that Lampard is Chelsea's main threat to Arsenal's goal. Many may feel he is not the best footballer technically but his ability to arrive in the box late is second to none. He will need to tracked by whoever plays in the holding midfield role. Diarra/Flamini will look to get in and about him and get in some strong tackles to get on his back. If we can disrupt Lampard's game, we may be able to stop Chelsea's midfield.

Alex Hleb/Emmanuel Eboue vs Ashley Cole
There is no doubt the Arsenal fans will give Cole a real barracking on Sunday. Tempers will be flared and Cole is prone to rash challenges. If Hleb can get at Cole with his dribbling we may get some free kicks in good positions. If Eboue plays, he must quit the antics and try and go past Cole whenever he can. If we put Cole under pressure it could be an interesting battle. However, whoever lines up on the right must make sure they track Cole when he gets forward. Defending well is just as important tomorrow.

Kolo Toure vs Andriy Shevchenko
Thank god Didier Drogba is out! Without him Chelsea are far less potent BUT we still must be careful. Shevchenko has shown he can scrore goals and he has looked a bit sharper this season, but if Toure stays sharp and focused he can really deal with the Chelsea striker. Toure will also look to bring the ball out of defence, he may get this freedom now Drogba is injured.

All that is left to say is: Come on Arsenal, if you want to win the title, these are the games we MUST win.

And here's hoping for a Liverpool draw against Man Utd

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Arsenal 2 Steaua 1 - Bring on the big Guns!

From the moment Robin Van Persie split the Steaua defence to release Theo Walcott, we knew the dutchman was back. And at just the right time. In recent games we have missed the creativity of our no.11, even more so with Hleb and Fabregas out. His vision and skill surpasses most in our squad and with him in our team we are a far larger threat going forward. He peels off into the role just off a main striker and is brilliant at it. This was vindicated in his pass to Bendtner for the second goal. The way he showed for the ball and in a quick flurry of movement had played in his strike partner. It took time for him to recover but the fact he started last night is surely an indication he will be fit for Sunday - great news!

I was not able to get to the match last night but having watched the highlights a few things impressed me. I can only go on what they show but certain aspects were clear. First of all Abou Diaby played very well. He is a very direct and strong player with good technique for such a tall and lanky player. His finish was excellent an he seemed to cause problems when driving from midfield. The way he glided past players with seeming ease really encourages me that Diaby wants to push on and push for a regular place. He might be worth a role alongside Flamini (if fit) come Sunday afternoon.

The second thing I noticed almost immediately is that Theo Walcott showed the new toughness and positivity he has mentioned recently. He was much stronger on the ball than he has been and seems to have learnt how to use his brain more; that is when to beat players with pace, when to pass and when to use a bit of trickery. The only thing missing was the finish. His pace is electric and I would prefer him over Eboue for Sunday. He is comitted and never gives up, his defensive work was solid and he was a real menace when running at the opposition's goal.

Lastly - Nicklas Bendtner showed once again what a talent he is. His hold up play was excellent and the finish for his goal was so assured. He took his time, picked his spot and placed it with great accuracy. Many would have snatched at the chance; with two players around him he could have taken it early but waited for the perfect moment. It was his first chance of the night, that is the mark of a clinical striker. I know we all want Theo to succeed up front, but right now Bendtner is way out ahead of him. Walcott was good on the wing and for now should ply his trade there as he develops his game. Bendtner is playing very well and I am sure will be a first team regular before too long.

It was annoying to concede a goal, especially such an easy one. The defending wasnt the best throughout the second half, but with half the back four rested and progression already assured, it is understandable. The most important thing is that the fluidity going forward was back last night. Some of the passing was fantastic and everyone played their part. It will not be as easy to play the ball around against Chelsea, but if we can play to the levels these players can, with a bit of luck, maybe a player or two coming back into the side, there is no reason why we cannot win that game.

We will be drawn against either of these teams in the first knockout round:

Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Real Madrid or Porto.

