Saturday, 27 February 2010

Arsenal vs. Stoke match preview

Today's match against Stoke was always likely to be important, but with Chelsea losing 4-2 at home to Man Citeh, it becomes even more so.

Arsene Wenger's comment after Arsenal's defeat against Chelsea in November that "Chelsea can be beaten" seems to have inspired several of Chelsea's opponents since.

There has never been much doubt in my mind that Chelsea and ManUre would drop points before the end of the season; the question was whether they would drop enough for Arsenal to catch them and whether Arsenal could hold their nerve and take advantage. We should be closer to answering the latter after this evening's match against Stoke.

Stoke away is never an easy game, but Arsenal being in the unusual position of not having played in midweek while their opponents did (and indeed played extra time) should make things a little easier. Chelsea losing will undoudbtedly put extra pressure on Arsenal's players. The question is whether they allow it to get to them or use it pressure in a positive way to drive them on.

For a change, there are no new injuries to report today (Gallas, Arshavin and Diaby are still out as well as long term absentees van Persie, Djourou and Gibbs) and we even have Eduardo coming back - expect him to be on the bench. So the selection problems for Arsene Wenge are of the nice kind: Will Ramsey keep his place ahead of Denilson, will Eboue keep his place ahead of Sagna, will Campbell come back in place of Silvestre and which two out of three will play from Nasri, Walcott and Rosicky?

The line-up I expect to see is:

Sagna, Campbell,Vermaelen, Clichy
Fabregas, Song, Denilson
Rosicky, Bendtner, Nasri

The other option that Arsene Wenger might go with is to play Eboue, who is in great form, on the right of atack to give us a bit more defensive stability against a Stoke team who can be dangerous at home.

I'm not sure I'm looking forward to this one but I'll have a big smile on my face if we keep our nerves and come away with the three points.

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Watch Arsenal v Sunderland highlights online

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    Wellington de Silva compilation video

    One of the pleasures of being an Arsenal fan with Arsene Wenger as manager is seeing what exciting young talents he will unearth next. This one, Wellington de Silva, doesn't look too shoddy. (He's not related to me by the way!)

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      Wednesday, 17 February 2010

      More injuries for Arsenal ahead of Porto clash

      More injuries for Arsenal. Will it ever end? According to the London Evening Standard, William Gallas, Manuel Almunia, Alex Song, Eduardo and Andre Arshavin are all unavailable for tonight's Champions League match away to FC Porto in addition to long-term casualities Gibbs, Djourou and van Persie. All the injured players are also likely to miss the weekend's home Premier League match against Sunderland.

      However, Arsene Wenger is refusing to allow the onging injury situation to be used as an excuse for poor perforances. "It is not a serious concern," he said, "the concern is that the players who are here perform at their best." Which is quite right.

      If we are going to miss anyone, it will be Alex Song, for whom I don't believe Denilson is an adequate replacement. I'm not one of those who constantly berate Denilson, but I don't think that he is comfortable in the anchor man position and I don't think he is in very good form at the moment. I quite like the look of Craig Eastmond in that position, but I very much doubt that Arsene Wenger would be willing to risk such an inexperienced player in that position in such a key match. Diaby and Fabregas are likely to make up the remainder of the midfield.

      at the back, Lukasz Fabianski, who has also been on the receiving end of some strong praise recently from Wenger, should be able to cover in goal for Manuel Almunia without any problem as long as he doesn't get too nervous, and Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell should be able to cover adequately for Gallas, despite his relative lack of match practice.

      Up front, Wenger has also been singing the praises of Nicklas Bendtner, so I would expect him to start, along with two from Nasri, Rosicky and Walcott.

      So I expect the starting line-up to be:

      Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy
      Fabregas Denilson Diaby
      Walcott Bendtner Nasri

      I'm quietly confident about tonight's match. Let's hope that the players aren't too nervous and that they deliver what they are capable of.

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      Friday, 12 February 2010

      Did Manuel Almunia just win the league for Arsenal?

      Picture coutresy of Rob(TM)

      If you read the headline and were hoping to read that Manuel Almunia has left Arsenal, you will be bitterly disappointed. Ten minutes from the end of Wednesday night's match against Liverpool, Ryan Babel unleashed a powerful right-footed shot from 25 yards, but Arsenal's much-maligned keeper Manuel Almunia pulled off an amazing save, tipping the ball on to his crossbar and behind for a corner.

      Could this be a decisive moment in the season? As previously mentioned, Arsenal have an easier run-in than the other top teams. Below, I have listed the remaining fixtures for each of the top three teams this season with the points I expect them to get from each match in brackets.

      Chelsea (current points = 58)

      Wolves (a) [3], Man City (h) [3], Portsmouth (a) [3], West Ham (h) [3], Blackburn (a) [1], Aston Villa (h) [3], Man Utd (a) [1], Bolton (h) [3], Spurs (a) [1], Stoke (h) [3], Liverpool (a) [1], Wigan (h) [3]

      End of season total = 28 + 58 = 86

      Man Utd (current points = 57)

      Everton (a) [1], West Ham (h) [3], Wolves (a) [3], Liverpool (h) [1], Fulham (a) [1], Bolton (a) [3], Chelsea (h) [1], Blackburn (a) [3], Man City (a) [1], Spurs (h) [3], Sunderland (a) [3], Stoke (h) [3]

      End of season total = 26 + 57 = 83

      Arsenal (current points = 52)

      Sunderland (h) [3], Stoke (a) [3], Burnley (h) [3], Hull (a) [3], West Ham (h) [3], Birmingham (a) [1], Wolves (h) [3], Spurs (a) [3], Wigan (a) [3], Man City (h) [3], Blackburn (a) [3], Fulham (h) [3]

      End of season total = 34 + 52 = 86


      As you can see, ManUre finish on 83 points and both Chelsea and Arsenal finish on 86. Obviously, in the real world it is impossible to predict the exact results of so many matches in advance, but I think it is safe to say that it will be a closer-run thing than most people predict, and it could go to the last match of the season.

