Archive for November, 2010

How The Next Four Matches Could Be Season Defining For Arsenal

I’m absolutely delighted by the fact that Chelsea dropped points yesterday. This brings Arsenal on par with Chelsea with 29 points. Manchester United are top with 31. Pundits were predicting Chelsea to walk away with the title this year saying that they had the better squad, more experienced players etc. Bullsh*t!! I do not know about Manutd but this year I truly believe that Arsenal have what it takes to win the title. The squad is indeed one of the strongest Arsenal squad I’ve seen in a long time.  Sure it’s not perfect and it has weaknesses but you do not need a perfect squad to win silverware, you just need to have a team that can perform better than the others. This team can do that.

Which brings us to the topic of today. The next four game weeks are difficult for all the top three teams as they face each other in quick succession. This could change the appearance of the league table drastically and could give a more clear indication about who ‘really’ got what it takes to win the title. Let’s take a look at the fixtures then?

CHELSEA:

1) Chelsea vs Everton

Chelsea have got the hardest fixtures and what a time to have them! They are on a roll, a roll of dropping points. In their next match, they face Everton at home. Given that Everton have  poor away form with only one win in their last five games, I still expect Moyes’ side to give this weakened Chelsea side a run for their money.  Everton have players coming back from injury; their only concern would be the suspension of Mikel Arteta. They still have Tim Cahill though and he has been using his head(literally) to score goals for fun lately.  Even if Chelsea do win this game, they will not be able to relax because they face the ”mighty” Sp*rs next.

2) Tottenham vs Chelsea

By the time Chelsea face Sp*rs, they should have John Terry and Franky back to their starting line up. Sp*rs have Van der Vaarth injuried for upto a month(according to latest reports) and it certainly won’t be easy for them. But, the game is at White Hart Lane and this certainly evens things down a bit(they have won four of their last 6 home games and drawn 2). So even with VDV out, I expect Chelsea to drop at least 2 points in this fixture.

3) Chelsea vs Manchester United

Big, big game this one. I can’t even guess what will happen here. I’m predicting that Rooney will be in full swing by this time and Chelsea,hopefully, will be low in morale after dropping points against Sp*rs. This could possibly be a high scoring game as both teams have players who would have returned by then. Arsenal fans all over the world will be hoping for a draw in this fixture. In any case, whatever the result, this game can only bring positive news for the Londoners.

4) Arsenal vs Chelsea: (refer below)

MANCHESTER UNITED:

1) Blackpool vs Manchester United: This is an easy fixture for the ManCs. Blackpool are conceding goals wherever they play and their home form has been abysmal too, winning only two of their last 6 games. The best that they can do against this in-form Manutd side is get a draw. But lets not get our hopes up; Blackpool should be thrashed in this game.

2) Manchester United vs Arsenal: (refer below)

3) Chelsea vs Manchester United: Unpredictable as mentioned above.

4) Manchester United vs Sunderland: The fact that Sunderland have the core of their defense out injured certainly is not good news for their rivals. Titus Bramble and Michael Turner are out for months and are not expected to be fit for this fixture. Manchester United are gaining momentum game by game and I really can’t see them losing against Sunderland at home regardless of their previous results against Chelsea and Arsenal.

ARSENAL:

Arsenal vs Fulham: On paper, this may sound as a very easy fixture for Arsenal but this actually is  a big test for them. Arsenal are struggling at home  having lost 3 out of their last five home games against various oppositions. Arsene Wenger has said that these losses were only coincidental and that Arsenal will bounce back. I think this is true. Arsenal have been losing home games ,yes. Did they play that bad as to deserve a loss? No.  It’s the fact that they are losing matches even though they are playing well that is putting a bit of mental pressure on the players. I believe that once we win against Fulham  on Saturday, we will put on a string of home wins from then on, including the the match against Chelsea later on.

2) Manchester United vs Arsenal: This match will be upon us on  13th of  December and this is truly a mouth watering fixture. Head to head, Manutd have the upper hand winning four of the last 5 games against Arsenal in all competitions. Add to that the fact that the match is at Old Trafford and Arsenal have more pressure on them. Still, this Arsenal is side is now matured and with or without Cesc Fabregas, I expect Arsenal to get at least a point in this game. Remember that this Arsenal side, unlike last season, is doing terrific at away games and a win is certainly on the cards.

