Archive for April, 2009

30
Apr
09

Man U 1-0 Arsenal; Wenger Still Has Faith

Match Reports

The Telegraph.co.uk: John O’Shea gives Manchester United the advantage

ESPNSoccernet: blah blah blah O’Shea.

Man of the Match

I will be the first to admit that I’m a horrible judge of goal keepers, but even a Dumb American like me could tell that England’s Future #1 had a monster game last night. I mean, even the guys at the Telegraph saw him step up into the rarefied air of a “top four” keeper last night.

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m giving Man of the Match to England’s Future #1, Manuel Almunia.

The Good

Don’t listen to them, they don’t know what they are talking about: Arsenal were not just lucky to escape that match 1-0 down, they played their asses off and several key players stepped up huge to keep that scoreline down to 1-0. Moreover, 1-0 is a good result for United but it’s not a devastating result for Arsenal. 2-0? 3-0? The game could have easily gone that way and those results would have been devastating.

United played one of the best games I’ve ever seen them play and they only managed a 1-0 score line. This is a completely surmountable obstacle: 1-0 and penalties or a 2-0 win and we go through. Now that I’ve seen what a fully actualized Man U looks like, I can say that we were always going to have to win a game. So, I like our odds of winning at home in the return leg. Wenger too has confidence

It will be a good opportunity to show our character and our mental strength. I am confident you will see it so I invite you to a press conference next Tuesday after the game, and then you would have seen it.

There is a Final at stake. Don’t worry, when you play at home knowing you could reach a Final, we will be up for it. I am confident because I believe we will be on top next Tuesday and you will see a different Arsenal team.

The one thing I can say for sure about Arsene Wenger is that he is full of faith. Hell, this man has more faith than a priest.

I also want to give a shout out to both Gibbs and Song who both had monster games last night. Gibbs in particular was simply spectacular against what seemed like 18 attacking United players. But in particular, aside from that one shot that rattled the cross-bar, Ronaldo basically was handed a nightmare by the 19 year old.

Unlike Gibbs, who has basically been thrust into the fire and has performed magnificently, Song has grown slowly in his position and is now a nearly complete holding midfielder. Last night he had a great game defending and shielding the midfield, though he looked kind of jaded at the end of the match and I have to wonder if the long haul of the season plus the massive workrate he put in against a hard working Man U hasn’t taken it’s toll. I know that sounds strange because he’s had a good break but I’m struggling to explain why he was so good in the first 70 minutes and so listless in the last 20.

The Bad

OK, so we’re down 1-0 and that’s bad. Draws won’t put us through, even one goal wins don’t put us through. We need a 2 goal win to go into the finals and if United play as hard as they did last night, Arsenal will need to be the Arsenal that beat AC Milan 2-0 to get that win. Which is a tall order because while I think Arsenal played their hearts out yesterday (with some exceptions) they are going to need to both play their hearts out and have the game of their lives.

Ouch.

Now, about those guys who didn’t play hard…. Diaby, I’m looking at you. If you don’t want to play in a Champions League semi-final why don’t you F*CK OFF? More than once Song had to come in and clean up and shield Gibbs after Diaby was seen strolling back up the pitch behind Ronaldo. Ronaldo for f*ck’s sake. Diaby and Walcott both just looked lost in their defensive responsibilities and more than once were dispossessed by Man U while they tried to dribble out of the back 3rd. That shiat needs to be squashed right now: if those two want to play on Tuesday they need to defend from the front for 90 minutes.

And as for Silvestre, well, he had a good game last night and made a few really key defensive plays. So, it’s unfortunate that it was his poorly cleared ball that fell to O’Shea who stuck it home. Frankly, I give the blame for that goal to Toure who both ran toward the ball, rather than marking the back post, and failed to organize his defense properly, because even if he’d have stayed back, it still would have been 3 on 1. Blown defensive plays like that are not going to cut the mustard on Tuesday.

The Ugly

Ok, Wenger, we get it, you have faith. You believe in using Cesc in the support roll in the 4-2-3-1 despite the fact that this plays to all of Cesc’s weaknesses. You believe in using Nasri as a holding midfielder, despite the fact that this plays to all of Nasri’s weaknesses. You believe in playing Bendtner, despite the fact that this plays to all of his weaknesses. We get it, you have faith.

I’m afraid if you don’t switch up some of these roles and play to these player’s strengths rather than playing them out of position, faith is all we’re going to have left at the end of the season. 4th place and a whole lotta faith. We’ll all fill our cups with your faith and sup deep from the well.

