Barca Win, But The Referee Is Most Definitely A Wanker

Posted by Sonuvagun

It’s always hard to post after a disappointment like tonight. On the one hand we were a large part to blame for our own undoing, on the other hand one of the worse refereeing decisions I can remember robbed us of any chance to take something from the game. It makes you feel utterly violated… after all what is the point in investing so much energy and hopes into supporting a team, when so often the big matches – the ones that really matter – are ruined by calamitous officiating?

Robin himself was at a loss to explain the decision – a second yellow card for dissent – which he branded a joke; and, whilst Arsene kept his cool in the post match interview, Le Boss was also clearly incensed with the Swiss referee, Massimo Busacca, aka the world’s biggest wanker. Van Persie claimed he couldn’t hear the whistle, but even if he did hear it was it really a yellow card incident? The whole dissent rule is bullshit anyway, and thankfully most referees have the grey matter to apply a little common sense. Smashing the ball into the stands when the other team is trying to take a free kick, or playing on for several seconds after everyone else has stopped and then driving the ball down the goalkeeper’s throat might warrant a yellow, but to be sent off for taking a swipe at a ball which lands at your feet milliseconds after the whistle has blown is a complete joke. Especially if you consider that Robin was given his first yellow for no more than a bit of handbags with Alves it was piss poor officiating to deem the second a yellow too. It just beggars belief that a referee can have so little sense of occasion, and such a steadfast, robotic and small-minded desire to apply the rules to the letter, that he would make a decision so obviously to the detriment of the contest. Isn’t the whole point of having a referee on the field to interpret the rules, not apply them like a bitter consulate worker in the visa department of the Russian Embassy.

However unbelievable the ref’s decision was, and is, RVP picked up his second yellow and subsequent red card and the contest was effectively over. It’s hard to know just how aggrieved to feel. On the one hand we were one goal up on aggregate and had everything to play for, especially as history has taught us that we were likely to finish the stronger of the two teams. On the other hand we were playing like shit (apart from the back five, who deserve an amazing amount of kudos IMHO), we hadn’t had a single shot on goal (and never did), we got away with not having a penalty awarded against us, and had one of their defenders score on our behalf… you could say we were riding our luck a little bit.

Ironically before the game I’d actually predicted we would lose 3-2 but go through on away goals – with Bendtner scoring late in the game. When Wilshere and Arshavin harried a Barca player off the ball and Jack drove into the space behind him I thought maybe I did have a god given talent for anticipation… sadly though Bendtner didn’t. It was a golden opportunity to steal the game but the Dane’s first touch gave the defending player a chance to intervene. Somehow it would have been more than we deserved, as Barca had really run rampant. I’m not going to sit here and billow more wind up their already well-ventilated @ssholes, but they lived up to their billing in a way we definitely did not. Cesc was shoddy, even gifting Iniesta the ball with a backheel that set up Barca’s first. Rosicky was a complete waste of space, and AW’s confidence in him is seeming more and more displaced with every game the Czech plays in (is he the new Silvestre?). Diaby was Diaby. RVP couldn’t get in the game, and – however much we, and he, can rightly complain about the second yellow – he was a complete and utter tool for getting himself booked for the first yellow. It’s not exactly the first time he’s picked up a senseless booking and someone really ought to have a word.

On the plus side Nasri was excellent, Wilshere superb and, as I said earlier, the back four showed they really can defend. I really thought they were magnificent, and if they got a bit tired and scrappy in the last 25-30 mins no one can blame them. I’m pretty sure they’ve never had to work so hard in their lives!

I don’t this game really has any bearing on our chances in the Premier League and FA Cup… losing to Barcelona, esp. in these circumstances, shouldn’t dent our confidence. If anything we’ll have the benefit of hopefully staying fitter and fresher for both our remaining competitions. Can we win either of them? Of course. Will we win either of them? Much will depend on the fitness of the squad and AW’s selection. Let’s get Arshavin back in the fold and get whatever animal placentas we can lay our hands on to revive Song and Walcott. Rosicky in is the worst form of his life and Diaby and Denilson, and to a lesser extent Bendtner, are still too inconsistent – the more we have to rely on our disappointing stand-ins the worse chance we have of finally bringing home some silverware.

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Disappointing But We Live To Fight Another Day

Posted by Sonuvagun

Sack Arsene Wenger! Sell Koscielny! Shoot Szczesny! We’ve lost the Carling Cup Final today and I’m sure more than one fan will be calling for some radical reactions to what they perceive went wrong on the day…

Personally I’m disappointed about the result, slightly worried about the performance and team morale, but overall not that bothered. Congratulations to Birmingham City who I thought played really well and deserved their victory, and it’s certainly one they and their fans can enjoy. Nonetheless I’d rather be an Arsenal player or fan tomorrow morning… fighting for three more important trophies this season and safe in the knowledge that this won’t be the only cup final I play in/watch in the near future.

Today was a chance to, in the words of the excellent Arseblogger, get a monkey off our back (and kick it in the balls) about a lack of trophies, and it was also supposed to provide our young players with a taste of winning (although I personally don’t really heavily subscribe to the nonsense about “winning being a habit” blah blah… being better than the opposition is surely much more valuable than already having a piece of silverware in the cupboard? The fact that you’ve got trophies just shows you’re good, which by extension means that you’re likely to win more trophies.). We didn’t take that chance. But the good news is we’ve got three more very good chances to end the drought, and come the morning we’ll still be in a better position than anyone in English football except perhaps Man United (given their slight lead in the Premiership, and the fact they don’t have to travel to Camp Nou in the CL).

