Thursday, 21 February 2008

Arsenal 0 Milan 0 - Still all to play for...

We go to the San Siro with a 0-0 draw. On the face of it, that is a good result, a clean sheet at home and any away goal puts us in a strong position. That’s the realistic view but any fan that watched that game must be disappointed. The atmosphere was amazing on the first big European night at the Emirates.

We dominated the game and out played Milan. The work rate was fantastic all night as every player played his heart out. Kaka, Pirlo and Seedorf were shackled by Fabregas and Flamini who were brilliant throughout. Clichy and Sagna provided width over and over and Hleb linked everything together.

It was the perfect response to Saturday; we just could not score tonight. Like Liverpool did last night we closed them down at every opportunity and they had no time to settle. We went into every challenge determined to win the ball and most of the time we did exactly that. The fight and commitment was certainly there tonight.

The game could have been so different though after only 5 minutes. With Toure off the pitch we lost concentration and I could see Maldini run across our penalty box to meet the early corner. Once more Lehmann showed why Wenger kept him on, he still is a good goalkeeper. His save was top quality and it took me back to our run to the final 2 years ago. To then catch the cross and release the mightiest of throws was awesome, it was the Jens Lehmann show once again; Pato certainly knew he was there as Lehmann approached with his usual anger. He must improve his kicking though, it was awful.

Toure’s injury was a wierd one and no one at the Emirates was sure what happened but he has a calf injury. From personal experience I know they can be really annoying if such an injury persists but he shouldn’t be out for too long. Right now though, I wouldn’t want anyone ahead of Senderos at the back.

Tonight, Phil was a rock. Many - including me - were worried his lack of pace might be exposed by Pato and Kaka but he has clearly been improving his game as he read the game so well to make up for it. Tony Adams was not fast but he was always one step ahead, Senderos was the same tonight. He made countless challenges when Milan moved into dangerous positions, one in particular was brilliant as Kaka moved in on goal.

Gallas called for fight and passion and tonight he certainly played his part. Along with Senderos he kept Pato so quiet and I just hope he can produce the same in the San Siro. Senderos and Gallas have struck up a great partnership and have conceded very few goals. They will be key in the San Siro, as will Sagna and Clichy.

Special praise for Sagna who has just lost his brother. To come back so quickly and play the way he did, what a soldier! For footballers, playing this game is their lives and such a game is probably the way Sagna wanted to remember his brother and for that I salute you Baka!

Clichy just continued the way he has performed all season and was solid at the back when put under pressure but got forward all the time and put in some dangerous crosses; there was just no one on the end of it. The pace he has really helps on the cover when someone does run over the top. He has boundless energy and has been one of our best, and most importantly, most consistent players this season.

Eboue proved once again why he is the most frustrating player in our squad. He started well as Sagna and Eboue doubled up on Maldini and he made some good in roads from the right side. However, after 10 minutes he went missing again. In the second half he had our best chance of the game up until that point and emphasised why is goal tally this season is at the mighty number of zero.

Theo should have been on the pitch much much earlier. Giving him six minutes was a mistake with Eboue playing so badly. Granted Eboue could have had a penalty but once that went against him it was time to inject some fresh pace. Within 3 minutes he had created our best chance all night, simply because he was positive and went at his man. Eboue constantly slows the play down but Milan’s ageing defence did not want someone running at them.

Eduardo played on the left but I am still not sure if 4-5-1 is the best way. Away at the San Siro maybe it will be best but at home we should have gone with two up top. Eduardo did play well out there though and showed some good moments and brilliant work rate. He is a massive threat up front and we did take that away. The logic was that having Hleb as the extra man to link midfield to attack would be the way to open Milan up. This did not happen though I felt. Hleb was caught too far back and Ade became isolated.

In the middle Flamini had Kaka in his pocket all night. Kaka found space like always but Flamini stuck to him like a bad smell. One moment summed up his season as we saw a battle of the titans between Gattuso and Flamini. Both went in hard and although neither really came out on top, it was brilliant to see. Flamini has made a massive difference to our side this season and if he can produce the same in Milan it could be key.

Alongside Fabregas finally showed his best football. He has been out of sorts but the big stage brought the best out of him. His passing was spot on, his skill and taclking were all spot on. His link up play with Hleb is wonderful to watch but when it got him through on ball his shooting let him down. Twice he did not test the keeper as much as he should have; symptomatic of Arsenal this evening.

When I mentioned the 4-5-1, I pointed out that Ade got a bit isolated tonight but he did not help himself. In my eyes his performance was poor. His hold up play was not what it normally is and his shooting boots were left at home. How he did not score at the end, I still do not know. Missing such an importance chance is pretty unforgivable in my opinion. Hopefully he makes up for it in the San Siro and breaks his European duck then.

I know we should have won the game but before the game many would take a 0-0 draw. One goal in the San Siro puts us thoroughly in the driving seat with the away goals rule and we know now we can play Kaka out of the game. Milan will be a bigger threat at home but in a way this might help us as they come out of their shells a bit more. The counter attack is still a huge weapon for this Arsenal side. By then we might have the likes of Rosicky and Van Persie back and that could help us hugely.