3) Arsenal vs Stoke: Another easy home fixture. We cannot afford to drop points in games like these and I think by now Arsenal will have had learned their lessons and will just do the business. Stoke’s away form has been pretty bad with four losses in six and I’m sure Shawcross will play accordingly if he does not want death threats on his door steps the next morning.

4) Arsenal vs Chelsea: This is a must win game for me. Chelsea might have players coming back but they will need time to get back to full fitness. Also, just because they have players back does not necessarily mean they will be back in form instantly. Head to head, Arsenal are again on the back foot with absolutely no wins in their last 5 games against Chelsea but with a complete change in the centre of defense and a new dimension of play with Chamakh as a striker, I expect the tables to be turned. The Drogs has also been sleeping lately and hopefully he will continue to do so as Arsenal certainly need all the help they can get. I don’t know how but Arsenal HAVE to get a win in this game.

So that’s about it. It is clear that Chelsea have the hardest of fixtures, Manutd the easiest and Arsenal somewhere in between. To be title contenders, Arsenal have to get points off these big teams. I do not expect them to win all but to have things differently  for Arsenal this time around, they have to win most. Let’s just hope for the best and take on one game at a time and I’m sure our hard work will pay off.

I’m off to watch the El Classico match now. Till then. Ciao.

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Is Arshavin back?

Who in the Arsenal team do all the Arsenal fans regard as lazy, uninspiring and low in team spirit? Most probably Andrei Arshavin. Our Russian international, who is an evident Barcelona fan and isn’t used to playing in the cold, hasn’t really lived up to expectations recently.

Who do you least expect to step up to plate when squad morale is low after a week of terrible results? Probably Arshavin again. This time, he hits us all fans aback with a cracker of a performance.

Arshavin’s goal against Aston Villa was crucial. Although Arsenal were dominating from the kick-off, we were frustrated by not being able to convert the chances that were coming our way. That’s when Arshavin’s precise finish to the bottom right corner broke the shackles. Soon after he produced an insightful pass to break Samir Nasri free one-on-one with the goal keeper which Nasri missed (and shouldn’t have especially after the angle he beat to score in the Tottenham game earlier). He did however manage to assist Nasri later in the first half with a corner kick. Not only that, he did manage to make some brilliant runs on the counter to pose a constant threat to the Villa defense. Although it was a great team effort, he did enough to be the MoM.

Was his performance enough to prove that he’s back to form? Maybe, but there are still quite a few important games coming up in December. It was still great to see Arshavin play so well and take control against a Villa side who always tend to nick results off.

Andrei Arshavin v Aston Villa

Arshavin has always been one of my favourite players since I saw him play in Euro 2008. I’m so glad that he’s scored after a 9 game goal drought. Hopefully this will get him back on the goal trail. We desperately need him to.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s not going to change too much. He will still be that lazy character always getting that odd assist and poking out for goals.

We can’t really expect all our Arsenal players to give their 100% every game. Arshavin certainly does not have the Gunner ‘spirit’ bursting through his veins. Our team still needs him. He’s a genuine match winner and has the ability to show flashes of brilliance at the most unexpected of times.  That’s probably why Arsene Wenger plays him game in and out, because you never know when his day is.

Truly ‘Hazard’ous

Eden Hazard, heard the name? Pretty much most people who follow football closely will know that he is one of Europe’s most talented footballers. He’s got electrifying pace, a great shifter (almost Messi-like) and has been a match-winner for Lille with some influential displays.

Can we get him? Nope, almost impossible now. Unless he is a devoted Arsenal fan, he won’t come to Arsenal. Although he is strongly linked to Liverpool as well, he won’t go there either. What will happen is that as soon as there is the slightest hint that Eden Hazard is available (if not this transfer window then another one), the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea will come in and try to swoop him up at unmatchable prices.

Eden Hazard

So that means another world class talent out of our grasp? I wouldn’t really look at it that way. It is true Arsenal have had some bad luck in the transfer market at times. Wenger did state that even the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres could’ve joined Arsenal at the time they were available.

