Monday, 29 March 2010

Watch Highlights of Birmingham vs. Arsenal

If you can bear to watch...

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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Did Manuel Almunia Just Lose the League for Arsenal?

Picture coutresy of Rob(TM)

Birmingham scored right at the death and it felt like there had been a death.

Way back at the beginning of February I asked if Manuel Almunia had just won the league for Arsenal with a world class save from Ryan Babel in the match against Liverpool. Now I'm wondering if he just cost us the league with his error against Birmingham.

Up until injury time the match seemed to be going so well, though it had been a struggle. The pitch was atrocious. The referee disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal by Abou Diaby and seemed to have left his yellow card at home allowing Birmingham players to constantly foul as per usual without fear of recrimination. And Arsenal, it has to be said, were playing pretty badly, not helped by another reckless lunge at Cesc Fabregas by a Brum player in the first half which had seen him pick up a knock, leaving him pretty ineffective for the rest of the match.

But that all changed after 68 minutes when Arsene Wenger brought on Samir Nasri and Andre Arshavin for the largely anonymous Theo Walcott and the hard working but largely ineffective Tomas Rosicky. Suddenly, Arsenal had a new spring in their step and on 81 minutes Nasri picked up the ball about 40 yards from goal, ran at the Birmingham defence and then unleashed a pile-driver into the far corner for a brilliant goal and one-nil to the Arsenal. I screamed out: 'yes' (a primeval sound that had as much to do with relief as it did joy), and I did a little dance even though I was watching the match on an internet stream and no-one was watching.

Then, in injury time, it all turned sour. Birmihgam keeper Joe Hart (who had played well all afternoon) hoofed a huge, hopeful, desperate last kick up the pitch towards Arsenal's penalty area. There was a bit of a scramble, and then the ball was in the back of Arsenal's net. That was all I could remember about the incident until in a seriously masochistic moment I watched the 'highlights' on Match of the Day later.

For a brief moment I waited, hoping for a whistle or a flag, but it none came and suddenly the feeling of deep dispair gripped me. It expect gripped us all. It was the last minute of injury time and there was no time for Arsenal to score a second. Just like two years previously, when the referee had awarded Birmingham a dodgy last minute penalty after a mistake by Clichy and a dive by a Brum player whose name I've forgotten, Arsenal's championship hopes were hanging by a thread.

I console myself that it's not quite over yet. It's going to be difficult, but if we win all of our last remaining league games (not impossible by any means), I believe we will still (in all likelihood) win the league.

And that's what I'm holding onto at the moment. Desperately.

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Friday, 26 March 2010

Arsenal Look-alike: Cesc Fabregas and...

Cesc Fabregas (courtesy wonker)Zachary Quinto (courtesy Mirka 23)

Is it just me or does Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas look like Zachary Quinto from the TV series Heroes and the most recent Star Trek film?

Come on, admit it, you've never seen them both in the same place at the same time, have you?

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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Great BBC Video About Wojciech Szczesny

Great video from the BBC about exciting young Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny (that's easy for you to say) who has already made his debut for Poland at 19 years of age and is greatly impressing everyone while on loan at Brentford.

I have already drooled over the promise of young Szczesny in an earlier article, but I make no apologies for this as I believe he will become first choice keeper at Arsenal once he's had chance to mature a bit.

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Recycled Arshavin Quotes and a Sorry Willie

I thought I recognised the Arshavin quotes about Arsenal needing additional players to win anything and it seems I was right. Arsene Wenger confirmed at today's press conference that Arshavin made these remarks after van Persie got injured. You can bet he feels differently about our chances of winning the league now.

The quotes were recycled. They've been all over the media because lazy hacks who never let the facts get in the way of a good story repeated them vebatim without checking the original source, so it's hard to know where they originated. But I did a bit of digging and it seems like TribalFootball were the ones who did the original recycling. Surprise, surprise!

Arsene Wenger also said in the same press conference that while we are playing two games a week he'll be too busy to negotiate any new contracts, including William Gallas', but that generally the negotiations with Gallas are going well. He also said that while Gallas won't be fit for the Brum and Barca games, he may be fit for the game after that, against Wolves.

So it seems I owe William Gallas an apology, having intimated in an earlier post that his injury was not genuine.

Sorry Willie!

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Saturday, 20 March 2010

Exclusive - Interview with Terry Bull

Mr Terry Bull, Yesterday (courtesy K2D2vaca)

I keep hearing that getting Barcelona in the Champions League is a Terry Bull draw for Arsenal. But who is Terry Bull, what does he have to do with the Champions League draw, and does he deserve such a bad reputation?