More on that in a bit, but what about the game itself? Well we started confidently, with Clichy straight away winning a header against the ‘towering’ Zigic (did anyone else get tired of the commentators constantly inserting pointless epithets every time they mentioned him? We know he’s tall, you don’t have to mention it literally every time you speak his name!), but then we got a piece of outrageous luck. Szczesny bought down Bowyer in the box for a clear cut penalty and highly probable red card only for it to be called back incorrectly for offside (Clichy was playing him on). If Birmingham had lost I’m sure we would have heard a lot about that, and rightly so…

Nonetheless champions often get jammy decisions like that and I thought maybe we’d inherited Man U’s luck and would go on to win the game. Sadly I was wrong. Just as an already famous piece of mis-communication led to Birmingham’s second goal, it was a mix up that led to the first. Sagna played the ball in the space behind Wilshere, rather than to his feet, I believe to give him a bit more time as a blue shirt was charging him down. However Wilshere thought the ball was for someone else and left it. The resulting Birmingham attack led to a corner and then came Zigic’s goal. It was highly frustrating but anyone who wasn’t expecting us to concede at least one goal to a set pieces hasn’t been paying much attention this season. The important thing was to get back in the game. Which we did with a lovely RVP volley five minutes before half time.

After restoring parity we were more or less in the ascendency, but without Fabregas on the field, we struggled to create. When we did chances went begging, with Rosicky guilty of missing our best opportunity. RVP was forced off early in the second half, and when AW took off Arshavin we were really looking to Nasri only to provide the magic. The Frenchman seemed to be conscious of this and, in my opinion took, too much responsibility on himself at times, and his decision to shoot from a long range free kick when we had both Bendtner and Chamakh, not to mention Djourou and LK on the field, was frustrating to say the least.

With neither side creating much the game was pretty much in the balance until a horrible mix up at the back gifted Martins the easiest goal of his career. Koscielny under only the mildest of pressure was about to send a lose ball safely into row Z when he got a call from Szczesny to leave it. Mid kick he pulled out but he couldn’t help but obstruct the keeper who then let the ball spill into the path of Martins. You can argue all day about whose fault it was, but it doesn’t really matter. The unfortunate thing was that the mistake happened in the 89th minute and gave the boys no real time to respond. It goes without saying that no player wants to make a mistake like that and the only proper reaction, from a fan’s point of view, is to get behind Koscielny and Szczesny and encourage them to put the incident behind them. Both players are enjoying great seasons in my opinion, but both are new to the team and perhaps we paid the price a bit today for their inexperience. They will learn and improve.

Which brings me to some positives. All of those guys who played today have now competed in a cup final with Arsenal. I think they know now a bit more about what it takes to win one, even if they fell short. It’s valuable experience for them, and the pain of losing I’m sure will make them more determined when they manage to get themselves into another final (hopefully soon!). You sensed that most of the players, fans and pundits thought today was a foregone conclusion. Yes you had players going on record and saying it was going to a be a tough game, wheeling out the usual cliches, but I sensed everyone involved thought it was in the bag. I mean, should you really be talking about who is going to lift the trophy before the 90 minutes is up? Clearly not. A cup final is a cup final, and anything happen.

The big negative for me is not about losing a trophy which, at the start of the season, let’s be honest, most of us didn’t give a shit about (and have since been talking it up only because we thought we were going to win it), but more about how average we looked without Cesc. Personally I think AW made a mistake to replace him with Rosicky, who is a bit like Cesc apart from worse passing, virtually no goal threat and no defensive presence. I like Tomas (I like anyone in an Arsenal shirt however!) but he’s been a weak link this year and having him in the centre was a mistake. Taking off Arshavin was also a mistake and, judging from Song’s tired performance, you could also blame the manager a bit for getting his squad rotation wrong. He either should have found an opportunity to give Alex a rest in the last couple of games or replaced him today. All easy to say in hindsight.

The only thing for the manager and players to do now is go home and come back to training more determined. We’ve let one minnow slip through the net but there’s plenty of bigger tastier fish in the sea to fry.

Sleep easy my Arse-loving friends because tomorrow we will wake up Arsenal fans with plenty of great football to look forward to and big trophies to chase. Better that that to wake up in the Midlands with a huge hangover and a crap piece of silverware that will be the club’s only prize probably for the next 50-100 years.

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Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona: Sweet Delirious Whooping

Posted by SmartArse

We at COTA have been a little lax of late, but were well and truly roused by what can only be described as a gob-smacking win against Barcelona. I watched the game, then I watched the highlights and celebrated, again, as Arshavin calmly planted home the winner. The above headline sums it up, I’m too happy to even try a pun.

The way we started the game typified our approach. It’s not just that we worked hard (Cesc Fabregas ran around 6km in the first half alone), we actually believed we could take them on. The football was confident, our pressing organised. Both teams had decent openings. An off-colour Lionel Messi had the best chance of the opening exchanges, but we created the first; some great play by Walcott and then Fabregas setting up Van Persie to test Valdes from a tight angle.

Then out of nowhere Barca scored, Clichy just playing Villa onside and for the next 25 minutes they were mesmeric. Their passing, led predictably by Xavi was unreal. Understandably, when you have so little possession you try too hard to make things happen when you do get it. A possibly (probably to be fair, but its all just semantics really) unfairly disallowed goal and a decent stop from Pedro by Szczesny were needed to keep us in touch.

At half time I could see no light. We were playing a million miles better than the same tie last year, but we just couldn’t get the ball. Clive ‘hyperbole’ Tyldesley was in full flow with in no way pre-prepared one liners, “the magic roundabout is starting to spin” or “I’m no expert in geometry, but I know a triangle when I see one”

And then came the second half. The key was not just the hard work, but the belief. For long spells in the second half Barca dominated the ball, but we kept playing and largely looked like the team more likely to score, without quite finding the cutting edge. Then just as suddenly as they scored in the first half, so too did we. Clichy, a one-footed footballer who struggles to cross with his left, clipped a glorious ball with his right to Robin van Persie who twatted it in at the near post from a ridiculous angle.