If you actually look at our young attacking options, they’re quite amazing on paper. Samir Nasri is only just 23 and is becoming a better player by the day. He keeps playing like this and in a few years time we’re going to start to consider him an Arsenal legend. Also, the fact that he will be a considered a regular in the France team will help him mould into that star we need in our team. Theo Walcott is the potential ultimate Gunner for me. Arsene Wenger didn’t just give him the No. 14 shirt without a reason. He won’t fill up Thierry Henry’s boots, but he will be right up there. I’m hoping injuries are out of his way and with a few more first team opportunities, he will build more confidence and develop a better footballing brain to reach his peak.

The big name that fans don’t consider ‘youth’ is Cesc Fabregas. We often tend to forget that he’s still young (only 23) because he’s such an integral part of our first team. The truth is he will also only improve. The problem is that there is so much transfer speculation surrounding his link to Barcelona, that it’s not helping him. What’s even worse is that he’s been rumoured to go back to Barcelona since he started featuring in the Arsenal first team, and yet he’s still at the Emirates. Now what we need is for that speculation to disappear forever. Barcelona just signed Ibrahim Afellay, and Fabregas should be smart enough to realize that he’ll probably have to spend a majority of the time in the Barcelona bench as well. Once Fabregas is only seen as the indispensable Arsenal captain and not as a Barcelona transfer target, we’ll see a new Fabregas.

I’m not even going to talk about Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Carlos Vela this time. Also not even mention the likes of Samuel Galindo, Wellington Silva, Henri Lansbury and JET who are outstanding prospects in the making.

Now you ask yourself, should we really be thinking about Eden Hazard? It’s not the end of the world. The beauty about football is that talented players just keep on coming in the ranks. We also have the manager who has the best eye for youth.  So let’s be realistic and leave the ‘Hazard’ous one for others to handle.

Reasons to still be optimistic

So yeah, we lost yesterday. I knew right after the defeat to spurs that we would lose yesterday and that it might be one of ‘those’ weeks. And it was. Sometimes after losses like this, we are more devastated about the loss than the consequences of it. So what actually did we lose this week?

1) 3 points lost in the title race

2) lost our dignity at the hands of  sp*rs

3) 3 points lost in the C. league

4) Loss of Cesc Fabregas

Reasons to still be optimistic:

Losing 3 points in the Premier League title is always a bad thing especially if you are challenging for the title. But have a look at the table right now. We are 2 points behind the leaders the same as before, the only difference being that there are two leaders now instead of one. So even though we lost, I’m glad we lost on the same week when Chelsea dropped points. The difference in points in the table is a good enough reason to still be optimistic as mathematically we are well within reach of the title. Chelsea have bad fixtures coming ahead and with their weakened defence there is still much to hope for. Arsenal have a much better squad than Manutd this season and all of us know it, just wait till Ferdinand gets injured…

Maybe the humiliation by spurs has little or no bright side to it but hey, let them make a DVD or whatever, Arsenal FC has much pressing matters at hand than to soak it’s shirt with tears. Move on. Next up- the loss to Braga. Arsenal were playing away at a stadium they have never played  before. Plus a number of players were rested/benched. I am not  much surprised by the result and as Wenger stated, Carlos Vela should have had a penalty  and  it was the turning point of the game. And, anyways this was no by no means a must win game. A win against Partizan should be enough for Arsenal to get through to the next round. We may even top the group if  Braga do us a favour and lose. And anyone who is familiar with the Champion’s League knows that finishing top in a group is not always a good thing and it does not necessarily give you the upper hand. In fact, I would prefer Arsenal to draw a top team in the next round like Milan or Bayern(not Barca though, at least not now!) than a weaker team which this team might underestimate.

The loss of Cesc Fabregas is a massive blow for Arsenal, or is it? The skipper had been rather ordinary in the last few games and he never really seemed to have recovered, physically or mentally, from his previous injury. Yes, Wenger made some wrong calls for the Braga game and this was definately one of them. Cesc’s injury might be a blessing in disguise. The lad needs some rest to clear his head and come back strongly. In the mean time I expect Nasri take over together with young Wilshire and do the business.