Basically, like Spurs fans do every year.

Me?  I’d rather have a bit more rational approach to the game on Tuesday and see Cesc paired with Song in the middle — where Cesc’s vision and defensive awareness can control the game more, Nasri on the left and Theo on the right — where their speed and ball control can cause havoc in United’s wings, Adebayor and van Persie (or Eduardo if van Persie is still out, or Vela if Eduardo is out, or the Tea Lady if Vela is out) up front — where, erm, they can score goals and stuff, and the rest of the team picks itself.

That said, I don’t feel confident that Wenger can switch things up because he’s got more faith than the Pope.

Conclusion

We’ve got Pompey on Saturday and I’m looking at that match as a bit of a break, honestly. 4th place is all but secure (a win secures it outright) and third place is looking a little less likely each week, though a win on Saturday and a loss for Chelsea at Fulham would put us 3 points off of 3rd ahead of the Arsenal v. Chelsea clash in 2 weeks. Still, while 3rd place matters, it just doesn’t seem to matter as much. I’d rather win the Champions League or at least get a hell of a game in the return leg than take 3rd place.

Irregardless (you KNEW I was going to say that!) of all that, I think Arsenal fans and players need a bit of an emotional break and Pompey can provide that. The game is being televised live on Fox Soccer Channel at 7am and I’ll be providing the liveblogging for the first time in what seems like a year. I think I might just get some dry smoked bacon from Costco and have a nice little breakfast and watch the game.

Right, that’s it for today, I’m going to leave you dreaming of bacon. See you tomorrow for a match preview.

29
Apr
09

Man U v. Arsenal; Champions League semi-final first leg

This is the moment we have all been waiting for. I’ve got the yellow Eduardo strip on. Aveline has her yellow strip on. The fans have all traveled to Manchester, the field has been plumped, the team talk has been laid and the prawn sandwiches are being prepped.

The pundits have had their fill of the history between these two teams; the famous fights, the iconic images, and the records. But all that history could be blown away in just 90 minutes. It’s not likely, because these matches are often tense, controlled affairs with the home side desperate not to concede the all important away goal.  But this has been a crazy a season, and if today’s match didn’t reflect that insanity I would be shocked. Is a 4-4 draw in the cards? I think it’s totally possible, Man U have been conceding goals lately(Liverpool hung 4 on them, Porto got 2, Villa got 2, and even Spurs got 2), meanwhile Arsenal are on a tear (14 goals in the last 5 matches) and once the away team score, it becomes more important to get a few goals. So, I’m expecting an early goal from Arsenal to open this game up and then I think we’ll see a classic.

I tried to wait as long as possible in order to give you a lineup but none are forthcoming as of this posting. You can check ESPN, BBC, and the Telegraph for the latest lineup news on your own if you like, I won’t have time before the match to do any updating (I have to get some work done before the match.)

My predicted lineup for Arsenal is

Aluminum

Sagna     Toure     Djourou     Silvestre

Song     Nasri

Walgod     Cesc     Diaby

Adebayor

My predicted outcome is 2-2 with goals by Ronaldo, Silvestre, Adebayor, and Giggs. A 2-2- draw would be a good outcome for the Gunners (though it didn’t help Porto!) in fact, any draw would be good for Arsenal, the thing we want to avoid is a humiliating defeat or a mental collapse, like Spurs on the weekend. But like I said yesterday, it doesn’t matter to me what happens, of course I want Arsenal to win, but whatever happens I’m proud to be a Gooner today. This team has slogged their way through the muck of this season and have taken the pen from everyone who wrote them off and jabbed it squarely in their eye. Nothing they could do today would surprise me and I’m expecting them to put in their best performance of the season… so far.

Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to be here in town, come on down to Doyle’s and raise a pint with me.

COME ON YOU YELLOWS!

28
Apr
09

Everyone Agrees – Defense Wins Championships

This week Vidic has said it, Cesc said it, Adebayor is saying it 24/7 on ESPN’s annoying automatic video load crapola, I’ve said it countless times, and it’s probably the  most over used and least understood phrase in all of sports: “defense wins championships.” But it’s true.

There have been quite a few comments in the blog and elsewhere about the state of Arsenal’s defense of late and much has been made of Silvestre and Gibbs at the back and the prospect of Arsenal facing United with such a “depleted” squad, but I just want to point out a few things.