I had a gut feeling we would play Barca at some point in this year's Champion's league, it seems destiny it will be early on. All these games are going to be tough, but we did it on the run to the final two years ago. Many will say Porto is the best draw. Of course they are the least strong team here BUT look what happened last year with PSV. Many claimed we had the best tie out of the English sides - we were the only ones to go out. This team is confident and on our day can beat almost anyone, bring 'em on I say!!!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Arsenal vs Steaua - Also - some very good news

Finally, at the end of a tough week that started with a draw away to Newcastle, some good news has arrived. Robin Van Persie returns to the first team squad for the visit of Steaua. He has returned after a layout that has seen him out since October. The "2-3 weeks out" envisaged by Mr Wenger was very wrong and it is great to have Van Persie back for this busy part of the season. Abou Diaby is also back to bolster the squad.

The other great news is Flamini looks likely to be offered a new 5-year contract after his brilliant start to this season. He has transformed our midfield and played in such a style that means Arsenal can no longer be bullied. In his two games out, Arsenal have been out fought and looked shaky in the centre of the park. There was a worry we could lose this "new" player come the end of the season, with him free to talk to other clubs come January. He is also likely to be fit for Sunday which could be crucial.

Some bad news is that Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb are no nearer to a return for Sunday. This is very bad news as they really are crucial to our team. We are getting back 2/4 of our players we really need, but all four really would be a boost for the team and for the fans before Sunday's crucial game. What does amaze me though is the length of time Arsenal players seem to take to recover. Last season, William Gallas was supposed to return after a short lay off - this soon became two months. Tomas Rosicky seemed to miss games all the time through injury.

This leads me to look at Arsenal's injury policy. It seems to me that Wenger will only let his players return if they are 100% fit. This is a fair enough decision with the level so high at the top level. Wenger, I think, trusts natural healing over aided recovery. However I would like to think certain players who were near enough to the top level, would be allowed to take some sort of injection to play in big games. I would only encourage this if the player was not at risk of worsening an injury by taking this injection. I have seen Gerrard and Terry take these without having any lasting problems. If Cesc and Hleb are ok to take one, I really think they should. It has become clear this week as to the importance of them to our team.

Another thing I must ask is why they are out for so long. I have racked my brains as to why Cesc has a fitness test for Villa, two weeks before the Chelsea game, yet he is now more than likely to miss out. Surely he has made the final steps to recovery within two weeks. Unless he got injured in the fitness test, now that would be unbelievable! The same happened with Alex Hleb. Having returned for Villa, he got a knock to his calf but had a fitness test ahead of the Newcastle game. Suddenly he was out of the Boro game with no chance of a comeback - now the Chelsea game looks a distant hope aswell. What's going on here? Either the medical staff are taking too long to get these players fit, or Wenger is wrapping them up in cotton wool so they are at their peak fitness levels.

I know its hard with the Chelsea game approaching, but lets look at tomorrow's match. My feeling is that whatever we do tomorrow, we will be coming 2nd in the group as Sevilla will beat Slavia more than likely For me it is destiny to meet Barca in the knockout rounds; this way it could happen very early on. 3 points would be a welcome boost for those likely to fill in on Sunday, and a perfect chance for certain players to gain fitness before Sunday. As I said Van Persie will return to play some part, Diaby the same and Jens Lehmann will play in goal.

It is such a long time since the mad German was in goal for us, this is mainly down to Almunia's brilliant form. I doubt Lehmann has a chance to play on Sunday, considering Almunia has not done much to be dropped. However it is a chance for him to show why he has been shooting his mouth off. He better take it. Wenger will rotate his squad again but certain players will get a chance tomorrow to try and get a place in Sunday's team.
Across the back four I would like Sagna and Clichy rested, along with Toure and/or Gallas. If all of them are rested it gives a chance for Hoyte, Senderos, Song and Traore to try and show Wenger why they might push for a place in the team more regularly. If Song is not chosen for Cameroon he can push Senderos for the slot alongside Gallas when Toure leaves for Africa. That is, unless Wenger buys a centre back as he has hinted (my wish)