Did he mean to shoot? He definitely had a little look at the keeper before royally bladdering it past Valdes, who looked like an absolute mug. Not sure he expected to score exactly, but it just goes to show the value of whacking it on target and being in such good form you fancy a crack from basically anywhere.

But if the first was a tad fortuitous the second was sublime. A wonderful threaded ball across his own box by Bendtner of all people went to Wilshere, then immediately to Cesc who pinged the ball of the night in space to Nasri, who cut inside from the right and showed magnificent awareness to play the difficult ball to Arshavin and the Russian casually curled it home. It was a thing of beauty, a fair bit like our second against Wolves but in far, far more gratifying circumstances. The Emirates exploded and I just lost it. It wasn’t cheering it was more wooping, delirious wooping pogo-ing around like a meerkat on poppers.

They only had to step off the gas a little for us to capitalise, so closely were the teams matched on the night. Before this game our biggest and best win of the season had been Chelsea at home, a dominant performance of both hard work and flair, but that was against half the side we played last night. Barca were great and we still beat them. We edged a tight game – on another night the little things could have gone their way, but as we well know that’s football. Sometimes you make your own luck and our boys certainly did that last night.

A couple of players were utterly magnificent and rightly all plaudits today are going to Jack Wilshere. I’ve heard various brilliant pass completion statistics, but the the only time I remember him giving the ball away was when Eboue sent a throw in right at his gonads 30 yards from our own goal. Time after time he wriggled free, outnumbered as midget Spanish midfielders swarmed around him. He dictated play, drove forward with the ball and scrapped with the rest.

If Jack was man of the match Laurent Koscielny can’t have been far behind. In the second half he seemed to attract the ball like a magnet. When he doesn’t have to worry about being outmuscled he’s really an excellent player – his timing of the tackle is superb and he’s great on the ball. When Vermaelan comes back he’s still third choice for now, but he’s got serious potential to build on. Comfortably his best night in the shirt.

Serious credit too to Le Boss. Even with Song on a yellow its not his style to be so proactive with his substitutions. Bendtner’s presence made Valdes jump out of the way for the first and Arshavin (who looks a different man) stroked home the third.

Those wishing to burst our bubble quickly resort to ‘well I’d like to see you do it at Camp Nou’. If we bring the same intensity and class I really don’t see why we can’t do it. Barring one half of a half we matched them step for step. The away goal isn’t that important, because I think we’ll definitely score. Problem is they’ll almost certainly score too. It seems crazy that we have to wait three weeks and hopefully pick up a trophy before we can head out there, so you can only hope the players can keep focused for that whole period.

Either way, at the very least we’re going to make an immense fight of it, better than pretty much anyone in Europe could right now and I can’t ever ask more than that.

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The Arsenal Rollercoaster Rolls On…

Posted by Sonuvagun

It’s been a strange and eventful few weeks in the Arse-orientated world, one of tumultous highs and nerve-shredding lows. Since Christmas we’ve smashed a below par Chelsea, been a bit unlucky against Wigan, bulldozed through Birmingham, had a ‘convincing 0-0’ against an Mourinho-esque Man City, looked pretty unconvincing against Leeds (draw) and Ipswich (loss), tanked a sorry looking depleted West Ham… and now got our revenge on Leeds.

It’s hard to know what to conclude from these last three or four weeks, and what you deduce may depend wildly on your levels of optimism. There’s an argument for saying that we are the best team in the Premier League, capable of playing sensational football and beating absolutely anyone, provided we have enough of our key men on the field; although there’s also a strong argument for saying that without a dose of luck we continue to struggle to break down a well organised defence – whilst our own defence can be breached as easily as an Australian levee.

For me the last few weeks has just proved what a narrow margin there is between success and failure in top level football. Most of our games seem to be following the same pattern of late. We start brightly have the better of the possession and make a couple of half chances. When we take one of those chances we have tended to go on to get a couple more. When we don’t we struggle – and we all know it only takes one hopeful long ball or set piece to undo our defence (which it should be said is very very solid in open play).

The problem with the Arsenal style of play is that we have to be absolutely on top of our game to pull it off. Every team knows what we are going to do and what’s the best way to counter it (park the bus and hit us on the counter attack) and even though I believe the likes of Bendtner, Rosicky and Denilson are great players they are not so superior to the average footballer to allow us to get away with our attacking game. If you look at Barcelona they play a very similar style to us. They keep the ball for long periods and press high up the pitch. In theory they too are vulnerable to the counter attack, but a) they keep the ball better than us, leading to less counters b) they have better more established centre backs c) their attacking players are also better pressers and have a better awareness of their defensive duties and d) they are also better at scoring than us (although take Messi out of their side and I’d argue we would have considerably better firepower than them… Cesc and Nasri vs. Xavi and Iniesta is no contest when it comes to goalscoring).

I strongly support the Arsenal way of playing football – if a game isn’t entertaining what’s the point in watching? – but I think it’s important for Arsene Wenger in particular to acknowledge it only works when we are considerably better than our opponents. More than once in the past, for example, we have outplayed Manchester Utd. in terms of passing and possession but lost the game. Some Arse fans might console themselves by saying we were better than them, but the truth is that all the time we were playing straight into their hands – Ferguson knows we can outpass his mix of geriatrics and wannabes, and he instructs his team to sit back and invites us, because he knows that as long as Man U defend well they’ll get plenty of chances on the counter. In other words, if we are anything less than deadly (esp. in the opening period), the odds are against us.