Either way we need to put this behind us but still take heart from it. The League is up now and the return leg is in two weeks. Once Brum and Villa are out of the way then we can look at the 2nd leg. More of the same will do from now until then.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Manchester United 4 Arsenal 0 - no passion, no pride, no quality

The team that walked out against Manchester United may not have been the same as the one that walked out at the Lane in the Carling Cup, but both teams produced a very similar performance. They gave us one with no passion, no commitment, no pride, no bottle and ultimately a lack of quality. Like that night at the Lane, Arsenal failed to string more than 2 passes together before giving it straight to United. Man Utd were not THAT good, Arsenal were just that bad.

Before the game I said a win for Man Utd would not provide much of a psychological boost but losing by such a large margin will. I know the two teams will be very different come April but this must have some influence on proceedings. To the game anyway.

From the back to the front we were piss poor, only Jens Lehmann came away from Old Trafford with any credit. Lehmann prevented this game from becoming a hockey score. He came out of his area at least 3 times to deny Rooney and Nani unchallenged efforts on goal. On each of those occasions it was an Arsenal player, yes an Arsenal player that started the move from which they raced clear.

Each goal had an Arsenal error firmly at the heart of it. This is not an excuse but a simple fact that Arsenal gifted them each of the four goals and did all they could to gift them even more. One by one lets look at the goals.

1-0 Poor defending led to Arsenal conceding a corner kick. The ball was half cleared and a weak challenge from Fabregas let Anderson head the ball into back into the danger. If that was not enough, Justin Hoyte failed to get goal side of Rooney, leaving him with the simple task of putting the ball past Lehmann

2-0 Fabregas lost the ball in his own half with a ridiculous pass across his own back four. From here Nani ran clear and managed to put in a cross. Darren Fletcher lost Fabregas (again!) who managed to beat Gallas who did not do enough in the air to clear the ball.

3-0 Possesion was lost once again to Michael Carrick who noticed Nani creeping in behind Traore for the countless time and Nani was left clear to slot home. This was not the only time Traore had played a United player onside as he failed to push up with his fellow defenders. It was not to be the last however.

4-0 Justin Hoyte again now. Up against Nani out wide near the touchline, he let Nani push him back into the Arsenal box without any sort of challenge. From here Nani twisted and turned Hoyte once more and once more Fletcher lost his man, Flamini this time, and headed home. To be fair to Flamini he had only just come on.

There is no question that Man Utd were better than Arsenal today, the stats are conclusive but it did seem to me that the players did not care about this game, and neither did Wenger. Granted we could only field a team of 11 fit players and those on the bench were carrying injuries but this performance was not good enough. In both the domestic cup competitions we have gone to our rivals and capitulated to an astonoshing effect.

Wenger showed he was out to make this a difficult game for United, but not one to trouble their defence. He has persisted with Eduardo as a left sided midfield player but it does not work. He looks lost out there and fails to help the full back Traore who was left open throughout. Hleb played as a support to Bendtner but did not get close to him. As soon as Eduardo moved up front we looked more dangerous. Hleb looked more comfortable back on the left and Eduardo started to link the midfield and attack. United were given license to attack as they knew we were never going to threaten.

At the back Toure and Gallas looked like they have never played together before and need to get the understanding back. It did not help that Hoyte and Traore looked hapless and were constantly left marking space as United’s wingers were left free to roam. They made Nani and Park look like world beaters. As skipper Gallas should have led by example but he and Toure were left bamboozled by Rooney way too often.

Gilberto was supposed to offer protection to the back four but once more he was off the pace, sloppy in possession and weak in the tackle. Ironically, with Flamini out, the sort of player we needed was preparing for an FA Cup game with Preston tomorrow. Diarra should still be at Arsenal with a real chance of playing right now, not Gilberto who has no future here past the summer. As soon as Flamini was on he pressured United in possession and got stuck in; he was also slightly injured.

Fabregas seemed knackered to me and I am sure that he would have been rested if we did not have so many players injured. He has not looked himself recently and we all hope he sorts this come Wednesday. Hleb offered no support to the front man as I said and his passing was not what we expect from him. His usual calmness was lost and where one expects him to link up well with Cesc, we saw nothing of the sort.

On the wing Eboue was non existent. Not once did he try and get at Evra and I only noticed him as he was shown the red card. Now seems like the perfect time to rant about the ref. Like a few years ago when the Neville brothers kicked lumps out of Reyes unpunished, Alan Wiley let some United players get in some terrible fouls without seeing yellow. As soon as an Arsenal player made one foul, he was duly booked. Emmanuel Eboue went up for the header with his eyes on the ball all the time. I know his foot was high but he did not kick out and he merely landed on Evra.

Another rant now and that lies with the BBC. John Motson and Mark Lawrenson were so far up United’s arse it was unbelievable. I have never heard so many jibes towards Arsenal in one game and anyone would think Wayne Rooney had achieved world piece the way they went on. It was not only these two individuals who had jumped on the Man U bandwagon. You may all remember a goal disallowed for an offside. To me it was a very dubious decision yet we never once saw a replay. Anytime a United player was offside they showed it from 3 different angles. Earlier in the game Eduardo was clearly tripped on the edge of the box but nothing was given. Once more, no replays. What is going on BBC??

I have sent a quick comment to the BBC asking for an explanation and hope they have the kindness to explain themselves. I doubt I’ll hear anything anytime soon though.

Eduardo and Bendtner were a bit unlucky, in my eyes anyway. Eddy was out of position for most of the game but tried hard to make something of the game whenever he got it. Bendtner worked hard whenever the ball was lumped up to him but he simply had no support. When Ade came on we looked a little more potent but his dive was disgraceful and I hope we see no more of such antics.