Eboue needs to be benched; both tomorrow and for the Chelsea game. How he did not get sent off, ON TWO OCCASIONS on Sunday, baffled me. They guy is petulant and as I have said countless times, when our backs are against the wall, Eboue runs away. He gets lost in games and it infuraites me as he has talent but only shows this on rare occasions. Diarra has played well recently, Boro excluded and he has done ok in the Flamini role. He tackles hard, hassles players and breaks things up. Gilberto seems to have become a very average player over night. Last season he was brilliant; this season he has been very very poor. He gives the ball away far too often and does not seem to help either defence or attack. This season Wenger has played a hard tackling centre midfielder alongside a more attacking player. Gilberto no longer fits into this. He will play tomorrow though, I think, but please not against Chelsea. I would like to see Diaby or Denilson play in the middle with Diarra, with a re-think regarding Sunday once we know fitness levels.

Rosicky should also be rested as we need him for Sunday. He was the main creative spark, however faint, on Sunday and may have a big job at the weekend, especially if Hleb and Cesc are out. This leaves two spaces on the wings for tomorrow's game. I want Theo to start on the right with Kieran Gibbs on the left. He impressed in his two first team games and it is a perfect opportunity for him to make the step up once again. However I think Diaby will fill in on the left. Walcott has asked for more games, and claims to have a new found positive and "aggresive" approach, now let him show this.

If Van Persie starts then i would like to see him start alongside Bendtner. The Dane is similar to Adebayor (rested) and Van Persie works well with this type of player. Bendtner did ok on Sunday and has looked good this season when he has came on in games. Eduardo was very bad on Sunday, he did not link with Adebayor and his decision making was poor and slow. He does seem to have a lot more settling in to do and is not yet ready for big games yet. If RVP cannot start tomorrow then Eduardo may get another chance. If Van Persie is not fit for Sunday, or cant last 90 minutes, then, if Bendtner can set his stall out tomorrow, he is a good bet for Sunday.

The team I would like to see is this (along with definite starters).


We need to get our season back on track and we can start this tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Boro 2 Arsenal 1 - Absolutely Awful Performance

I write this match report before the game is over. Why is this? Ill tell you; as soon as the second Boro goal went in, the game was over. From the first minute we were awful. Almunia made a mistake coming to meet Aliadiere with Toure in close company. Toure did not need to make a challenge but may have been confused by the rashenss of the keeper. Downing swept home the penalty and we were on the back foot from then on. One would have thought this would kick us into action but it didnt. Just like midweek we failed to create any chances of note and Boro went and got the killer goal on 74 minutes.

So what is wrong all of a sudden? Is it the fact we are in December? The bogey month? Maybe. We have only played one half of real football in this month (away at Villa) and right now we look in trouble. The defence that has been so solid suddenly looks nervous and shaky. For some reason the defence has become stretched and mistakes seem to be happening all across the back 5. We lack creativity in midfield and decision making up front is poor. It reminds me of the period after we lost the 49-unbeaten run; we went and battered Villa senseless with our football and then after that struggled - ring a bell?

With Hleb, Cesc and Flamini out, the midfield has been very poor. Once again Eboue went missing and left Rosicky as the only creative spark in the whole team. He had a few good moments but nothing worked for him. Diarra worked hard but for me Gilberto has lost it. He strolls through games and is off the pace. He does nothing to aid the defence, nothing to help the attack. He gives away sloppy free-kicks and is not the same player. Flamini added bite to the team this year and when he has been out we have lacked something; teams are now able to bully us once again.

I interrupt here - we have scored, 2-1 but still all over as the final whistle goes. It had to be Rosicky - the only guy that looked like he could do something today.

Hleb and Fabregas are our main playmakers and the difference they make is now clearer than ever. As soon as Hleb went off away at Villa the downfall began. We did not concede but had nothing going forward. Then, as soon as Flamini was ruled out of first team action, goals and chances against us came a plenty. This is no coincidence, these players are simply so important. Add Cesc to these two and we are missing our three most crucial players this season. We need them back asap, next sunday is a must return for them.