The other key thing that January has taught us, which is of course is related to our need to be on top of our game, is that AW needs to consider very carefully how much he can rotate his team. On paper the B teams he puts out often still look better than the opposition, but the fact is for the Arsenal style of complete superiority to work we need to have as many of the champagne players bubbling as possible… take out one to many of Nasri, Fabregas, Walcott or Van Persie and we are going to struggle against any well drilled and committed team. And take out Alex Song and we’re completely screwed, as its his ball-winning skills which keep us in possession for so long each game. I think it’s something the manager himself has realised of late, as he jazzed up the B team in the re-run against Leeds with the addition of Nasri and took a full strength bench. I certainly hope that’s the case, because we can’t afford to take any unnecessary risks over team selection if we want to be 100% sure of bagging a trophy in 2011.

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Arsenal Blast Away New Year Blues

Posted by Sonuvagun

I imagine most of you are feeling pretty groggy today, and if you had as many vodka and Red Bulls as I did you may also have watched the Arsenal game curled up under a blanket with a cup of (weak) fruit tea and a packet of paracetomol.

Thankfully Mr. Wenger did the sensible thing, boycotted the entire ridiculous New Year’s Eve ceremony, and had all the boys tucked up in bed before 11pm. And, what with eight of them getting a controversial rest against Wigan, the team certainly had plenty of energy for the fight today against a distinctly jaded looking Birmingham.

Bar a few fruity challenges and pathetic niggles (culprit in chief being Bowyer who used all his experience of stamping gained outside Majestyk’s nightclub to do the same to Sagna’s thigh), the Blues offered very little in resistance to our attacking play and but for a mixture of poor control, indecisive finishing and a couple of decent saves by Foster we could have had 5 or 6. In fact we needed a bit of luck to kick us off, with Van Persie’s free kick taking a deflection (off Lee Bowyer’s stomach… ha ha!) for our first. We then got another piece of luck when a very obvious handball by the very same RVP wasn’t awarded with a Birmingham penalty (ha ha!). After that scare there was only one winner as a Ridgewell header, which hit the crossbar in the final minutes, was about the best the hosts offered all day.

Meanwhile, after opening the scoring in the first half, we increased our lead with a beautifully taken finish by Nasri after a 1-2-1 (is that one more than a 1-2? Sounds a bit gay) with Fabregas in midfield. He simply powered the ball straight into the bottom corner as if it was the easiest thing in the world, whilst Foster pretty much stood and watched.

The third came after more great interplay with Nasri and Fabregas, who pretty much ran the show between them. This time Super Sam laid it off for the advancing Fabregas who powered it straight at the keeper from a tight angle. The ball bounced dangerously in front of their goal and when a Birmingham player tried to clear it it bounced off Johnson’s shin and into the goal… ha ha!

There were plenty of chances to make it four or more, but I don’t think you’ll find many Arsenal fans complaining about what was overall a great performance – and, perhaps as importantly, a clean sheet. There are always going to be some dodgy moments during 90 mins and come to think of it there was a let off when some idiot in Blue spooned over from five yards, but generally you have to say Djourou and Koscielny played well, Fabianski was encouragingly commanding and even Clichy decided to ditch the glitch. Meanwhile Sagna deserves to be put in the dictionary as a bye word for defensive reliability. Or at the very least the Lexicon of Arse.

So, still a bit upset with Wenger’s gambling ways, but this win, perhaps in part due to being visibly fresher than Birmingham, does at least go some way to justifying that gamble. (I’m not going to get into a argument with myself about the bad logic of sacrificing a win for a win… suffice to say I’ve had it in my mind).

It’s naturally too early to say anything concrete yet about what 2011 might bring but with our squad at nearly full strength, the Djorou + Koscielny partnership looking decent, goalkeeping problems (if you’ll pardon the pun) behind us, and still more firepower than a souped-up Star Destroyer, you’ve got to feel we’re in with a decent shot at the title. Whatever happens I’m sure it’ll be a damn entertaining ride…

So charge your glasses and let’s say “Come on the Arsenal!!!” for 2011!

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Wigan 2 – 2 Arsenal: 8 changes, 2 penalties and 2 dropped points

Posted by Andre The Giant

Judging from the reaction on Twitter last night (again), you’d think that Arsenal had been 2-0 up against Wigan (again) and lost 3-2. In fact, we were 1-0 down and eventually drew 2-2 in a hard fought away game against a team who haven’t lost at home in the league since September. Not a bad result when you look at it like that. But nearly all of the ire has been directed at Arsene for making 8 changes to the team that crucified Chelsea on Monday night. Only Fabianski, Sagna and Koscielny remained constant, Squillaci, Eboue, Diaby, Rosicky, Denilson, Arshavin, Chamakh and Bendtner were all rotated in. Cesc was banned for accumulation of 5 yellows (I hate that rule) and the rest were just a bit tired I guess. Although personally I would argue that at least 3 of those ’new’ players are first picks for their respective positions, it was still a brave/insane decision by the manager given how well the team performed against Chelsea and how much some consistency was required. Wenger had only made 8 changes before on two occasions, losing both, and similar decisions have got Mick McCarthy and Ian Holloway into trouble for not taking their fixtures seriously. But Wenger wants to build a squad, not a team. In the past we’ve been too reliant on key players and I can see the arguments behind not wanting that to be the case. Alan Hansen, for once, described the situation rather succinctly:

“After the first 30 minutes I thought it was a mistake, after an hour I thought he was a genius and at the end I wasn’t sure”

I think I agree with that, although it’s worth saying that I am the only blogger in the COTA camp that does. The other two are very much in the ‘that was a really stupid decision’ toilet block area of the camp. Wenger, as usual, is unapologetic:

“With all these matches we cannot play with the same team always – but I don’t think that was a problem……I don’t think it’s a shame – overall the draw was all right”

In truth, the draw is not alright at all. But it’s not as bad as a draw and a loss on Saturday or even a loss and a loss. If we take 7 points from the 3 Christmas fixtures I will be content. Anyway, that’s enough about the pre-match decision, now a bit more about the game itself (although not too much as I blathered on quite a lot already and I need to go and do some other stuff).