These stats below sum it up really. United were up for it, Arsenal were not. Hopefully they had one eye on the Milan game and we see a performance completely different from the one they produced today.

Man Utd 6 Arsenal 0
Goal Attempts:
Man Utd 21 Arsenal 4
On Target:
Man Utd 12 Arsenal 1

There is not much more to say really. We all saw it, we all know how poor it was. Hopefully Wednesday will be a very different story.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd - Squad Depth analysed - will it be as expected?

With the FA Cup 5th round tie against Manchester United well on the horizon and the run in as tight as ever, I thought about looking at the two squads, plus Chelsea! With all three clubs competing in at least 3 competitions, a good squad can be crucial, with strength in depth a massive factor. Chelsea have spent lots and many might expect them to have a big advantage here but United have spent a lot recently too and Wenger has built foundations.

The match on Saturday will not really compare the best teams of Arsenal and Man United with the sheer amount of injuries Wenger has right now coupled with the desire to rest certain players. Therefore it will be a key time to look at the squads of both. I believe Ferguson will select a near full strength side to try and banish memories of the derby defeat last Saturday.

Goalkeepers: (in order of current hierarchy)

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia, Jens Lehmann, Lukasz Fabianski
Man Utd: Edwin Van Der Saar, Tomas Kuszack, Ben Foster
Chelsea: Petr Cech, Carlo Cudicini, Hilario

At the start of the season, I doubt any Arsenal fans would have predicted Almunia would have established himself as the current Arsenal no.1. With a very dodgy start to the season, Lehmann lost his place to the Spaniard who has just kept improving. There are still doubters over his long term future as Wenger's no.1. That is not the case for Chelsea who definitely have one of the best around in Cech. He has made more mistakes recently but is still a rock for Chelsea between the sticks. Ferguson had an easy decision to make due to Foster's long term absence. Had he been fit it is likely he would have challenged Van Der Saar for the keeper's jersey. Van Der Saar has looked shaky at times this season as his probable last season at United comes to and end.

Advantage: Chelsea


Arsenal: Sagna, Gallas, Toure. Clichy. Hoyte, Senderos, Djourou, Traore, Song
Man Utd: Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Neville, O'Shea, Gibson
Chelsea: Beletti, Terry, Carvalho, A.Cole, Ferreira, Alex, Ivanovic, Ben Haim, Bridge

It is hard to make a judgement based on the first choice defences of all three clubs but I am going to put something out there. I believe that when each team plays its strongest defence, it is not Chelsea who have the best like many believe but Man Utd and Arsenal. In the centre back department, Man Utd are probably the strongest as they have the perfect partnership in Vidic and Ferdinand. They just edge out Gallas and Toure due to their lack of height and dominance in the air. Don't get me wrong, Chelsea's defence is still strong but I feel they have a lack of pace in the centre.

United have a brilliant player in Evra but he can be exploited defensively. Wes Brown is not a right back for me and United lose any attacking potency with him at full back. It is at right and left back that Arsenal are the strongest of the three. Sagna and Clichy are the best full back pairing in the league, both attacking wise and defensively. Chelsea do have attacking full backs but I do not feel we see the best of them going forward.

In reserve it is clear Chelsea are way ahead. They have an international defender in Alex who has done well this season. The new defender Ivanovic comes with a hefty price tag and Grant has high hopes for him. They are just two of the three reserve centre backs. Ben Haim may well be on his way come the summer. United are quite thread bare once you take out a few of their defenders. They have very little in reserve and an injury to Vidic for example could be a massive blow. Arsenal have Senderos as the main back up to Gallas and Toure. He has shown that with a run in the side he can be a good defender. However, as a sub or replacement for one game, it often takes him too long to settle. We have Djourou who still has a lot to learn but Alex Song could be a real find at centre back. If he can show the form he did at Blackburn this season, he can be a brilliant replacement centre half.

Again, Chelsea have a far better reserve in full backs. Ferreira and Bridge are both internationals and Bridge especially is pushing Cole for his place. Arsenal have Justin Hoyte who has improved massively recently. On the left however, we only have Traore to fill in for Clichy and his education is only just underway. He is improving but can be exploited by a half decent winger. Wenger could move Gallas or Flamini there to do a job but he would lose something else from the team. United have Neville to come back but it is a big question as to whether he can be the same player after such a long lay off.

Advantage Man Utd (just...)


Arsenal: Hleb, Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky, Eboue, Gilberto, Denilson, Diaby, Song, Walcott
Man Utd: Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Scholes, Giggs, Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Park Ji-Sung
Chelsea: Wright Phillips, Ballack, Essien, Lampard, J Cole, Malouda, Mikel, Makelele, Sidwell

The first thing I want to say here is that I have put the midfield in order of which players are first choice. I still am not sure which pairing suits Man Utd best as it is a hard decision to make. Last season Scholes and Carrick were brilliant but this season has seen the introduction of Hargreaves and the emergence of Anderson earlier than expected. With Scholes out injured for most of the season, Anderson has come in and done a fantastic job; yet you cannot leave Scholes out, he still has it. Hargreaves has added an extra bit of fight to the midfield but Carrick is a better passer of the ball. Arsenal's centre midfield pairing is now set in stone with Flamini and Fabregas working so well together this season. In the centre, Chelsea's best three players are Essien, Lampard and Ballack. If these three cannot work well together they do have more than adept players to come in.