I worry about Eduardo, I really do. He was played in his position today and was awful. His decisions were slow and his passing sloppy. It made no difference playing up front. He does not seem to fit into the system at all and needs plenty more adapting before he is ready to start big games. Even David Pleat - not the most enthralling of commentators - saw that Edaurdo and Adebayor were not working together. There was no cohesion and they were too far apart. I feel the Togo man does not like playing with the Croat. Adebayor worked hard and was off it today but we know what he can do, Eduardo I am still waiting on to answer some questions. Bendtner came on and seemed to make a slight difference in that I saw him on the ball. Even Theo showed more urgency. Something needs to change if our injured players are not back for Sunday.

Yes, credit does go to Boro, but we were shocking. They closed us down but we did not string passes together. I lost count of how many long punts forward either went out of play or straight to a red shirt. The leaders of this team need to get together with the manager and sort out what is going on. Our season is under threat right now in the next month, players need to stand up and be counted.

Eboue, Gilberto, Eduardo all need to be dropped NOW, even if Hleb, Cesc, Flamini and Van Persie are not back.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Aresnal vs Boro (away) preview

Tomorrow we finish our 3 part Northern round trip that has taken us to Villa Park, St James' Park and now the Riverside. We won brilliantly away at Villa when many were hoping for a draw. We slipped up a little against a rejuvinated Newcastle side ut there was no shame in a 1-1 draw away there. If we can beat Boro tomorrow we will have 7 points from 9 in one week of 3 very tricky away games; all this without Fabregas and Van Persie for all 3, Hleb and Flamini for the other two.

We are without these players again and I envisage a line up similar if not exactly the same as in the last game. The back four and keeper will be the same and all we need from them is consistency once again. They defended brilliantly in the last two games, especially seeing as they were bombarded for 45 minutes and then for 70 minutes. Almunia was brilliant in both and he is showing why he has the no.1 jersey right now.

In midfield I feel Wenger will persist with Eboue on the right; this surely must be the final chance before he is moved to the bench. I have stated my opinion on Eboue many times and once again I will tell you that Eboue is a fantastic player when things are going well and we are playing good Football. Just look at the involvement he had during our last three goals; all 3 came from moves involving him whether it be a pinpoint cross or slick passing. However when the going gets tough and backs are against the wall, he goes missing far too many times. I didn't see him touch the ball in the second half against Newcastle and at least others made some sort of attempt to get on the ball.

Lassana Diarra impressed me hugely with his no nonsense tackling and work rate. His passing was decent at times but he is no playmaker. He needs a creative player alongside him. Gilberto is not this and right now doesn't seem to do a job in the side. He makes interceptions and keeps play simple but Diarra can do this aswell as adding a fighting edge to the midfield in Flamini's absence. I have called for Rosicky to be given the other central midfield role and it showed midweek we missed this creative edge through the middle. This would leave a space on the left for Walcott to show us what he can do. He was brilliant for the U21s and he had an interview where he mentioned a new direct, positive manner to his game - time to show it Theo!

Up front I am all for Eduardo being given another chance, but this time up front and NOT on the wing. The guy is still adapting to our play but playing him out wide will not help. His position is alongside Adebayor so let him play there. Wenger could go with Bendtner and either way I do not mind. We need goals from our forwards more than anyone with Cesc and Hleb out, chances might be more scarce and two strikers have more chance of scoring than just Ade up top.

My team would be:

Subs: Lehmann, Song, Gilberto, Denilson, Bendtner

Once again Wenger has been blamed for the lack of English players, I have debated on this subject and right now am getting bored of this. I can't wait till Mourinho is named manager to show that foreigners simply are better all through football right now. The FA is the shambles and the acadamies run by it are even worse. Get Wenger in charge as a second job - I mean second - and we might see some improvement. Wait till Henri Lansbury, Mark Randall, Rhys Murphy, Jay Emmanuel Thomas are lighting up the Premiership and then we will see what Wenger IS doing for English football.