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      Wednesday, 10 February 2010

      Biggest night of the season

      At the end of the season we could look back on tonight as where it all went right or wrong. Arsenal are at home to Liverpool, Chelsea visit Everton and Man Utd go to Aston Villa. I wouldn't like to predict how any of those matches will go.

      As Arsene Wenger aluded to this week, of the top teams Arsenal have the easier run in (if there is such a thing) until the end of the season, and if results go our way tonight, it is just conceivable (as crazy as it sounds) that we might go the rest of the season unbeaten and maybe even win the league. But I don't want to get my hopes up!

      Everton are a better side than their league position suggests. If, like Arsenal, they hadn't suffered a catastrophic injury crisis in the first half of the season, they would at least be competing for a place in the Euro Cup (or whatever it is they call the UEFA now) and maybe even for fourth place. (In fact, I've said it before but it is to Arsene Wenger's credit that Arsenal are even competing to be league champions this season when you look at what has happened to the other two teams who have suffered a similar amount of injuries, Everton and West Ham.) I would back Everton to beat most teams but what I'm concerned about is that Everton sometimes fail to perform against the so called bigger teams, as they did against Liverpool's 10 men at the weekend.

      Aston Villa have already beaten ManUre this season and will fancy their chances again. ManUre, and Wayne Rooney in particular, are on fire at the moment (I wish!), but on the plus side Emile Heskey is doubtful for the match and if he doesn't play, Villa may be forced to play a forward who can actually score goals, so they may be in with a chance.

      Arsenal's record at home against Liverpool has been good in recent years, if they can overcome the disappointment of two defeats against the aforemention ManUre and Chelski, and a disappointing draw against Villa, they should be able to beat Liverpool.

      Let's hope they don't disappoint.

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      Drogba is The Predator

      Above: Didier Drogba

      It has been three days since we lost the Chelski and only now have l calmed down enough to able to write about it coherently.

      When Thierry Henry used to play for Arsenal, I used to say that on some days it was like watching a big kid play with the little kids in the playground because he stood out so much. Sadly, TH14 no longer plays for the Arse and Didier Drogba now seems to have taken over that mantle. Watching him play against us on Sunday, it really was like the big kid in the playground, especially when he scored the second goal. Even as an Arsenal fan it was hard not to admire his skill, confidence and determination.

      Yet it  is possible to stop Drogba. Although he has a record of better than a goal a game against us, against other teams (and especially against the other top teams) his record, though still good, is less impressive. We just need to work out what other teams do to stop him and then try and do the same.

      One obvious thing we could change would be to take steps to stop us being caught on the counter attack so often. Arsene Wenger has complained many times about players repeatedly committing tackles in non-dangerous areas of the field where the won't get booked to slow down the play and prevent Arsenal from counter attacking. Well, guess what? No amount of complaining by AW is going to change referees' stance on this and suddenly make them start booking players for it. The thing is, why do Arsenal not employ the same tactic more often themselves? Is it because of some kind of idea Arsene Wenger has about sportsmanship? Well, f*** that! Nice guys come last.

      Also no lessons were apparently learnt when we lost to ManUre nor when we played Chelski at Ashburton Grove earlier in the season. In both games we threw people forward without thought to what would happen if we lost the ball. As I said in an earlier post about the ManUre match, Sagna, Clichy, Song, Vermaelen and Gallas all seemed to appear in attacking positions with alarming regularity leaving us with no cover at the back. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Manuel Almunia going on a mazy run after dribbling out of his box (oo-er!).

      I had hoped that these lessons would have been learnt by now. The fact that they haven't been is perhaps a sign that the side lacks a bit of maturity.

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      Wednesday, 3 February 2010

      Arsenal underestimated Man Utd

      Arsene Wenger's comments about the team's perfomance after the ManUre match were quite scathing and Wright7 has written an interesting article suggesting that maybe Arsene Wenger has had enough with some of the players. If that was the case then I could certainly understand why.

      Having had time to reflect on the ManUre match myself, I think the thing which frustrated me the most was that Arsenal just did not perform on the day. On paper you would probably expect this to have been a pretty tight match with very little between the two teams. Yet although I thought several Arsenal players performed well as individual (some may argue with this!), as a team I thought we were naive to the point of recklessness.

      It sounds strange, but I think the players may have underestimated ManUre. They seemed to decide collectively that they were going to play an open game in the belief that they would outscore ManUre and give them a good spanking. This was of course unlikely to happen. Both teams had several good chances early on (Arshavin alone should have scored or set up four in the first half), but while ManUre were clinical and took their chances, Arsenal wasted theirs. Even more worryingly, once we went behind we became even more reckless in pursuit of the equaliser resulting in the second and third goals being conceded on the counter. Sagna, Clichy, Song, Vermaelen and Gallas all seemed to appear in attacking positions with alarming regularity leaving us with no cover at the back. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Manuel Almunia going on a mazy run after dribbling out of his box (oo-er!)

      The positive side of all this of course is that these are problems that can be solved. We have the personnel at the club in my opinion to win these kinds of matches, but many of them still have a bit of growing up to do. The frustrating thing is that the current squad has been together for two or three years now and I'm still saying this.

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