Mikel has shown some patches of good form this season with Ballack out and he would get into most sides. Makelele has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the world in recent seasons and can still come in and show off this talent when called upon. In Sidwell they have a workhorse who would be in most other teams below the top four. I have mentioned Man Utd's strength in depth but not yet looked at Arsenal. Gilberto's performances have gone down hill this season compared to a brilliant previous campaign. He seems way off the pace and gives the ball away way too often. In Song and Denilson we have two players with great potential. With Diarra gone it gives Song a chance to make his mark in midfield as well as at the back. Denilson is similar to Cesc but understandably is not quite at his level, not many are at such a young age.

On the wings Manchester United have Cristiano Ronaldo and Giggs. Even as an Arsenal fan I have to admit the blend of exciting youth and clever experience works fantastically. To have 25 goals in one season is amazing for anyone, but Ronaldo has reached that amount by February. He is granted a free role admittedly but it still is absolutely amazing. Chelsea also have talented wingers with SWP coming on this season and Joe Cole always threatening. Arsenal do not use orthodox wingers but in Hleb and Rosicky have two great attacking midfield players. They do need to get more goals however but contribute massively to the team as an attacking force.

In reserve Arsenal have Eboue and Diaby who many fans wish did not play out wide. Eboue can be very frustrating but has shown glimpses of brilliance. As an impact player he could be a big asset for Wenger to have. Diaby is naturally a central minded player and seems to dribble far too much on the left. Like Senderos, he needs a few games to settle into the side. Wenger is still clearly unsure over Theo Walcott but he can be a good impact player off the bench with his pace and attacking instinct. United have Nani who is a raw talent, who, under the right guidance could be a top player. Park has not had great luck with injuries but is a manager's dream. He will give 100% whenever he is picked and seems like the kind of guy that will not throw his toys out of the pram.

Again, Chelsea have an abundance of players in this position and every player possesses quality. Man United are particularly strong in the centre but compared to Chelsea they do not have as much quality in those wide players on the bench. Arsenal are weakest it seems out wide with no natural wingers. In reserve they have some impact players but no one who you can see pushing for many starts out wide. In the centre Arsenal have a few players with potential but again the Flamini and Fabregas are pretty much assured of a place when they are fit.

Advantage: Chelsea


Arsenal: Adebayor, Eduardo, Van Persie, Bendtner, Walcott
Man Utd: Rooney, Tevez, Saha
Chelsea: Drogba, Anelka, Kalou, Shevchenko, Pizarro

It is pretty clear that there is little between the strike pairings of all three clubs. Rooney & Tevez have formed a partnership many doubted would work. Man Utd rarely play the ball in the air so these two are rarely isolated. They take turns to drop off and seem to have a brilliant reading of each others' games. Emmanuel Adebayor has been brilliant this season as we all know and recently Eduardo has become a perfect partner. It took him time to settle, hence why Wenger went with 4-5-1 for a while, but now his partnership with Adebayor is working brilliantly. Avram Grant has gone with 1 striker during his reign but surely having Drogba and Anelka will force him into a change to 4-4-2? Having these two in the side could lead to goals a plenty. There is a risk that their egos could clash but having to choose between one or the other could lead to problems off the pitch. Drogba may be off this summer anyway.

In reserve Arsenal are probably better off. If Van Persie can get fit Wenger will have a big decision on his hands. Van Persie is a fantastic player who can produce a goal at any moment. He is technically gifted and has reminded many people of Dennis Bergkamp with his skill and passing but he also possesses a lethal shot. He provides the team with quality set pieces for the team, especially the likes of Nicklas Bendtner who has impresses this season with his development. He has been aided with Van Persie's absence but has linked play well and scored some good goals. He is going to become a top class player and has already pushed Wenger to give him more games this season. In Theo Walcott Wenger has another rough diamond on his hands.

It is no coincidence that United have lost four games this season and all have been when Wayne Rooney has been absent. He makes United tick and works so well with Ronaldo and Tevez. In reserve they only have Louis Saha who is always injured it seems. It seems obvious that they are one striker short and I am surprised Ferguson didn't make a move for another forward. They have the option of playing Ronaldo through the middle but they lose something when he leaves his role out wide.

Chelsea have 5 strikers that have all played a part this season but I can see at least Pizarro leaving this summer and probably Shevchenko if the right offer comes and Abramovich is prepared to let his mate go. Kalou has a few goals this season but does not offer what Drogba or Anelka does. He could well play alongside one of them but I do not see him as a lone striker. It has been clear this season that when Drogba was out Chelsea looked short of goals and that forced them to sign Anelka. Those strikers available to Grant had not impressed and have never looked like scoring regularly.

Advantage: Arsenal

Overall, we know that each club has a strong side but each team seems to have an advantage in different departments with Arsenal one apiece and Chelsea with 2. Obviously injuries play a major part in squad involvement but with so many competitions to be sorted still, these squads will no doubt be involved, Saturday being a clear example.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Arsenal 2 Blackburn 0 - 5 points clear at the top

On the face of it a 2-0 victory seems like a comfortable one, however last night was not pretty and although we were not exactly troubled by Blackburn, at 1-0, we were still walking on a tight rope. It was a perfect example of why matches that remain at 1-0 for so long, can be an absolute nightmare for any fan. I think it definitely showed as some fans started to get on the players' backs whenever a pass went astray or a chance to shoot from 30 yards was not taken.