For the first 20 minutes, Arsenal looked like a team who had played 2 days ago. Koscielny dilly dathered (is that the right word, I can’t find it on Google) at least once giving Wigan a very decent chance that Rodallega totally ballsed up. We pressed a little bit but lost possession too easily a number of times. On 18 minutes we had a decent build up of play on the edge of the Wigan penalty area that resulted in nothing apart from Wigan breaking back. Only Eboue knows what the fuck he was doing so advanced in the Wigan area, leaving no left back cover whatsoever. Diaby (clearly still not 100%) tried to get back but N’Zogbia had the run on him. Koscielny did that running backwards looking over his shoulder thing ready to make a block challenge, which only ever works about 50% of the time, and N’Zogbia tumbled as soon as Kos’s foot came out. In real-time I exhaled in blind acceptance. In slow motion, I was livid. There was a clear 30cm of space between Koscienly’s leg and N’Zogbia. A dive in the worst sense given that he actually had to jump forwards to get into the penalty area. I am fucking sick to death with this phrase ‘he won a penalty’. No one should win penalties (yes, Chamakh, that includes you). You should be unfortunately fouled and, even though you tried your best, not been able to retain possession of the ball. Anyway, BBC and Sky didn’t even mention it so I can only imagine that they had another angle that we didn’t see which shows Kos doing a double fingered eye poke or something. Fabianski went the right way for the penalty but failed to advance 2m before the kick was taken like every other good penalty saver and it was 1-0 Wigan.

Less than 10 minutes later and Diaby was injured. It’s the ankle again and it’s not looking good for him, which is a real shame as when he is playing regularly and well he is a fantastic player. (Edit – it looks like it’s a thigh strain, common in players returning from serious injury, but he will still be out for ‘some weeks’). Jack Wilshere took his place and changed the game completely. The possession stats increased and Wigan didn’t threaten at all. With less than 10 minutes of the half to go Bendtner had a shot well saved but the rebound bounced out to Arshavin who struck a stunning bicycle kick volley into the bottom corner, 1-1. 5 minutes later and the roles reversed, Arshavin putting the ball to Bendtner’s feet just outside the area. Nick barged his way through two defenders (not falling over or anything note) and slotted home cooly to give us a glimpse of where that massive ego of his comes from. 2-1 and everyone was happy. Wigan had a reasonable chance well after the allotted amount of injury time had passed but Fabianski saved well.

The second half started as a mix of the first quarter and second quarter (sorry, I know it’s not American Football, there wasn’t a better way to describe it). Better possession and Wigan feeling less threatening, but still lacking that last bit of impetus towards goal. Chamakh planted a very strong header just inches wider and Jack and Arshavin combined for what would have been a wonder goal but the final ball fell to Arshavin’s left foot and he could only poke it directly at their keeper. The match had also become noticeably tastier in terms of tackles, very few of which were being picked up by the referee. That was until N’Zogbia used all three of his brain cells to decide that head-butting Jack would be a good idea. Jack’s fall to the floor was overly dramatic but was required to bring the linesman’s attention to what was a reckless and stupid act from N’Zogbia. The red card was duly produced and Jack was booed for the rest of the game (intelligent those Wigan fans). Now it’s very easy to say that, with 10 men, Wigan shouldn’t have had a chance. But the truth is, when a player is sent off, the remaining 10 generally play 10% harder than they were. So 10 men playing at 70%-80% is actually more effective than 11 playing at 60%-70%, especially when the opposition are winning relatively comfortably.

Minutes after the sending off, Wigan pressed enough to get a corner which was taken to the far post, headed back by Rodallega into the six yard box and then headed in by Squillaci. I’ve watched it 10 or so times and it’s mystifying how Wigan could have scored. Look at this screen shot:

Wigan

Count them! 9 fucking Arsenal players in the six yard area against 3 Wigan players, two of which are well out of it. Whilst I can see why fingers are pointed at Squillaci for not tracking Watson properly (although I would argue that Watson used too much force to get away from his marker) you have to question why 7 Arsenal players (including the keeper) are standing and watching a ball come into our box in the 80th minute when they’re defending a slim one goal lead. Sagna (as wonderful as I think he is) should also have won the header on the back post. So I am not sure it is a centre back problem and, as Arsene said last night, it’s an organisation program. So I suppose that is a centre back problem or a goal keeper problem, because they should be doing that. But, either way, there are no excuses for conceding a goal in such a manner. But it’s a goal that any one of the Arsenal squad could have conceded (and indeed did on Monday) and was irrelevant to the rotation policy that Wenger employed.

Shortly after the goal, both Sami Nasri and Theo Walcott were brought on. This, to my mind, was the biggest mistake Wenger made yesterday. The substitution should have been made 10 or 15 minutes earlier and, had that been the case, I genuinely believe we would have won and no one would be making the fuss that they are. So many times I’ve been frustrated by Wenger’s reactive substitutions. Perhaps he just didn’t see an opportunity to get them on, who knows. Certainly the Arsenal fans were singing Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na, Sami Nas-a-ri for fifteen minutes before he came on so he was obviously warming up.

