Saturday, 24 April 2010

Arsenal vs. Wigan #NickCleggsFault

It's taken me a long while to get over the defeat against Wigan. I've been avoiding football since. We have a very close relationship and we'll eventually get back together but right now we just need to spend a bit of time apart to have our own space.

Apparently, there have been some matches involving Barcelona, Liverpool, Fulham and some other teams since then. If anyone reading this knows what happened in those and wants to let me know the scores, I'd be very pleased to hear from you.

Anyway, I've been racking my brains to work out why we lost against Wigan. Was it the defence? Do we need a new keeper? Was it complacency or just one of those end-of-season things? Or was it the fact that Arsene Wenger didn't bring on Robin van Persie earlier in the match?

Well, it seems that at the moment there's some kind of General Election-thingy going on in the UK and I've therefore come to the conclusion that it it was all #NickCleggsFault.

But fear not, fellow Arsenal fans. You can now fight back. You can help the Daily Mail fight against that dastardly Johnny Foreigner Nick Clegg by playing...

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Friday, 16 April 2010

Exclusive: Almunia's Green Jersey Was a Bad Omen

Picture coutresy of Rob(TM)

It feels a bit like the end of the world today, and I'm not talking about the fact that the skies are filled with volcanic ash.

Arsenal's title ambitions are all but over for another season. The omens weren't good from the start. When I saw that Tottenham had an unknown 19 year-old in their team, well I just somehow knew he would score with an absolute corker from 40 yards. I first saw Danny Rose playing for Eng-er-land in the Under-21 European Championships last summer. He didn't impress me at all. He was like a fish up a tree. Now he will probably play a few more games for the Spuds before disappearing up his own posterior never to be heard from again.

Manuel Almunia's green jersey was also a bad omen if you believe research presented today at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Stratford-upon-Avon by Dr Iain Greenlees and Michael Eynon.

Greenlees and Eynon looked at the performance and the expectation of success of 40 university footballers against goalkeepers wearing black, blue, green, yellow, and red strips.

Each of the 40 strikers took a total of 20 penalties, 10 against a goalkeeper wearing black (the control) and 10 against a goalkeeper wearing either a blue, yellow, green or red shirt. Footballers were asked to estimate how many penalties out of 10 they would score and give a confidence rating for their estimate.

The researchers found that, although there was no difference in how many goals a striker thought he would score, the fewest number of goals were scored against a goalie in red (54 per cent success rate), followed by yellow (69 per cent success rate), then blue and green (72 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively).

Dr Greenlees said: "These findings lend support to the idea that red clothing could give a sportsperson or team a small but meaningful advantage (one penalty in five) in a competitive encounter. It also has implications for sports in which a competitor is assigned a coloured corner randomly, like boxing and martial arts in the Olympics."

I'm starting the campaign now for Arsenal's keeper to wear red in away matches next season!

Wearing a green jersey didn't seem to have such a bad effect on Heurelho Gomes in the Tottenham goal though. He played the game of his life in the second half, making a string of amazing saves, which Robin van Persie described as "crazy", to earn himself the man of the match and Tottenham the three points. So it goes.

To be fair, there were a couple of good omens for Arsenal as well. Sol Campbell was returning to his old club and we all know how players like to score against their old clubs. And Robin van Persie was returning from injury after what seems like several years out injured. I was hoping one of those two would do the trick for Arsenal in the dying minutes. Both had excellent efforts on goal (in RvP's case several) but in the end the heroics of Gomes won the day for Sp**s and it was not to be. I guess St Totteringham's Day will just have to wait a little longer for now.

On the plus side, Robin van Persie was awesome when he came on as a sub for the Arse and it makes you wonder what might have been had our best players like Fabregas, Arshavin, Song, Vermaelen, Gallas, and of course RvP himself been fit more often this season.

Despite intense pre-season media pessimism about Arsenal's chances this season and speculation that we would fail to qualify for the Champions League with money bags Man Citeh taking our place, I always thought that the realistic expectation for this season was to finish in the top three, and of course I hoped that we might exceed expectations and actually win the thing. For a long while we were in the fight to win it and it looked as if we just might. I think that's all we can realistically ask of such a young squad at this stage.

So if we can keep the current squad together and maybe add a couple of more experienced players, the youngsters (if we can still call them that) will have grown a lot and learned a lot from the experience and we could finally get back to our rightful place as Premier League champions in 2010-2011.

Bring on next season!

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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Today Could Be St Totteringham's Day (and I've Got Everything Crossed)

Robin van Persie (courtesy toksuede)

Chelsea were a bit lucky last night. They didn't play well and Bolton had two clear-cut penalties turned down. But that's the way it goes sometimes.

In fairness to the officials, I didn't spot either of the handballs myself watching the match on TV at full-speed, and it was only with the benefit of watching the replays (and in case of the second one, by John Terry, more than once) that it was obvious that they were both penalties. In addition (and crucially), on the first incident both the referee and assistant were completely unsighted, and so were completely blameless.