Other good news thats come our way is that Ramsey had played in a reserve game yesterday and he seemed pretty excited about his return. So are we. You can watch his interview at the club’s official site. Denilson has apologized for the club’s recent losses and is determined to set things right. Well this might not be ‘good news’ but at least one of the players have stepped up and have the decency to apologize. It would have been better if it was the captain himself who apologized but this will have to do for now.

So you see, things aren’t all bad. Living in depression is never a good thing. After the tears have dried out, it’ s time to look forward. Put this week behind you and put on your seat belt ’cause it’s gonna be a long ride. Aston Villa, here we come!

Man to watch vs Braga: Nicklas Bendtner

The squad for tonight looks rather shallow with a number of players missing with various reason giving it a kind of Carling Cup look. But we can assure you it is indeed a Champion’s League fixture tonight and it is one of those matches where we put our squad depth to the test.  Gael Clichy will miss the match through a back injury and Vermaelen and Diaby remain sidelined. Aaron Ramsey and Manuel Almunia have played 45 minutes tonight in a different fixture to regain fitness  and thus are not available for tonight. Arshavin and Robin v. Persie are set to be rested, the former because of playing back to back matches and the latter due to yet unknown reasons. Cesc Fabregas could also not feature in this match. This makes way for players such as Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshire, Carlos Vela, Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Eboue and Nicklas Bendtner who have been mainly on the bench this season.

Nicklas Bendtner is set to start today and with a point to prove. He had been complaining recently about how he deserved to start after he returned to fitness which was kind of absurd at that time as Chamakh was in form and Bendtner was surely behind a fit RVP in pecking order. But, Chamakh has been very plain in recent games and RVP seems to lack fitness which should  prompt the manager to give this issue a second thought. This indeed could be a make or break match for the Dane. If he can perform as good as his confidence seems to imply, then surely he could get a string of starts in the next couple of weeks. With only 5 league appearances this season,all of which were from the bench, Bendtner has been only a shadow of the player he was last season with constant injuries. This is an auspicious fixture for the Dane as he was very much a Champion’s League player last season scoring 5 goals which made him one of the top scorers of the competition.  But will today’s depleted Arsenal team be able to feed Bendtner at a ground where it has never played before? With key players missing in midfield, it might require Bendtner to shift it up a gear and provide a strong individual performance today. The current Arsenal team is bigger and more competitive than ever before and a good performance is no longer ‘good enough’. Nicklas Bendtner, although lacking in certain departments, has one quality that many Arsenal players seem to lack at the moment- confidence. If he can take advantage of this strength tonight, I fully expect Arsenal to beat Braga  and get the upper hand in our group.

The Role of Carlos Vela

Thinking about the Braga game tonight reminded me of the 6-0 Braga thrashing at the Emirates a couple of months back. There were two fantastic finishes from Carlos Vela, one a lovely chip and the second one beating the keeper on the inside post. Apart from those two he just has one Premier League goal so far this season.

I know, his goals have probably not come against the toughest oppositions, but they’re still important goals. The question is whether he will be able to replicate these performances against much tougher opponents, one of the big four perhaps? If you ask Arsene Wenger what exactly is Carlos Vela’s role in the team, I don’t think even he will be able to tell you.

Carlos Vela (c) mirror.co.uk

A player who possesses great pace, dribbles well and is a relatively dependable finisher (also features on the Arsenal first team) makes you wonder how he doesn’t make the first team that often. It just shows how the Arsenal attack is congested, with everyone shouting for first team opportunities. I do feel for Wenger, it’s tough. He’s got too much talent in there.

Vela should be predominantly used as an impact player down the left wing. That’s something what Tomas Rosicky does when he comes on from the bench. I think it’s time Vela gets some more first team (apart from just League Cup starts). Otherwise, should he be sent out on loan? That’s probably not a great option either. Van Persie’s still not in full match fitness and it’s still not sure what Bendtner’s situation will come to this January transfer window. He is definitely a quality player to have as cover in case our regular attackers are plagued with injuries.

What I hope Carlos Vela does is give his heart out at every single opportunity he gets. Whether he plays for the Reserves, League Cup or as a first team substitute, he needs to perform his best. That’s one aspect the Arsenal philosophy thrives on. If you perform well enough, Wenger will create a place for you. That’s how the likes of Fabregas, Song and Wilshere came into such influential ranks.