With a minute of normal time left, Nick fell over on the edge of the area and Sami took the free kick. It hit one of the Wigan player’s hands in a carbon copy of the Cesc incident against Tottenham but nothing was given. It’s pointless moaning about these decisions but it’s still frustrating when it seems that that the same incident has cost us 5 points this season. Cesc said much the same thing on his Twitter feed:

“What’s the difference between this handball and my one versus Spurs? Referees don’t want us to complain about them but they make life difficult for themselves”

(I know it’s not quoted word for word, but the text speak was making my head hurt)

With Chelsea finally getting the win that might put them back on track, we’ve lost a most of the ground we gained on them on Monday, missed the opportunity to leap frog Man City (although we still have a game in hand) and are two points behind Man Utd having played one more game. It’s not the worse position we’ve been in at the New Year turning point but looking at some of the points we’ve dropped this season (West Brom, Newcastle, Tottenham, Sunderland and now Wigan) it could have been so much better!

Being an Arsenal fan in 2010 has very much been a mixture of elation and frustration and this week has summed that up perfectly. Let’s hope that the team’s New Year’s resolution is to cut out the latter.

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Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea: Not A Cheese Induced Dream

Posted by SmartArse

It’s been two days since we beat Chelsea and I’m delighted to find that the whole thing wasn’t some dairy induced dream caused by a monumental intake of Brie around Christmas. In fact, we didn’t just beat them, we demolished them. Arsenal were the better team for the entire game, everywhere on the pitch, largely due to doing lots of simple things very, very well. Simples indeed, but it was Chelsea that played like meerkats; a little perplexed, aimless and lacking the ability to form words.

It is, I think, a measure of how important the simple things were to our victory that almost everyone seems to agree on the factors that won us the game, and who played well. Our match ratings were written by Sonuvagun yesterday, so I had a look at those before writing this. Apart from perhaps mentioning that for every hairy moment, Clichy conjured a brilliant one to match, I agree with every word.

Essentially we did all the right things in two very different halves that allowed us to play the way we wanted. Different factors were more and less crucial either side of the half time whistle. The first half was, largely, a lot like many of our fixtures against big sides; lots of possession, a whisker short of enough thrust. Normally we lose those games.

Except here two key, and obvious, things happened. Firstly, we didn’t look like conceding the first time the opposition got the ball. Johann Djourou is rightly receiving a cacophony of praise for utterly shackling Drogba. The Ivorian, normally the thorn in our fragile side, was never allowed to turn or influence the game with Djourou repeatedly winning tackles and headers. It was a performance full of verve and assurance. Djourou was the star of the defensive show, but everyone else, a few unpunished blips from Clichy and Koscielny aside, was also excellent. I couldn’t name a single positive thing Malouda or Kalou did. Or even Fat Frank for that matter.

Leading from one cause to another takes us to the equally obvious point that not only did we defend well, we scored the first goal. Cliched as it is, it cannot be emphasised enough how important this was in changing the pattern of the game and giving us the platform to do everything we did in the second half. One moment of excellence, a drilled finish from Song, and suddenly we had a lead that dragged Chelsea far enough out of their shells for us to crush them.

The second half performance was fantastic. Again, there were a few elementary things we did well that allowed us to so effectively halt the champions.

Firstly, we pressed from the front and beyond. Theo, Cesc and RVP were all instrumental here, repeatedly pickpocketing Chelsea defenders (twice leading to goals), or forcing them to play aimless long balls straight to Fabianski. We did this all game, but especially so in the second half. The tone was set just seconds into the half, as Cesc robbed whichever muppet in blue had the ball at the time. Arsenal on the front foot, Chelsea knocked back.

Yet we weren’t rashly running around leaving Lampard or Drogba sized gaps at the back. Despite pressing hard we were utterly solid in our shape. Alex Song was especially immense here. He finally seemed to find the right balance between getting forward at the right time and getting back to repeatedly press and harry the opposition into mistakes. So Songinho, but with the reigns firmly in place. Jack Wilshere was, if not quite as good as Song, pretty bloody close. He battles so well for such a midget and really helps set the tempo with our passing. It’s ludicrous a boy so young is that good.

Finally we kept our focus. We did all of the above for 90 minutes. Not in 10 minute bursts punctuated by Chelsea goals. We looked confident, determined and assured. A great balance between working hard and exhibiting our excellent football. Certainly our best performance this year.

Of course, the question is why on earth does it take a game of that magnitude to bring out the sort of focus and attitude a professional should take to every encounter? Perhaps it’s this whole confidence and fear thing Cesc keeps talking about. Hopefully then, with our demons well and truly banished we can press on, starting tonight at Wigan. Arsene now has a task on his hands to make sure this is how we approach everything. If we do, we’ll win the vast majority of games. Simples.

I actually rather like the fact that our next game is one that sounds as easy as Wigan away. It’ll be a real test of whether we can transfer the resolve we saw against Chelsea to every encounter. If we do, we are going to be a very interesting prospect indeed this year.

Just look at that scoreline at the top of the post. That will make me happy for quite literally weeks. God love The Arsenal.

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Man Utd 1 – 0 Arsenal: a borefest of epic proportions

Posted by Andre The Giant

Zzzzzzz……what…………zzzzzzzzzz……blog………drink………girls…………na na na na Nasri…….. Right, awake again, blog post, sorry about that.