The players did seem to get caught up in the sloppiness that was ever-present last night. All over the pitch, players from both sides were panicking on the ball and all calmness went out of the window. During the first half we let Blackburn come into the game. Having gone one up after a rare headed goal at a corner by Senderos, we should have taken the initiative and pushed for a quick and decisive second. However, Blackburn came into it much more.

We failed to close them down and with Tugay in the middle they had a clever passer of the ball. Bentley and Emerton were given far too much room to get early crosses in but something really alarmed me when they did come in. Senderos seemed not to want to jump and attack the incoming ball. Blackburn's best chance fell to McCarthy who did not connect with a cross properly. However, any better contact and the score was level. In hindsight its easy to say it doesn't matter Phil did not try and head this ball away but it baffles me that he did not try and get his head to the ball when it was easily reachable.

Senderos is fighting for his place now Toure has returned. Up until last night he had looked solid but last night I think he looked suspect. When pace was used cleverly against him he did not look completely assured. In the air he was not his usual self and seemed to lack conviction throughout last night's game. I feel that if he plays next Saturday he could be left exposed by the pace of United's attack. Wenger has a big decision to make however.

Jens Lehmann looked a lot more comfortable from crosses and I must praise his professionalism with us. He may have complained a lot which I did not like, but he has come in and done a job with little fuss when called upon. One moment scared me and I am still not sure exactly what happened. The ball ran through to him and he slid towards the byline. He put the ball on the pitch and let it go as he went off the pitch. Whether he was aware that Santa Cruz was coming or not I do not know but the striker very nearly was granted with a glorious chance. Nothing is simple with Mad Jens I guess.

Gilberto's performance was an interesting one. He did some things well; in particular some nice passes and bits of skill. However, he still looks well off the pace and I do not think he is adapting his game as he gets older. If he could make changes like Bergkamp did then he could still be a big player but I just do not see him having a future here beyond this summer. He slows the game down in midfield and gave the ball away too many times (as he has done whenever he has played this season). When Cesc moved inside more during the second half, we moved the ball faster and looked far more threatening.

I had discussed last week the idea of Cesc playing on the right if it was necessary and last night that came to pass. With Walcott strangely unavailable, Fabregas was asked to do a job on the right. I had mentioned he can dominate games with more space out there and whenever he got the ball he did just this. He linked very well with Sagna who was awesome down that flank. I lost count of how many times he burst down that flank to get crosses in.

On the other wing Hleb gave his full back a horrid time and was so unlucky not to get a goal. When his shot beat Friedel he was denied by the post and he was the one player who deserved a goal. He was always looking for a killer pass and fans will be pleased he started shooting more. Clichy was stifled by Bentley well and did not have the best of games. Saying that, it was not a bad game by any means, he has simply been playing at such a high level this season that we expect a lot. His battle with Ronaldo will be brilliant come Saturday, same with Sagna should he switch wings.

I said Hleb deserved a goal but Adebayor came close on so many occasions last night before finally getting an absolutely brilliant one. It was reminiscent to the one he got at White Hart Lane. The touch to get him away from the defender was class and the finish indicative of a man in the form of his life. That is 12 goals in his last 9, long may it continue. His general performance last night was not what it has been however. As the main striker his role is so important to us.

He holds the ball up and waits for support and runners. Last night Ade seemed a bit sluggish in this role and did seem a bit reluctant to come short and link the play as much. It did not help that Wenger moved Eduardo to the left for a period of the game to acommodate those players we had on the pitch. One thing did really annoy me regarding Adebayor last night. A pass was played to him as he made a curving run in behind. The ball hit the back of his heel which is pretty unlucky. However, once something like that happens a striker should fight to win it back. Normally Ade would but he just stood there and flung his arms in the air towards the fans. I would have wanted to see him get back and pressure the ball and then the fans would sympathise with him. Small thing, rant over!

Just as Arsenal did not play to their optimum level, I have not looked at everyone's performances like I have done in the past. I will just sum up and say that Wenger said the focus was there but the performance not quite where we can get to. There will be times during the nervous run in that we do not play to our best. When our level drops, we must keep getting results.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Arsenal vs Blackburn - down to the bare bones

So, we go into Monday's game with 11 players either out injured or doubtful. The list reads as follows:

Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure and Alex Song (international duty)
Johan Djourou (groin)
Philippe Senderos (knee)
Robin van Persie (thigh)
Abou Diaby (calf)
Mathieu Flamini (hamstring)
Manuel Almunia (sick)
Denilson (hamstring)
Tomas Rosicky (hamstring)

What really annoys me is that two of those (Flamini and Senderos) got injured in meaningless friendlies. It would have been wrong to deny Senderos the chance to captain his country at Wembley, however when such a game takes place in the middle of a busy period of the season. Flamini turned out for France 'B' and that takes the biscuit. He should be in the 'A' squad, not the second team that only exists so players can be looked at without disrupting the set of players in the current squad.

International friendlies are disruptive enough but when you start adding in 'B' fixtures it starts to go too far. Managers release their players with great fear over injuries. With the luck Arsenal have had during these periods I am sure Wenger follows all of the games with great anxiety. We have lost one of our best players this season as Domenech did not have the bottle to call him up into the main squad.

I have a proposal but I doubt we will ever see it come into place. Over Christmas/New Year there should be a period where the national sides play all of their mid season fixtures, whether it be qualifiers or friendlies. I have heard Capello complain that he will not be able to get his players together often enough to improve tactics and set up. Having all the fixtures together would provide managers with a few weeks to do this and get some continuity with a set period of International football. It could also coincide with the African Cup of Nations so as to avoid problems for clubs every two years in January.