The second decision was, unfortunately, given by the referee's assistant. I think if the referee had seen the incident and had the earlier handball (which he probably saw on the replays at half-time) in his mind, he may have given it, but the assistant was adamant that it was Terry's shoulder rather than his arm that touch the ball. And in fairness to the assistant, as I said, it was very difficult to spot at full speed; it happened too fast.

But what irritated, frustrated and amused me in equal measure were ESPNs attempts to excuse the former England captain and current England player.

"It came off the top of my chest”, Terry explained. "I don't know what it looked like on TV, but it definitely felt like it hit the top of my chest."

Ray Stubbs, the man in the ESPN studio helpfully explained how: "if you repeat something enough times you begin to believe it and John Terry probably does actually believe it hit his chest."

Er, no. Actually, where I come from they call that "lying".

My other thought from watching last nights match was how lucky I am to be an Arsenal fan. Watching Bolton and wanting them to win against Chelsea, I was very aware of how difficult their players seem to find it to kick the ball in a straight line and find a teammate or the goal. I felt very sorry for little Wor Jackie Wilshere playing just behind the striker. He made lots of good runs and attempted one-twos but the ball just didn't arrive.

I've always rated Wilshere since I saw him playing for the youth team under Steve Bould, but when he first went to Bolton, Owen Coyle seemed reluctant to use him and I was beginning to think that his name was actually Jack Wilshere Sub Unused. Now that he's getting a bit of a run though, you can see what a great player he can become and Coyle obviously has a lot of confidence in him, which can only help his development.

Anyway, onto tonight's match and I'm feeling strangely calm. I'm nervous, but not as nervous as I should be. Perhaps the nerves will come later as we get closer to the match? This match is crucial to our title hopes. Fail to win and they are over, simple as. But tonight is also doubly important because if we win today will be St Totteringham's Day.

For the uninitiated, St Totteringham's Day is the day in the season when Tottenham can mathematically no longer finish above Arsenal in the league and is therefore an annual day of celebration for all Arsenal fans.

The good news is that Robin van Persie is fit, at least for the bench. He may not be back to full match sharpness, but just having him back in the squad is a big boost. And, who knows, maybe he can come on after 65 minutes and score us the winner?

But I'm worried. We are still without a load of players who would walk into the Spuds team, including Fabregas, Gallas, Arshavin and Alex Song, who will also miss this weekend's match with Wigan. All of these players will be missed, but to me Alex Song is the most crucial (and in fact has been my player of the season). He sits in front of the back four and gives the team balance in a way that I don't believe Denilson can. With a bit of luck and a couple of good performances from Denilson, we can still get past Sp**s and Wigan, but let's just hope that Song's back for the Man Citech match or we could be totally truly screwed.

Of course, if we don't win tonight, it won't matter anyway. So I've got everything crossed and will remain that way until we have the three points in the bag.

Likely Arsenal line-up vs. Totteham

Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy
Nasri, Denilson, Diaby
Eboue (or Walcott), Bendtner, Rosicky

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Thursday, 8 April 2010

Watch 'Lowlights' of Barcelona vs. Arsenal

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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Arsenal vs. Barcelona Match Preview

Lionel Messi (courtesy prettyfriendship)

Watching Arsenal is often stressful but it's never dull, is it? As we approach the season's climax, we have more injuries than Darren Anderton on a bad day, but we're still holding in there.

Against Wolves on Saturday we won ugly again, leaving it until the very last minute of stoppage time before Nicklas Bendtner popped up with the vital goal to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. At least we can see that this side never gives up.

Tonight it's Barcelona. Every man and his dog has come out in praise of Barca after they annihilated us for three quarters if the first leg, and rightly so. However, Barca played probably as well as they are capable of in that match and Arsenal were below-par, but we still came away with a 2-2 draw. So we have every right to hope that if Arsenal can be on their game tonight and Barca are slightly below their best, we can get the result we need. A one goal win will be enough.

Unfortunately, the Arsenal injury fairy has been at work again. The Arsenal squad has been announced and Alex Song isn't in it, while Sol Campbell and Tomas Rosicky are rated as doubtful. I know that Arsene Wenger doesn't usually play Campbell in two consecutive matches but I expect him to play tonight. The thought of Mickel Silvestre being torn a new one by Barcelona fills me with dread, and probably Arsene Wenger as well, so if there is any chance of Sol starting the match then I think he will. Plus, after this match, he has over week to recover before we play sp***s.

Rosicky is more tricky. Arsene Wenger has more options on the wings. There has been quite a lot of speculation about whether Theo Walcott will start, but I think Wenger's preferred option is to have him come off the bench in the second half when Barca are tiring and run rings around them as he did in the first leg. Rosicky's injury makes the decision more difficult. If there is any doubt about his fitness, Arsene may be tempted to start with Theo, but if Tomas is passed fit (and I suspect he will be) then I thinkWenger will start with him on the left and Eboue on the right, which should make us more solid defensively. And we will need that because, despite Barca only needing a draw, I think they will want to impress their home fans, so they will come at us in force early on.