Back to tomorrow's match and good luck to the boys. Get the three points and we have done well for a week's work. Many are already looking to Chelsea at home but one game at a time for now.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1 - Not such a bad result

There are two ways to view last night's draw against Newcastle. The first is to be disapointed that we drew with a side struggling in mid-table and against a team who had shipped four goals against Portsmouth and three against Liverpool. The other one - the one I choose to take - is that we got a draw away at a side fighting for their place in the team, fighting for their manager and all that with 3/4 of our main midfield out injured, aswell as one of our first choice strikers out.

With Hleb and Flamini added to the injury list already containing Fabregas and Van Persie, last night's game was always going to be a tough match. Rosicky, Diarra, Eboue and Adebayor started from the front six from saturday. Flamini was replaced by Gilberto and Eduardo came in for Hleb. It all began so well as Eboue delivered the perfect cross for Adebayor to score a fantastic goal. After only three minutes we were 1-0 up and many feared the worst for Newcastle. Their defence seemed dodgy a couple of times shortly after but we did not capatalise. It was then that Wenger made a mistake.

Eduardo was moved out to the left and we went into a 4-5-1 formation. For me this was wrong and Wenger has to take some blame here. First of all Eduardo is not a left winger, he is a centre forward and looked out of place out wide - AGAIN. It was supposed to give Rosicky a more central role where he could dictate play but with only one runner ahead of him he did not have much to work with. He only had two real openings: in one Adebayor ran ahead of him leaving Tomas with no option but to try and outpace 4 defenders; the other time he chose to pass when the shot was probably the better option. Going 5 in midfield also gave the initiative to Newcastle; there was no real out-ball and Adebayor was isolated. We had started well with two strikers casusing their shaky defence problems. Our creativity was lost against Villa once Hleb went off and if we were to score more we really needed two up front to compensate his absence.

The defence were left with the job of trying to keep out the Newcastle attack for 75+minutes and although they were capable of achieving this feat against Villa, it was too much last night. They did well to keep it at 1-1 and in particular Almunia was outstanding. He made many crucial saves in both the first and second half. In midfield Gilberto and Diarra had the job of disrupting Newcastle and the Frenchman really impressed me. One particular moment where he held off four challenges with strength and determination really got me off my seat. Had more players taken his example we might have done better last night. The problem was too many players went missing when we most needed them.

Eboue was non-existent in the second half and I barely saw him touch the ball. When it was nescessary for him to get on the ball and buy the defence some time he failed to do it. Eboue is good when we are playing good Football and he is involved in our slick passing game. However, when our backs are against the wall and we need players to stand up and be counted, he goes into his shell far too many times. Eduardo failed to hold up the ball and it was his mistake that led to the goal. The Croat does not seem to fit into our system yet but until he is played in his natural position I refuse to have much of a go at him.

Gilberto showed his experience and how important he can be to the team. Some of hi
s interceptions were first class and his calmness on the ball does help when the going gets tough. However we did miss Flamini in there, aswell as the creativity of Cesc and Hleb. Ade held the ball up well and he needed a better supply from the midfield. One criticism of Adebayor last night was that his decision making was poor at times. When he could have played Eduardo in for a one on one he chose to try and beat his man and ran too wide to do anything other than win a corner. A few times he had an easy pass that would have played a team mate in but he was erratic and his pass was wayward.