Before the game today, Arsenal had the best away form in the league, with 5 wins, 2 draws and only one loss against Chelsea. Unfortunately, Man Utd had by far the best home form, with only 1 draw out of 7 resulting in dropped points. God knows how given some of their abject performances but there you go. Unlike the game against Chelsea, in which we played enough to get something, today Arsenal did nothing to persuade anybody that they have any more claim on the title than the three other teams that want to win it a bit, but aren’t that bothered. I can’t even get that excited about the loss. Probably because it’s a Monday night and there isn’t the rest of the weekend to be spoiled. I have to say, I feel a little sorry for SmartArse, who travelled all the way up to Manchester. Still, it sounded like our fans were having fun singing such gems as “Evra, Evra, you’re a c*nt”. The United fans countered with ‘that song’ for which I hope they all die miserable and painful deaths and are then reborn as Howard Webb’s underpants. The pub was full of them too, making comments every 10 seconds. Believe it or not, not every foul is a booking and not every bit of action in the penalty area should result in a penalty (although I can understand why a United fan would think this, but more on that later). I blame Sky for all this Super Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and so on bollocks. Watch much football for the rest of the year do you sunshine? No? Fuck off out of my pub then.

We had a marginal majority of possession for the first 20 minutes or so, our centre backs didn’t make any atrocious mistakes, Song was actually covering in his defensive role and Clichy hadn’t been severely molested by Nani. So that was positive. We weren’t showing our normal frailties but then we weren’t showing our positives either. Passing was loose, Nasri was being played out of the game and the one or two small chances we had fell to Song instead of Nasri, Chamakh or Arshavin. We were quite aggressive off the ball but, given Howard Webb was “in charge”, this just translated as foul after foul for United. I am not sure it was men against boys, more girls against boys the way Nani, Fletcher and Evra were moaning. Fletcher, at one point, was so upset with all the fouls he was being given, that he pushed Webb. Did he get punished? Did he fuck? When we were finally fouled, Webb played the most pointless advantages I’ve ever seen, lasting a whole 3 seconds. But anyway, I am rambling because I can’t remember a single thing happening worth talking about. United weren’t much better, their best effort was from Nani who shot inches wide from a poor Squillaci clearance. Then, in the 40th minute, they got the lucky break that was always coming. A cross from Nani was blocked by Clichy but it ballooned onto the head of Park who either a/ totally lucked out by randomly getting his head in the way and deflecting the ball goalward or b/ expertly directed the cross over Chesney’s head. Chesney didn’t have a chance and it deflected in off the post. If there is such a thing as a ‘bad’ time to concede, just before half time is clearly it. The goal spurred on United and Arsenal were lucky to get into half time only one down.

We needed to change things in the second half, to pass the ball around more effectively and to create chances. Arsenal achieved the first half of this equation but not the second. Still nothing much happened in the last third so Arsene threw on RVP and Cesc for Rosicky and Wilshere. I thought Arshavin was a better candidate for removal but presumably Prof had it in mind that he can play 89 minutes and 50 seconds of crap but still create 10 seconds that will win the game. He didn’t of course. Then came the fun. Nani attempted to take the ball around Clichy who was on the floor in the penalty area with his hand planted down in an attempt to get up. The ball was played directly on to his arm, the Man Utd fans shouted a lot and the linesman signalled for a penalty which was a truly outrageous decision. Fortunately, Rooney’s penalty is yet to land. Justice done and there were still 20 minutes left to save the game. But even the introduction of Walcott with quarter of an hour left didn’t provide much in the way of penetration. That was pretty much that.

Rooney nearly made amends for the penalty miss with a rather good chip over Chesney. But the 6ft 5in bean-Pole (I am really very sorry, I really am) was more than a match for the effort (and I actually thought it was going wide anyway). That, for me, was the one and only positive from the game. In Szczesny (that’s the only time I am going to bother looking up how to spell it) we have a star for the future and I can see why Wenger doesn’t want to quash that potential by getting in a big name keeper. I am fairly sure we’ve seen the last of Almunia (I do feel a bit sorry for him, but that’s professional football) and it won’t take that much to overtake the other Pole in Goal to number one in the pecking order. In the spirit of continuing the Chesney look-a-like competition, and to end this post on a high note, I give you Wojciech ‘Jake Busey’ Szczesny (second time, I know!).

Jake Busey-1

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Arsenal 3-1 Partizan: Dithering, Denilson, Road Runner And The Bobbsey Twins

Posted by SmartArse

Wednesday’s game was, to be blunt, uninspiring, but we got the job done.

To be honest I didn’t ever actually think we wouldn’t win the game, insipid as we were. While most teams that we inexplicably hand a lifeline to can actually defend a bit, Partizan can’t. Their centre-backs made our much maligned lot look like some kind of awesome Beckenbauer-Adams conglomeration. Our current pairing are of course more Fred and Wilma than Beckenbauer and Adams and we’ll get back to them later, but we won, and on the balance of play deserved about the result we got.

Which does make the strength of the reaction of some a little perplexing. I don’t know, it seems some people just like a moan. We always seemed capable of putting together enough decent moves to win the game. Not half as many as we should against such meagre opposition, but enough. There have been several times this season when I’ve been apoplectic in the stands because I can see our lax play costing us, but this didn’t seem like one of those days.

That’s not to say I thought it was good. It wasn’t good at all. It was like we were playing in sludge. Certainly it’s more than a little worrying when Denilson is your most dynamic player. You’ll find several staunch defenders of Denilson – see for example, LadyArse’s excellent post from Wednesday – but usually, I just can’t agree. I accept that Denilson is good at hoarding possession, getting the simple passes going, often the on-ball-mandate of a holding midfielder, especially in a 4-3-3. Yet Denilson lacks the bite, strength and dynamism to be a holding midfield player and the creative spark and drive to take either the second or third central midfield spot. For those who argue we shouldn’t expect more, because his job is merely to keep the ball, it’s not. To be the holding midfielder he needs both this and genuine dynamism, or to take Jack’s slot, he needs far more invention.