Maybe Terry Bull is the bloke who pulls his balls out of his bag for UEFA? (Although, technically, UEFA don't have bags, and I'm not sure they've got any balls.) Well, I managed to get an exclusive interview with Bull and asked him if he thought he generally got a bad rep in the press.

"Yes, most certainly", said Bull, "Take the Barcelona vs. Arsenal draw, for example. Everyone knows that you've got to beat the best teams to get to the final, so it doesn't really matter who you get drawn against."

Indeed. In fact, from Arsenal's point-of-view, it may be better to draw Barca at this stage because if we beat them, we'll be on a high and it will give us the confidence to take on the big boys; whereas if we lose, that means we don't have to play so many matches.

I think a full strength Arsenal can beat Barca if luck is on our side. I'm not so sure we can do it without William Gallas. I can envisage Thierry Henry tearing Sol Campbell (or Lionel Messi tearing Michael Silvestre) a new posterior.

According to the official Arsenal website, William Gallas has developed a 'mysterious' calf injury. Meanwhile, in totally unrelated news, Gallas' contract expires at the end of the season. Talks on signing a new one have apparently stalled (with Arsene Wenger's policy of only giving one-year contracts to players over 32 apparently being a major stumbling block) and Gallas is now free to talk to other clubs.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Arsenal Do Like It Up 'Em After All

Saturday's match against Hull was one of the hardest Arsenal will face in the title run-in and I was very relieved that they came away with the three points.

Trips up north are always difficult, especially at this time of year, but the pitch was a joke. I've seen ploughed fields which would have been more playable.

The match officials were pretty bad too. First there was the penalty. How the assistant referee (who was perfectly in line with Arsenal's back four and even had the rugby 22 metre line conveniently placed to help him) could fail to spot that Vennegoor of Hesselink was well offside is beyond me, and it seemed clear that the Dutchman deliberately played for the penalty by throwing himself in front of Sol Campbell, knowing that Campbell would have no choice to run into him. For me, not a penalty.

Overall, I also thought the referee was far too lenient with Hull's players, who had obviously been given the usual instructions to 'get in their faces', 'let them know you're there' or whatever other euphemism you prefer for kick them off the pitch. Dawson and Fegan in particular were guilty of some very bad tackles in the first half. In fact, Fegan was given three 'final warnings' by the referee but somehow ended the match without a booking to his name. At one point he had Bacary Sagna in a headlock - the referee saw the incident and gave Arsenal a freekick, but still did refused to book the Hull player.

Both George Boeteng's bookings were both worthy of a straight red card in their own right. For the first one he deliberately poked Nicki B. in the eye twice off the ball and for the second he damn nearly snapped poor Sagna in half with his thigh-high tackle.

So, a note to Arsenal's future opponents: The don't-like-it-up-'em mentality doesn't work any more. Hull have tried it, as have Wigan, Sunderland, Bolton, Blackburn, Stoke, Birmingham, Man Utd and others. The only ones of those matches that we've lost were Man Utd (and I thought in the first match we were a bit unlucky) and Sunderland (which I put down to a very bad day at the office by Arsenal after a European match rather than any tactical genius by Sunderland).

Can opposition managers please now try something different? It doesn't work anymore and it results in both Arsenal and your own players being put at unneccessary risk of injury.

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Friday, 12 March 2010

"He is a top-class keeper and one day you will see I'm right"

Arsene Wenger has backed Lucasz Fabianski to be a great keeper, but said that it could have had severe negative effect on him if Arsenal had been eliminated from the Champion's League by Porto. Wenger was quoted on the Daily Mail today today saying that:

"Yes, it would have had long-term mental consequences for him had we gone out. He could have felt, 'ah, they blame me', even if it wasn't true.So I think the result on Tuesday has helped him to recover. He is a top-class keeper and one day you will see I'm right".

For what it's worth, I agree. A lot of fans criticised Nicklas Bendnter last weekend after he missed a few chances, but he came back with a hattrick against Porto to prove the doubters wrong and I believe that Fabianski will do the same (prove the doubters wrong, not score a hattrick). I believe Arsene Wenger knows that Manuel Almunia is a competent keeper but not world class, and I think it his belief in Fabianski, along with Wojciech Szczesny, currently on loan at Brentford, that have discouraged him from buying a new keeper.

"I really believe in him [Szczesny] that he will one day be Arsenal's No 1," said Wenger. "He has all the qualities you want from a goalkeeper. That means a good basic confidence level, he is very brave, fantastic size, very agile and his speed in his reflexes is absolutely unbelievable."

I couldn't agree more. And with Vito Mannone also in the mix, buying a new keeper now would be a short-term fix to a long-term problem.

As usual, Arsene knows.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Bendy Is As Good As He Thinks He Is

Tony Cascarino
(picture courtesy Roman Schmitz)

Last night's match was one of the most enjoyable I've watched in ages.