This result was not a disaster, far from it, but with the likelihood the 4 players will be out once more for Sunday, we must learn from last night and be far more direct and clinical to get back on track in the League. We are still 4 points ahead in the League and go into a tricky December with players to come back. Bring on the third leg of our Northern round trip.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Newcastle vs Arsenal - This will not be as easy as many think…

A week or two ago many would have described tonight's fixture away at Newcastle as an easy fixture. Newcastle were leaking goals left right and centre; Arsenal on the other hand were scoring goals a plenty matched with a watertight defence. This match however will be far from easy, for a few reasons. Firstly it is Sam Allardyce; whatever we may think of the guy - not good things in my case - he did know how to ruffle our feathers time and time again in previous years. If there was one man that had the 'formula' to beating Arsenal it was him. His job is on the line and he will be determined to re-kindle the tactics that he used so well against Wenger's sides in the past.

Next: when was the last time we beat Newcastle comfortably at St. James Park? Last year we drew 0-0 there, the year before we lost 1-0, the year before that we scraped a 1-0 victory. Do you see the pattern here? Newcastle have a history of frustrating us and we have not won with a comfortable margin since the night Dennis Bergkamp scored his wonder goal back in the 2001/02 season. Sol Campbell added to the Dutchman's fantastic solo goal and we cruised to victory. That was a long time ago and since then we have struggled.

Our injury list will also play a part this evening; it really is mounting. Add to the list of Van Persie, Diaby and Cesc; Hleb and Flamini and I worry about the creativity we will get tonight. When Hleb went off on Saturday against Villa, all our creative spark seemed to be lost. We failed to create anything after that with a solitary one shot at goal all half. Fabregas and Hleb really are our main playmakers and I worry with both of them out. In midfield Eboue had a good game but his form is always so erratic we cannot rely on him to produce an awful lot game after game. The solitary creative player in midfield is really Tomas Rosicky but he has not been in the best of form. He is key to us this evening.

The team Wenger puts out is largely decided for him. The back 5 will not change after they defended so brilliantly against the Villa onslaught. They really showed the added fight and grit to our game this season and our full backs will need to get forward like they did on the weekend. Moving into midfield; I feel Eboue and Rosicky will take their places again on the wings and will be the key from turning defence into attack. The interesting question however is what Wenger will do in central midfield. I feel he will go with Diarra who had a good game in the centre on Saturday, alongside Glberto who will replace the injured Flamini. Diarra was good at winning the ball strongly and keeping it simple. Gilberto will be there to link defence to midfield and mop up anything on the counter. He could go with Denilson but I feel he will opt for the more solid two in the middle.

If it was me - I know it's not!! - I would play Diarra in there with Rosicky. We need our midfield to create chances and if given a central role I feel we could see the best of Rosicky. With the Frenchman holding for the Czech we could really see something good in the centre of the park. That would leave space for Walcott to fill in on the left. He really has blown hot and cold this year but his pace could give Newcastle's makeshift back four a real tough time. He needs games to develop and this game could really test his character, and build it. As I said though, I doubt this will happen.

I think Eduardo was left out of the squad against Villa as Wenger planned for him to start tonight. Newcastle have looked shaky at the back and could be undone by someone who is a natural finisher. Eduardo has shown at times he is this type of player and playing off Adebayor I can see him getting lots of chances. Adebayor will lead the line and after his performance on Saturday Newcastle will be wary. He will be marked tightly which leaves space for runners off him to exploit. We must not get Ade isolated as when this has happened at times this season we have not looked so potent. Nicklas Bendtner or Theo Walcott may be selected as the other striker in place of Eduardo but there are reasons why this is doubtful:

Theo has not been in the best of form and does not look like a striker with plenty of goals in him, yet! Many think Bendtner and Adebayor are too similar to play together. In some ways this is true but only in certain aspects are they the same. Bendtner is a good finisher and Adebayor is far more hardworking. It is a partnership I would like to see as I think they could compliment each other well against what will be a rugged defence tonight. Wenger though may not think this way.