Back to the game now. It seems like Wenger does not really have much of a choice over the team he puts out. Senderos could still make the game and if he does the back five will be unchanged from the Man City game. Should Phil miss out Justin Hoyte will come in, probably at centre back. After the Spurs game I would be worried about this and would rather see Sagna move inside. Hoyte is a natural right back and Wenger has said in the past Sagna can play all across the defence.

Diaby picked up an injury during the City game and was only released to France to be with the squad. He was not another to fall foul of the International break. This gives a chance to Theo Walcott who will be given a chance on the right. His goal for England U21s was a quality strike but for most of the game it seemed he was trying to hard and things didn't seem to go his way. He needs to relax and run at the man when it's appropriate and play it simple when its necessary. The crowd must not get on his back though. Hleb will move to the left where he has often been more effective this season.

Gilberto will get a chance to prove himself. He has spoken out about his disappointment at a lack of playing time so far this season but he knows Flamini has done brilliantly. He will be brought in and will want to show Wenger why he should still be in his thinking. He does need to up his game and add more fluidity to it. His presence will be useful at set pieces. Fabregas will partner him as he starts to get back to his best.

Wenger cannot break up what is currently one of the best strike partnerships in Europe. Adebayor and Eduardo are on fire and combined to great effect at City. Eduardo finish was fantastic but the link up with Ade showed how well they are developing together. These two will need to keep delivering the goods if we want to win anything this season.

I think Wenger will use Toure and Eboue but only have them on the bench as an option should he really need them. If the game goes well I doubt they will be used, especially Toure considering he had an injury so recently. I wonder if Wenger would have any luck in persuading the Ivory Coast to release Kolo before the 3rd/4th place play-off?


Subs: Fabianski, Toure, Traore, Eboue, Bendtner (all we have really)

This game could be a potential banana skin. Blackburn will look to frustrate us but are missing Pedersen, Samba and Dunn, three big players for Mark Hughes' side. The first goal will be key and if it goes our way Blackburn will have to come out and attack. They will look to whip the ball in from wide areas with Bentley. Santa Cruz will be the main threat for Blackburn and whoever plays at centre back will have to be alert throughout.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea… some tricky ties for them to face

If this weekend showed us anything, it told us that no games are easy and there is likely to be many twists and turns left this season. It seems anyone can beat anyone, United losing to Bolton, Arsenal losing to Boro and Chelsea to Villa.

Here I am looking at games that could well have an influence on the title race. I know no game is a cert win but these stand out as ones where a shock could be in store.

Chelsea vs Liverpool (Feb 10th)

Liverpool are out of the title race but will be playing for pride. The likes of Gerrard and Torres will have something to prove and will want to have some influence on where the title goes, even if they won’t have any chance of winning it this season. They will also use it as a build up to their Champions League match with Inter Milan. Chelsea may have Lampard and Mikel available to strengthen the midfield. With such a good home record, I cannot see Chelsea losing this game, a draw is possible though.

Newcastle vs Man Utd (Feb 23rd)

The second coming of Kevin Keegan has not exactly begun the way many Geordies had expected. The Toon Army will never forget the arguments between Keegan and Ferguson during Newcastle’s remarkable title challenge. It would mean so much to Keegan and the fans to kick start the new regime with a victory over United. That said, it seems Man Utd will have too much for Newcastle, especially if they continue to defend the way they do. If they raise their game to the level they reached against us at St James’ Park, we could see at least a draw here.

Arsenal vs Aston VIlla (Mar 1st)

At Villa Park earlier this season Arsenal came through a tricky tie but were lucky to do so. Despite dominating proceedings in the first half, Villa put immense pressure on us in the second. They constantly attacked with pace and power, hitting the bar in the process. Arsenal held on but that game showed that Villa can pose a real threat. They are experts at set pieces; Arsenal’s Achilles heel and this could be crucial.

West Ham vs Chelsea (Mar 1st)

West Ham will host their main rivals with very little pressure on their shoulders. They have already beaten Liverpool and Man Utd at home this season and they will look to inflict the same outcome on Chelsea. Chelsea will have to deal with a robust and dogged approach that will get the Hammers’ fans going. Chelsea have the quality to win this game but, as United found out, they will need to show something extra to get 3 points here.

Man Utd vs Liverpool (Mar 23rd)

Man Utd were victorious at Anfield earlier this season as they won 1-0 from a Carlos Tevez goal. I have no doubt they would take the same result now. Liverpool will want to beat their rivals and any loss to Man Utd would hurt anyone involved with Liverpool FC. Pride is the main thing at stake for Liverpool and with the Champions League still a possibility, they will want to keep their season on track.

Chelsea vs Arsenal (Mar 23rd)

In the second game of Super Sunday Arsenal will want to get a similar result to the one they got at the Emirates in December. Last season we got a draw at the Bridge after Chelsea battered us for 90 minutes solid. Flamini nicked a goal only for Essien to salvage their home record. I am sure another draw would do Wenger nicely. Chelsea will need to win this game and it will be interesting to see how both teams set up.

Bolton vs Arsenal (Mar 29th)

After Arsenal knocked Bolton out of the FA Cup last season, many claimed Arsenal had wiped clear the hoodoo Bolton held over us. Have we really shrugged off Bolton as our bogey team? Remember, we did not beat Bolton in normal time and showed them that we are still vulnerable from crosses into the box. We threw away the game in normal time and could have paid for it. This game will determine if we can really put recent results at the Reebok behind us.