With all the injuries, the midfield three pretty much picks itself. Samir Nasri will come in to replace the revered one, Song will be replaced by Denilson, and Diaby is pretty much a cert despite his poor performance in the first leg. If we are under the cosh, expect Diaby to play a deeper role alongside Denilson, and the two wide players to drop back so that we have more of a 4-4-1-1 with Nasri playing in just behind Bendtner.

The good news is that Barcelona have a few problems of their own. At the back, they will be missing their normal centreback pairing of Carlos Puyol and Gerald Pique who are both suspended, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored both their goals in the first leg, will miss the match through injury. Like Arsenal, Barcelona have a good squad and should be able to replace the missing players with ones almost as good. Going forward, certainly, I don't think they will miss Ibrahimovic that much. Remember, that a certain Theirry Henry was only on the bench for the first leg and they also have Bojan, who came on for Ibrahimovic after he got injured at the weekend.

If there is hope for Arsenal then it is that Barca will be weaker at the back. Although Puyol and Pique looked very comfortable on the ball in the first leg, there were signs that they can be got at if they are put under pressure, and you wonder how good their replacements will be. The Barca fullbacks also struggled in the first leg when Arsenal started to put them under pressure.

So, can we do it? Undoubtedly. But it will be tough. And we may need a bit of luck to go our way. Whatever happens though, expect it to be stressful but not dull.

Come on you gooners!

Probable team:

Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy;
Nasri, Denilson, Diaby;
Eboue, Bendtner, Rosicky

Arsenal squad in full: Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo, Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Fran Merida, Theo Walcott, Craig Eastmond, Tomas Rosicky, Armand Traore, Emmanuel Eboue, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre.

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Friday, 2 April 2010

Fabregas: Legend Damages Leg End

Cesc Fabregas (Courtesy RobTM)

What kind of a legend is Cesc Fabregas? After 85 minutes of the match against Barcelona on Wednesday he broke his leg, but he played on because Arsenal had already used all three substitutes.

I was calm before the match. The way I saw it, everybody had already written us off and we had nothing to lose. But for 60 minutes Barcelona showed why they are Spanish Champions, European Champions and World Club Champions. They hassled and harried Arsenal, making sure that they couldn't get their passing game going; indeed, couldn't even get near Barca they were that good. They did what Arsenal do to other teams - they passed them off the park. In the first half, Barcelona had 70 percent possession. That's incredible.

Arsenal Addict asked yesterday 'How many of you had given up after 60 minutes?'. Well, I hadn't. When Barca were 1-0 up, I had a kind of premonition of the match ending 2-2. After 60 minutes and at 2-0, I said to myself: 'I'd take a draw at this point.' I know that might sound blindly optimistic, but it almost always looks to me during matches that Arsenal are going to score at any minute. They create so many chances. Even I could score if I was playing up front. Even Tony Cascarino could score. Nah, maybe that's going too far.

Admittedly, for the first 60 minutes Barca had dominated, but I knew that Arsenal are fitter than most teams and always come strong towards the end of matches. Still, when the comeback happened it was incredible and breathtaking. The turning point was Theo Walcott coming on. Barca were terrified of him. When they were faced with him, they looked like frightened rabbits caught in a cars headlights. It didn't take them long to get three players surrounding him every time he got the ball but even then they couldn't totally stop him and by that point it was too late anyway. He had already made several penetrating runs including the fabulous one after 69 minutes where he completely outpaced the fullback and slotted under Valdes for 2-1.

Then, after 85 minutes, an Arsenal legend was made. Francesco Fabregas was pushed over on the edge of the six yard box by Carles Puyol. Penalty to Arsenal and Puyol sent off. As I'm sure you're by now all aware, Fabregas dispatched the spot kick to make it 2-2. But wait, Fabregas was limping and we'd already used all three substitutes..... But he manfully soldiered on for the last 5 minutes plus stoppage time not knowing at that point that he'd broken his leg.

If Fabregas hadn't got injured, I think we may even have gone on to win the game 3-2. In reality, he was a passenger for the last few minutes, but it didn't matter. The fact that he was still there was all that counted. What a player! What a night!

In time, we may count the cost of this match. Arshavin, who went off injured in the first half, is likely to be out for two weeks. Fabregas and Gallas will most likely miss the rest of the season. How will that affect our chances in the Premier League and indeed against Barca in the second leg of their Champions League tie? Who knows? But the first indication we get will be this weekend when Arsenal are at home to Wolves, and Manchester United and Chelsea face each other at old Trafford.

I still think that Arsenal can win the league if they win every match. That's a tough ask but highly do-able. If we can't be Wolves at our place, we don't deserve to win the league and Manure and Chelski can't both win, so come Saturday night we will either be in a better position than we are now or effectively be out of the title race.

I just hope the Barcelona match didn't take too much out of the players.

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