This is the team I think will play with my team in brackets (my record on Football Manager suggests trust Mr Wenger)


If this is the team Wenger opts for it will almost be a 4-2-2-2 formation with the two defensive midfielders sitting back while the wide players push on. It is similar to the way Brazil play and with this game likely to be a tight one Wenger will not want to concede. With the full backs pushing on, Diarra and Gilberto will be there to protect the two centre backs. This game could be decided by a solitary goal, whatever Wenger chooses it must be spot on.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Villa 1 Arsenal 2 - A game of two halves

That was an absolutely brilliant result. 2-1 away at Villa is fantastic. It is one of the toughest away matches of the season and we came through it to get 3 points. A lot of people thought we might get a point - me included - but not this Arsenal side. I worried that with Fabregas out we might struggle but the key to this was who else came back. However this team is at the start of a new era as Wenger said and they put the disappointment of Tuesday night behind them to get the win. The first half was similar to that of 3 years ago away at Villa where we were described as "the Football version of the Harlem Globetrotters" in our 3-1 win.

Hleb was outstanding tonight. The way he kept the ball under control and had an eye for a killer pass was as good as anyone. He took up great positions and was a problem all night; enough so for Carew to cynically end his game with a horror challenge (go back to McShane (Sunderland) and Noble at West Ham doing the same thing). He was in the withdrawn striker role and glimpses of Bergkamp came to my head. The ease with which he got space and time and then moved the ball on was brilliant. He played 60 mins and one amazing stat was that after this hour his pass success rate was 98%. That is simply brilliant. It was one of the best performances from an Arsenal player in a long time.
However this result came from a brilliant team performance. From back to front the whole team was awesome. Almunia was solid from crosses and his handling very secure. No wonder Wenger has tipped him for a Spanish call up. Our full backs also excelled. Clichy returned from injury to line up on the left and Sagna on the right. Sagna had young in his pocket early on and when he switched to the right Clichy continued this pattern. They were largely untroubled throughout. The most pleasing part of their performance however was their attacking play. Clichy made countless surging runs in the first half and the Villa midfield could not cope. Sagna on the other side delivered the cross for Adebayor's header. He did it against Man Utd, Wigan and now Villa. The cross was sublime and Ade did with it what it deserved.

Toure and Gallas were solid as ever. Carew was a tricky prospect and they dealt well with him. They knew when to drop off and when to get close; only once did he threaten the goal and we got lucky here (Karma for the Hleb challenge?) Agbonlahor became isolated and I hardly noticed him due to their hard work. They made some great interceptions and tackles many times. When Kolo goes off to Africa we are going to miss a real leader of this team.
Wenger started with 2 defensive midfielders in Diarra and Flamini. Flamini was absolutely fantastic in a slightly different role. He was ordered to get forward as Cesc would and duly got his goal after brilliant build up play. He finished with aplomb as the Spaniard has all season and continued to get forward and had 3 good attempts in the first half. He was strong in every tackle and really got us going. Diarra alongside him controlled midfield and dictated tempo for most of the game. He kept things simple and was never beaten in a challenge. He repaid Wenger's faith for starting him.

Rosicky did well at times but got lost a bit in this game. Once Hleb went off we hardly saw him and Wenger took him off soon after. On the other side I was very pleased with Eboue. I thought he should be given one chance to prove he can cut out the antics and let his football do the talking and he did it today. His skill was great at times and the link up with Hleb and Adebayor as sublime at times.

And then we had Emmanuel Adebayor leading the line and in the first half he did as well as anyone could have asked. He held the ball up, linked play and scored a real centre forward's goal. He got up high and beat Knight to the ball to head past Carson. When he scores we do not lose as stats prove; we have never lost when he is on the score sheet. Today was no different.

We showed two aspects to our game today - first we had a half of sublime Football and then a half of gritty defending and hard work. Both are equally satisfying when you win this type of game. We worked for the three points; 6 points ahead of United with same games played, 5 points ahead of Chelsea with a game in hand. On to Newcastle next week in our Northern round-trip.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Aston Villa vs Arsenal Preview - A tough test

Aston Villa have both comprehensively beaten Chelsea and been well beaten by Manchester United. In both of these they burst out of the blocks and took an early lead. In one they held off some pressure from their opposition and in the other they were pegged back soon after and eventually punished heavily. Against Chelsea they were able to soak up the pressure and hit them on the counter late on to seal the points. This was when Chelsea were not at their attacking best. Against United they came up against a team in full attacking flow and Villa simply could not cope with the speed of the counter attack.