Man Utd vs Aston Villa (Mar 30th)

Villa have drawn at Stamford Bridge (4-4) and Anfield (2-2) already this season and will feel they are capable of doing the same at Old Trafford. In the League United thrashed Villa 4-1 but in the cup only just managed to scrape through with two late goals. This game could turn out either way. I feel it will either be a very comfortable victory for United, or Villa will push them all the way. It depends how O’Neill arranges his troops and if they can use Young and Agbonlahor to their best potential.

Arsenal vs Liverpool (Apr 5th)

As said earlier, Liverpool are plying for pride in these big games. They may still have the Champions League to play for and they will want to keep confidence high during these games. Benitez may well rotate his squad a little if they get through the Inter tie. Arsenal should have won at Anfield but somehow only managed a draw having squandered two open goals. They will want to put that result right at the Emirates but it will be up to us to open up Liverpool and take our chances when they come. Gerrard and Torres will be a threat as always.

Middlesborough vs Man Utd (Apr 5th)

Middlesborough have beaten Arsenal at home but also lost to Chelsea at the Riverside. In these games we saw two very different performances from Gareth Southgate’s sides and this game will depend on which Boro side come out of that tunnel. Against us they worked extremely hard, pressured the ball and created chances. Against Chelsea they looked blunt and were easily brushed aside. Many big teams have lost at the Riverside in recent season; if we see a committed performance from Southgate’s team, we may see a similar outcome.

Man Utd vs Arsenal (Apr 12th)

This could well be the most crucial, and potentially the most exciting game of the season. Arsenal are currently two points ahead of United and if the difference between the two sides is of a similar size, it could be a real six pointer if ever there was one. United will want to use home advantage and take 3 points whereas I am sure Arsenal would take a draw. That would correspond to the result from the Emirates. Such a result would be better for Arsenal than United, with Chelsea the main beneficiary. Arsenal will probably look to hit United on the counter but will have a real job on their hands if Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo are on song.

Everton vs Chelsea (Apr 19th)

Everton will want to avenge the Carling Cup defeat inflicted on them by Chelsea and they will also be pushing for a European place. Everton are a clever, strong and mobile side who can play good football and score goals. Chelsea will look to get a similar result to the 1-0 victory in the semi-final and will need to work hard for such a win. It is yet another tricky away tie for the Blues but they should have a full squad together by then to cope.

Blackburn vs Man Utd (Apr 19th)

Ewood Park has long been a very tough place to go to. Blackburn pressure the ball and give their opponents little time on the ball. This frustrates the opposition and in Bentley, Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy they have goals within the sides. They have performed well this season with a generally solid defence. Man Utd will need to win this game and Blackburn will have to defend well for large periods of the game. Ferguson will hope Mark Hughes will not dent his old side’s title hopes. I wonder if Hughes will use this opportunity to rest a few players?

Chelsea vs Man Utd (Apr 26th)

This game could have a massive bearing on the title race. Whoever wins the game will be buoyed massively in their pursuit of the title, the loser will be gutted. They may not be out of the race for good, but it would be a huge blow. Chelsea have an extraodinary record at home and I can see them extending this, whether that be with a draw or a victory I do not know. It is likely both sides will be involved in the Champions League could this affect their chances coming into this game?

Arsenal vs Everton (May 3rd)

Arsenal may have won 4-1 at Goodison Park just after Christmas but the outcome did not really reflect the game. The result somewhat flattered Arsenal as Everton were the better team for the first half. We simply took our chances and punished any Everton mistakes. If we are still in with a chance of winning the League, there will be an awful lot of nerves around the side going into the game. The atmosphere would be electric and Everton would make it a really good game.

Man City 1 Arsenal 3 - great weekend all round but still a long way to go…

So, we did become the first team this season to come away from the City of Manchester Stadium with 3 points; a thoroughly deserved 3 points to boot. What topped it off was the fact Manchester United and Chelsea drew; leaving us 2 points clear at the top. The mistake from Clichy aside, Arsenal were in complete control throughout and could have scored more than we did.

Before the game Arsene Wenger entered a war of mind games with Alex Ferguson and the subject of Emmanuel Adebayor and Cristiano Ronaldo was the main focus of attention. Previously Wenger has announced he was close to signing many world class players, Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Petr Cech are just some of them. Add to that list the Portuguese winger lighting up the Premiership. I am not quite sure what the point of explaining this is. Think about it…

Wenger might be saying he has spotted the same talent Manchester United did but we all know Wenger is the best at spotting talent, no question. Therefore, why bring up this particular story. Before, it was problems with work permits that denied us the signing of Ronaldinho and Cech. Yet for both Eto’o and Ronaldo it was that they went to another club or Wenger was not sure whether to sign the player. In a way, admitting he had the chance to sign these players means that he was wrong in his judgement. Both have become world class players and gone on to great things and could have brilliant in an Arsenal shirt. He did not take up the chance to sign Eto’o and therefore there is not really any need to bring up the subject. It was in the past and bringing it up only frustrates the fans when they feel we could have such a player at the club.

The Ronaldo story is still very much a mysterious one. Wenger says he will tell more about it in the future and “we will be surprised” when all is revealed. It perplexed me when I saw this revealed. It was used in mind games between Wenger and Ferguson but when I heard it I was disappointed, not proud Wenger knew about the player’s potential. All it told me was that Manchester United are a bigger club in the way they can guarantee such a signing when the player had trained with their rivals. Revenue and fan base wise they are a bigger club but Arsenal are catching fast, comments like this only fuel an ego that does not need to get any bigger. This is my view on the matter, other people’s might be different.