I really do hope to see Carlos Vela one day as an Arsenal first team regular. Otherwise we might have to say goodbye to another one of talented left footers, while a new Gunner wonder-kid takes his place.

Below are the highlights of Arsenal’s goals against Braga in their first Champions League meeting a couple of months back.

If it isn’t the players or the fans…

This season has been a roller coaster ride so far and more so for Arsenal FC. The trickery that this club is playing on the fans is confusing and the sudden glimmers of hope that we see are extinguished and crushed so fast that we are left in a state of frustration and gloominess. We lose to West Brom and Chelsea in consecutive weeks and then thrash ManCity 3-0 at their home ground?  Then after a hard-earned win against West Ham, we lose to Newcastle? Wait we’re not done yet. We win the next 3 games only to get humiliated by our main rivals at home even though we were 2-0 ahead at half time! It’s ironic how Arsenal were the only team to win last week whereas all the other title contenders dropped points. This week, all the others obtained maximum points(with the exception of Chelsea and thank God for that) while Arsenal were the ones to lose. At the moment no one has any proper reason as to why we lost to sp*rs that day and more so to why we are so inconsistent especially at home.

The reasons for the inconsistencies for all the title contenders are quite obvious. ManUtd are a club in decline with aging players. Add to that the fact that their best player a couple of season ago has left for Real and the controversy involving Rooney; it’s clear that the club is not fully mentally and physically stable right now. Liverpool too have their own problems and are hardly considered top-4 quality these days. Other than a couple of good core players, their peripherals are weak including a manager who never managed a big club. The only reason Chelsea are in a bad run right now is  because of their injuries. With injuries to Fat Frank and Essien and to the core of their defense it is understandable for them to drop a few points now. This run is  temporary though and it is only a matter of time that before they bounce back. ManCity have a good crop of (money-grabbing) players but they need time to gel and their team performance will only continue to improve with time. Tottenham cannot cope with the number of fixtures they have. Playing in the Champion’s league is no walk in the park and the low match-fitness of some of their players sometimes become very apparent. And in any case, they do not have a good enough defense or a strike force to seriously challenge for the title this year. But what’s Arsenal’s excuse. We currently have a more or less fully fit squad. Van Persie and Fabregas in the same squad is a miracle that we experience only during the first few weeks of the PL. Hell, even our goalie is playing well these days!

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Who better to answer these questions than the manager of the club himself? Arsene Wenger explains the reason for the loss to Tottenham:

“We can switch off at the back, We are not there. With five minutes to go you make sure you win your headers when you play at the back and we were caught unfortunately.’’

“We were 2-0 up and it was all in our hands. It’s a strange coincidence of facts that are very difficult to explain even when you are in the job as long as I am. But to completely lose the focus as much as we did and especially the second goal and third goal are very difficult.

“We wanted to keep the urgency and our defensive tightness alive [in the second half] but straight away when we came out [we conceded]. It’s not the first time that has happened and it is one of our weaknesses. Many times we come out and drop a little bit the urgency when we are ahead. We did not come out and be dominating.”

And whose fault is it that we still do not have a defender who can aerially dominate, Mr. Wenger? Even with signings of Koscielny, Squilacci and Vermaelen, we still do not have that big monster of a defender that we have craved for the last 5 years. Not saying that the players above are bad but they all have one single weakness-the same weakness the Arsenal defense had for years – defending a set-piece. And for the sp*rs game, can anyone explain why Djourou was dropped? I mean, if he had done nothing wrong for the last few games why should he be dropped. Koscielny is a better tackler than Djourou but Djourou is slightly better aerially and could have made a difference in that match.

So far all fingers point towards Wenger. It is his job to face it now. He himself admitted that this team has completely matured. He himself admitted that this squad now has a winning mentality. And, he himself admitted that this is the strongest Arsenal squad that he ever had. If it isn’t the players or the fans, then it’s you Mr. Wenger. The stakes are higher than ever now. Prove to us that you are still up for it. Prove to us that YOU still have that winning mentality. Prove it now because our patience can only last so long..