This gives me some hope as in games this season - Sevilla apart - we have been able to break teams down and score goals. Manchester United showed this is possible against Villa and hopefully we can do the same. Going a goal down will not be the end of the world but if we get the first goal then it will be a real bonus. If we can hit them on the counter early on then we might be in luck. As they are the home team and playing well, they will fancy their chances. They will no doubt come at us in the opening stages and here we must be patient, solid and use the speed we have to break quickly up field.

Villa's main threat is definitely their pace. They will either line up in a 4-3-3 with Young and Agbonlahor playing off Carew. Should this happen the two pacey englishmen will play wide and attack the full backs. They will try and get past these players and supply Carew with chances. O'Neill may decide to go with a more conventional 4-4-2 with Young on the right, Petrov on the left with Barry and Reo-Coker in the centre of midfield. He will then have Agbonlahor playing off Carew and using his pace to great effect. If Arsenal can stem the supply to Young and Agbonlahor, they will have gone some way to halting Villa. This in turn will hopefully isolate Carew.

So how do Arsenal line-up to deal with this? Assuming Clichy is not fit to play tomorrow I would go for solidity at the back. Traore had major problems against Navas and I would move Sagna across to left full-back. He can deal with Young as well as anyone in the squad while providing pace on the counter. On the other side Diarra should fill in. He is strong in the tackle and can prevent any attacks from that side. After his shocker on Wednesday Senderos must not be on the pitch. I have heard people suggesting Gallas go to the left with Phil filling in. With the pace of Agbonlahor we need both Toure and Gallas playing in the centre to deal with it. Carew may win most aerial balls but if we isolate Agbonlahor and Young then he should not get too much of the ball.

In midfield Flamini is back and this is fantastic news. He has been the reason our midfield has improved this season by adding a fighting aspect to our game. He harrasses players and does not give them time to settle. Gilberto was very poor in Spain and is clearly well off the pace. Denilson has filled in for Cesc at times this season but if I was Wenger I would try something new this time around. Although he has great vision and passing I don't think he has the cutting edge needed for this type of fixture. I feel we need someone who will move the ball quickly, get things going while taking opportunities to shoot when they arise. Therefore I would play Tomas Rosicky alongside Flamini.

Whoever plays on the wings must help the full backs. Eboue should be given one more chance on the right of midfield if Hleb is not fit. He can deliver a good cross which could be a good option for tomorrow. On the other flank I would give Walcott a game. He was brilliant for England recently and his pace will trouble Villa as they have been playing with natural centre backs as full backs. Should Hleb make it I would play him on the left and Theo on the right instead of Eboue. Eboue needs something to show him he must pull his socks up after his antics in recent games; being benched might do this. Wenger could go with 4-5-1 and put Denilson in there with Rosicky and Flamini but I think we should go with two up top like Man Utd did. This means Adebayor will not get isolated and we have more options on the counter.

Nicklas Bendtner played very well in midweek and deserves another game but can he play with Adebayor? For me he can but I think Wenger will always go for one or the other, not the both of them together. After his goal I would consider giving Eduardo another game but this time as a striker. He is NOT a winger despite showing some neat touches out wide. His main position is as a striker and his lack of defensive instincts would worry me. He knows where the goal is and with chances likely to be scarce, he is the man to take them. HE is wasted on the wing.

My team would therefore be:


The defeat to Sevilla may have come at a good time. With so many first teamers rested the defeat will not have come as such a blow as one in the League. The pressure of such a long unbeaten run is gone and we are starting a new slate. Most players have not actually lost but as part of he squad will want to put it right. As Toure has said this week - if we want to win then we must move on to the next game and get back on track. This game will be a tricky one, as Chelsea found out, but if we get our tactics right and concentrate for 90 minutes we can come away with something.