Back to the game and all hail Emmanuel Adebayor. The man is on fire and I am so relieved Togo failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations; Adebayor is venting his anger on Premiership defences. Both goals were tidy finishes but what was so pleasing was that he was in the positions when the ball was around. Throughout he managed to find space from two very good defenders in Dunne and Richards and he took his goals well. He was a real handful and is soon becoming a world class striker.

Credit to Eduardo as well though. His goal was brilliantly taken and showed once more what a natural finisher he is. The composure to chest the ball in such a tight area will not be seen a lot in this league but Eddy is just so cool in front of goal. His link up play is ever improving and he is healing the loss of Van Persie, the man many believed would lead our title challenge this season.

The midfield worked well, I know Fabregas the King will be looking into details of the game soon so I won’t go into too much detail but Cesc is coming back to form with Hleb looking so dangerous on the ball once again. The determination they showed in the 88th minute to get the third goal for Adebayor was awesome.

Philippe Senderos and William Gallas are looking like a good centre back pairing right now and Toure will find it hard to get straight back into the team. Senderos dominated in the air and Gallas looked comfortable on the ground. It is good we have these two performing well with Toure fearing a burnout. Once more he has mentioned playing the ACON in the summer and I am for that. There are so many reasons why, everyone knows them and there is not really any reason to go into them now.

Is there a better set of full backs in the league than Gael Clichy and Bakary Sagna. Both can defend (despite Clichy’s rare moment of madness) and both can most definitely get forward. Clichy has improved his crossing massively (Beckham’s influence maybe?) and this added with his desire to get forward will bear fruit as the season rumbles on. Sagna we know can cross but yesterday he showed great hunger to get to the by-line for Ade’s first goal. With our midfield quite narrow, these two provide most of the width and they seem to have so much energy to get forward constantly. Sagna had a massive task on his hands with Petrov, but the City man didn’t have a sniff.

It is weekends like this that show why the title race is so open. Many thought United would run away with it after they clawed us back in the New Year. Now we are two points clear. It will change a lot as time goes on and results like this can happen at any time. No game is easy and the fact United lost at City and drew at the Lane shows how things can change. We won both of these games but drew at home to Birmingham whereas United won the equivalent match. This title race is hotting up and all we can do is keep winning every game. The biggest games will come but every game is important from here on in.

For now we are top of the League and long may it continue. Blackburn is next and as I said, we need to win this and then worry about United and Chelsea.

Man City vs Arsenal - Time To Be The First Victors At Eastland This Season

Manchester City away was a far trickier tie towards the start of the season, but come Saturday Arsenal will still have a hell of a game on their hands. As Manchester United found out, the City of Manchester Stadium has been a bit of a fortress for the blue half of Manchester. City are unbeaten at home in the Premier League this season and they have played United and Liverpool there so far.

Sven has done brilliantly with his side and he knew home form would determine what they achieved this season. At the start they won 9 games in a row on their own turf but since then, Blackburn, Liverpool and West Ham have drawn there. In the first two of those games, City were lucky to win and we are playing them at the best time. Their form has dipped an awful lot and the draw at Derby this week highlighted this.

The form of Elano has fallen and they are relying on the quality of Martin Petrov to get goals. Michael Johnson, although so young, has been a big influence on the side and his absence has coincided with the first real hiccup for “Mr Blue Eyes”. City have looked a bit more shaky at the back and Micah Richards and Dunne have looked vulnerable at times. Joe Hart has played extremely well between the posts and has become a real player for the future.

After back to back victories and a slow rise back to form, we have a good opportunity to inflict City’s first defeat at home in the League. The squad is unchanged from Tuesday night and I think it could be the same starting line up. Why change it if its not broken? As long as we see none of the silly passing from Senderos, similar to the last 10 minutes in midweek, we should be ok at the back. Daniel Sturridge will be a pest but I feel Gallas’ experience will prevail here.

The best battle will be Martin Petrov vs Bakary Sagna. These two have definitely been two of the best signings this season and it will be a great tussle as they come head to head. Sagna has made our defence a far tighter and secure unit this season, but crucially he has provided a great attacking outlet, fitting right into out style of play. Martin Petrov has been brilliant this season for City, he has pace, skill and one of the best left foots in the business. His crosses are accurate more often than not and his set pieces could trouble us.

Flamini will be confident of doing a job on Elano as he is the other main attacking threat to us. Otherwise we should be able to cope with City and try and dominate the game. If we play the way we did against Newcastle we really should win this game. We have Adebayor in brilliant form and he will want to score for the 8th game running. We are making chances and when you do that, you score goals and I feel it may take more than one to take the three points on Saturday

Wenger could go with Theo for this game in place of Diaby. This would mean Hleb moving to left midfield where he plays better than the right in my opinion. However, Diaby looked better on Tuesday; he passed the ball earlier and used his strength in ways we expect from him. It may take patience and retention of the ball for this game; Theo really can be a loose cannon. Yet his pace could cause trouble to Ball/Garrido.


We have come through some difficult away ties this season and this will be another one. We are against a team that are good at home as mentioned and we need to keep our focus and the eye on the prize: the Premier League trophy. From here on in, every game counts!