Stats will tell you Denilson gives the ball away less than any other Arsenal player and indeed that he passes the ball forward far more than it may appear. But merely passing the ball forward does not make a pass penetrative. Even when passing forward, Denilson is largely playing the obvious pass, not in itself a bad thing, but it has its limitations. This means when he is giving the ball away, it is frequently when attempting a simple pass – this is why many fans believe he gives the ball away a lot, because it’s just so frustrating.

But I think that any fan (and according to LadyArse, there were plenty) that had the knives out for Denilson on Wednesday night must have been watching a different game. Maybe it’s the go-faster haircut, but Denilson was buzzing around like Road Runner on speed. He won tackles, drove forward with the ball and unlike most of his teammates, looked like he hadn’t just woken up. In fact, while he was playing like a new man everyone else (aside from perhaps Nasri) was playing like Denilson! It was ponderous and uninspired, but as I’ve said above, always likely to be enough.

As for the Bobbsey twins at the back, they are another problem all together. At least they are starting to play in some kind of tandem. That is, they make mistakes simultaneously. Koscielny lets the ball drop, Squillaci goes all Clichy, runs away from the ball and then deflects the ball over Fabianski when the Pole probably would have saved it. Partizan couldn’t even score past Braga, but they scored twice past us. I managed to stay calm through all the turgid football, but their performance temporarily turned me into an insult hurling primate, incoherently rambling like Father Ted. Defending like clowns is the sort of stupid shit Tottenham do. Hopefully Le Boss sees sense and drops Koscielny in favour of Djourou for Monday. Or perhaps finally gets the delivery of the spare part for Vermaelen. If only.

So it wasn’t good, but I’ll only worry if we bring that sort of performance to Old Trafford on Monday. Which we won’t. I’m surprisingly confident going into Monday’s game. United have been awfully fortunate to get this far without losing. Let’s show them what it’s like to play a real team.

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Arsenal 2-1 Fulham: Starting To Swoon For Sublime Samir

Posted by SmartArse

During last week’s horror show against Braga my usually reasonable Dad, in a rare fit of hysteria, yelled angrily at the tellybox that Cesc Fabregas was our only world-class player and nobody else was fit to wear the shirt. Harsh, but at the start of the season even the most optimistic of Gooners would have struggled to squeeze another squad member into the ‘world-class’ category.

But as we pointed out a while back, we certainly have a class-act in waiting in the magnificent Samir Nasri. If only Le Bob can make me swoon, Sami Nasri at least makes me feel a little faint. He might not be as dreamy, but he’s certainly got the talent. His dancing feet are utterly mesmeric and his two fleet-footed goals today were a product of the swagger he’s added to his game this year. World class players produce this sort of form over a longer period of time, but if Sami can keep thinking he’s as good as we know he is, he’ll be well on his way.

A match report of the game today can be summarised rather simply: for about 30 minutes, we were really quite good, then we were a bit shit before another moment of Marseilles magic sealed an important win.

We started on fire, yet despite good chances for Arshavin, Chamakh and Song we were somehow only 1-0 up. But what a goal it was. A pleasingly alert Arshavin robbed a Fulham defender and fed Samir Nasri down the right, who deftly discombobulated three Fulham defenders, before thundercunting the ball into the top corner.

Of course, no Arsenal performance is complete right now without a bit of comedy defending and today it handed Fulham an equaliser. Squillaci and Koscielny went for the same ball, the former concussing the latter, leaving Kamara free to slot home. The referee should probably stop the game when there’s a head injury, but when it’s so clearly the fault of the two players in question I really can’t be that sympathetic. Talk, for God’s sake.

After that we lost our rhythm a little. Fulham started really pressing us into midfield and we stopped carving out a million and one chances. Fortunately, the aforementioned Samir Nasri is currently spectacularly good. Receiving the ball from Robin Van Persie he danced past two Fulham defenders with the grace of a fine French chef, round Mark Schwarzer and, to prevent sidefooting it wide a la Villa, ran right round the ball to smack it home with his right. Sublime.

In the end, we did enough and with Chelsea still bafflingly shit, we find ourselves atop the table. But we could really do with not making it so difficult for ourselves. Chelsea are busy proving that it’s it’s a media stereotype that only Arsenal can throw away games we totally dominate, but that’s no excuse for our calamitous defending.

Perhaps a little blow to Koscielny’s head will mean Djourou can get a few starts under his belt. The failings of the starting two means Djourou’s abilities have perhaps been exaggerated on the basis of limited evidence, but when given his chance, especially in the Everton game, he’s been a far more solid option that Koscielny.

A little word too about Alex Song. It’s been said a lot this season, but he really has to stop charging recklessly forward. A lot of blame gets chucked at the back four when really, Song should be taking a little bit of flack too, for failing to adequately protect them. Also, when Song charges forward, Jack has to sit and that’s not quite his forte. I felt Jacky was a little bit peripheral today, partly because Song’s buckaneering meant he couldn’t influence the game as much as we’d like.

This probably sounds like a bit of a moan given that we’re top of the league, but really, it’s just a little cautious. This could be an incredible month for us, with big matches against United and Chelsea coming up, but you just fear we might end up losing games we deserve to win.

Fortunately, most players are playing rather well at the moment, especially those going forward. A few players deserve a little mention today. Andrey Arshavin is looking far more lively of late and Chamakh is doing a sterling job leading the line. Hat-tips too to Fabianski for a few crucial saves (Kamara in the first half, Gera at the end) and to Bacary Sagna, particularly for one marauding run and pinpoint cross (!) for Chamakh in the first half.

I’m massively excited about the week ahead. Crunch-time in the Champions League against Partizan, then Monday night football in Manchester. In a week and a half our quietly rosy state of affairs could bloom into something rather more promising. A big week indeed.

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