Having read Arsenal-hating retired journeyman forward Tony Cascarino's comment on Nicklas Bendtner before the match, saying that he is "definitely not as good as he thinks he is", I was hoping that Bendy would score a hattrick and make Cascarino look like a complete nob. Luckily, he didn't disappoint me. The only downside is that I found out I could have got 40-1 on Bendtner scoring a hattrick and I didn't put any money on it. Damn!

It is interesting to note that Tony Cascarino scored 19 goals in 88 international appearances (1 goal for every 4.6 caps) while Nicky B. has 11 international goals in 32 (1 in 2.9).Given that most of Cascarino's caps were achieved while he was at the peak of his career and Bendy's were all achieved by the age of 22, I know which player I think wasn't as good as he thought he was.

It was also pleasing to see Samir Nasri play a blinder after all the paper talk about whether we would miss Cesc Fabregas. In fact, as pointed out on Arsenal Mania, Samir did a pretty good impression of our captain and was in stunning form. And his goal was absolutely sublime --- one minute has was dribbling around near the corner flag having a little game of his own but not really going anywhere; the next he had dribbled past three opponents and the ball was in the back of the net.

We shouldn't get too carried away. Porto are not a particularly good side and we will have to be much more solid at the back to beat the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea or Barcelona, but it was an enjoyable match to watch just the same.

Arsene Wenger said that he would quite like us to play either ManUre or Chelski next so that we can prove we can beat them. I'd prefer us to get an easier ride and then beat either Man Utd or Chelsea in the final, but as long as we win it, I'll be happy.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

No Fabregas, No Excuse

No Fabregas, no excuse. That's what Arsene Wenger said and it's what I say.

Arsenal should win tonight. One of the reasons that Arsenal have been continually written off this season but come bouncing back each time is that while ManUre and Chelski might have better first elevens than us, Arsenal probably have the better squad, so they can always be guaranteed to put a good team out against the so called 'lesser' team regardless of the form and fitness of any particular players.

True, we had a little blip in form when Robin van Persie first got injured, but I believe that was due to the psychological blow of losing one of our most influencial players more than it was due the team to missing him on the pitch, and I think the fact that we have gone most of the season without him and not done too badly bears out that assertion.

If you look at tonight's match, we will be missing van Persie, Fabregas, Gallas, Ramsey, Gibbs and Djourou, but we will still probably have a bench that includes Sagna, Silvestre, Denilson, Rosicky, Vela and Eduardo, who would all get into most first elevens. So the players should not be allowed to use the captain's absence as and excuse.

As the first leg of this tie showed, it is indeed a funny old game and you can never tell what's going to happen once the players cross that white line onto the pitch, but this Arsenal team has enough to beat Porto comprehensively. Like Arsene Wenger, I'm backing Nicholas Bendtner to come good tonight and make up for his misses at the weekend. I hope he scores; he deserves it.

I expect tonights line-up to be:

Eboue; Campbell; Vermaelen; Clichy
Nasri; Song; Diaby
Walcott; Bendtner; Arshavin

So, come on lads, do it for Aaron.

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Arsene Wenger is like Karl Marx

Karl Marx in Lego (courtesy dunechaser)
A lot has been said about Aaron Ramsey in the last few days; indeed, a lot continues to be said. Arsenal fans and players continue to berate Ryan Shawcross, Stoke City and all those other cloggers, while everyone else continue to defend them.

As a final word on the subject (until the next time!), I refer readers to an interesting article on the Mumbling and Stumbling blog (which I don't think has been mentioned on any other Arsenal blogs) comparing Arsene Wenger to Karl Marx and Stan Pulis to a capitalist lacky.

To me it still seems very wrong that opposing managers and players can speak openly before matches about how they are going to kick Arsenal off the pitch and no-one seems to see any problem with this. I'm not sure whether this is my natural Arsenal bias or a sign of the xenophobic Society we live in.

It will be interesting to see whether this openness about the aggression still happens in future or whether managers and players will be more circumspect. Owen Coyle has always seemed to me a very fair man, so Arsenal's match with Burnley this weekend may not the time to judge. The match against Phil Brown's Hull City next weekend will provide a better opportunity. I suspect that we may see it happening less for a while, but it will come back when everyone has forgotten about the Ramsey incident.

Watch this space!

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Monday, 1 March 2010

Watch Highlights of Stoke v Arsenal

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Shawcross is a Smashing Lad, Loves His Mum and Wouldn't Hurt a Fly

A lot has already been written about Ryan Shawcross's foul on Aaron Ramsey, so rather than add to this I've collected the best articles for you to read so that you can make up your own mind.

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