Gibbs is not better than Clichy, I’m not even going to try to make that argument. Gibbs is slightly faster than Clichy and Gibb’s attacking ability is far superior (he already has 2 assists this season) but where he lacks is in experience defending. So, yes, I am a bit nervous about Gibbs facing Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney, and Bobblekopf.

Silvestre is… well… batshit crazy. His defensive style is best described as desperate: he doesn’t just get a foot stuck in and clear the ball, it’s always, and I mean ALWAYS, some kind of acrobatic, falling down, desperation clearance. I like a player who plays “110%” like that and normally I would forgive him and let him play his own style. Except there’s the batshit crazy part. The part where, for some ungodly reason, he feels it’s ok to backpass the ball and give up a free kick to United. For a defender with his vast experience, at the level he’s played at, to make such mental errors is unthinkable. I would think his body would break down, not his mind, but it just seems like he’s not in the game, or maybe he doesn’t remember how to play football having had his mind erased by Sir Alex Ferguson’s technicians in the Old Trafford dollhouse.

But I want you all to take heart: Arsenal beat United 2-1 back in November. Granted, Arsenal we’re up for that game and United were in a bit of a slump at that point — having let Hull City get up their noses a bit when United eked out a 4-3 win which they followed by a 1-1 draw to Celtic. In fact, United might look at that period and see that as on of their low points of the season. So, you could blame that.

But, while United might look at that as a low period, for Arsenal there is no doubt that the month of November was nearly catastrophic — this was a team coming off a devastating 4-4 draw to Spuds, not to mention the 2-1 loss to Stoke, followed by the 0-0 draw at home to Fener. The dressing room was a disaster, any belief that team had in their own ability was being trampled by infighting between Gallas and half the team.

But worse than the state of Arsenal’s dressing room was the state of the injury room. Arsenal went into that match missing Adebayor through injury, van Persie through insanity, and Toure through “injury.” The state of the squad was so bad that Arsenal fielded Bendtner up front with Diaby, Cesc with Denilson in the middle, and paired William Gallas with Silvestre at the back. If I told you that Wenger was going to field that lineup tomorrow, you’d shit yourself. And the funny thing is that that team damn near did shit themselves: Denilson could have been called for a penalty, Silvestre had the back pass, and Clichy had a hand ball, any of which could have spelled disaster.

So, under those circumstances, for them to come out and get a 2-1 win, even if at home and even if United were a bit down, is pretty amazing. Arsenal fans the world over should look at that day and remember that on our day, no matter who we field and no matter how we line up it just takes a moment or two of brilliance to get a win. Brilliance which Samir Nasri provided on that day and which I expect will be provided by at least one player tomorrow.

As for the defense, this is not just a league game at home in November. This is a game against the defending champions and our last chance for any silverware this season. Man U are going to be up for this game and there are going to be multiple serious challenges of our defense tomorrow. So, as much as I’d like to bring them along slowly, there’s no chance of that and it’s time for Djourou and Gibbs to show the world what they got. What sent Eboue from mediocre defender to “great” defender were his performances against Ronaldo and there is no doubt that SAF will be sending the entire Man U attack in to batter and deep fry Arsenal’s two young defenders. This is their chance to shine.

I think they have the talent to do it and I think Wenger will get the tactics right to help support them the best he can. But if they cannot do it, we all need to have realistic expectations and not get too down on them: Gibbs is only 19, Djourou is only 22, and both have a lot to learn before we can jump on them or abandon them and start calling for their heads. If we lose badly, then so be it, they have done an amazing job and defied all expectations to get us this far. If we win, or get a famous pulsating draw like everyone expects, well… then…

Well, there’s only an upside then, isn’t there?

27
Apr
09

Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough; the Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Match Reports

The Independent: Fabregas double piles misery on Boro

The Beeb: A Cesc Fabregas double saw Arsenal beat Middlesbrough and push the visitors closer to Premier League relegation.

Man of the Match

Scoring his first goal since October, scoring a double, and captaining his team to perfection, Cesc Fabregas wins Man of the Match easily today.

The Good

Just when I was ready to claim that Wenger’s system of playing Cesc right behind the striker(s) was a failure, Cesc goes ahead and scores a double and puts paid to my theory.

My main complaints are that Cesc is not a finisher and playing him up front robs him of several of his main talents; his ability to see the field and his defensive prowess. Arshavin, on the other hand, is a finisher and he’s also a hell of a set up man; racking up another assist yesterday and now having a hand in 12 Arsenal goals in his 13 games. But it’s typical Wenger. Instead of playing Arshavin in the hole, he puts him out left. And instead of playing Cesc in the back with Denilson, he puts him in the hole.

Oh yeah, and while you’re at it throw Nasri on as Denilson’s partner in a 4-2-3-1 and The Crazy Season rumbles on crazy as ever.  As I was watching the game, I kept thinking “that can’t possibly be Nasri” and then I’d see the number 8 on his back and shake my head a little as if maybe it was just the haze of too much wine the night before that was making me see eights in the middle of the park. But it wasn’t pink elephants, Nasri was there in the middle, and Wenger is saying he could use him there again on Wednesday and shift Abou Diaby out to the left.

Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson was spotted at the game, presumably scouting the team ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash and I hope Fergie got an eyeful because what he saw yesterday will almost certainly have no resemblance to the lineup that Wenger will use on Wednesday. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this crazy season it’s that you cannot predict how Wenger is going to line up or what tricks he’ll have up his sleeves. Wenger himself let that cat out of the bag when he said

Usually Fabregas plays deeper with Nasri higher. I wanted to test how it would work the other way round. It could be reiterated that we will do it again because it was quite convincing. But that is open; we have 48 hours to study that then make a decision.

Regardless of the lineup it was an important win for Arsenal, they overcame two years of dominance by ‘Boro and head into the Champions League clash with Man U with a win under their belt and with their captain scoring for the first time since October. I’d say things look pretty good, no matter what lineup Wenger employed.

The Bad

For Gareth Southgate’s entire tenure at Middlesbrough Arsenal had never won a match.  ‘Boro encounters were feisty affairs in which fans looked at the squad and expected three points but came away thinking that Arsenal aren’t title contenders if they let a team like that get over on them. Yesterday we saw that this ‘Boro isn’t the same team that has harassed Arsenal into either a loss or draw in every game since 2006. No, they looked sad, tired, and ready for relegation. Any magic that Southgate had wielded over them in the past has evaporated and they just look like an ordinary team playing at an ordinary level. On the back of that performance I’d say they are relegation bound.

The Ugly

Injuries are still plaguing the team with Silvestre picking up “back spasms” ahead of the Old Trafford game and Wenger listing him as “50:50.” The only good news there is that Djourou played the entire second half and seems to have overcome his knee injury. Also, Almunia played the entire 90 minutes and didn’t pick up an injury. I can’t say that I feel better having Djourou at the back than Silvestre, both are mistake prone (just in different ways), and both are not on top form at the moment. But you don’t go to war with the army you wish you had, you go to war with the army that Donald Rumsfeld specified, or something like that, and no one ever accused me of not supporting the troops.

Oh wait, yes you have.

The point here is that Arsenal might have picked up another injury to our injury prone defense and if both Djourou and Silvestre don’t come through for Wednesday, it will mean Arsenal facing a 5 goal resurgent Man U with Alex Song holding down the stopper position in Arsenal’s defense. That’s an ugly thought indeed.

Conclusion

2-0 to the Arsenal, the captain scores a brace, Arshavin gets an assist, and Wenger plays the lineup shuffle. All in all, it was a good way to go into Wednesday’s game.

UP THE ARSE!

26
Apr
09

Arsenal v. Middlesbrough: match preview

This will either be a wonderfully successful moment or a tremendous failure, and I don’t just mean the game. It’s damn near midnight (will be past when I’m done) and I just returned from a wonderful party at my friend Alex’s house and I’ve had quite a bit of ‘tipple.’ So maybe the blog will reflect life in a sense? Maybe we’ll all wake up and watch a drunken Arsenal play a stone cold sober Middlesbrough tomorrow morning. That’s a scary thought considering what’s at stake in the morning.

What?

Oh you’re like my friend and thinking “why should I care about this game? Why should I get up at 8am (10:30pm in Antipodea) and watch Arsenal play ‘Boro in a game in which, frankly, we’d all like to see ‘Boro pick up some points.

Well, let me tell you why.

First, and most importantly, 3rd place is still in play and 3rd place is still important. I’ m not going to bore you with details about how 4th place in the EPL now means open qualification in Europe and thus potentially a first round qualification against the likes of Roma rather than Twente Enschde. No, I’d rather point out that 3rd place is 9 points away owing to Chelsea’s lucky escape from West Ham earlier today, and so Arsenal need maximum points from here on out to shove 4th place down Nicolas Anelkas throat.

Second, ‘Boro has had a bit of success against Arsenal in recent times and who wouldn’t like to relive the 7-0 lashing we put on them back in January of 2006: when Henry scored a hat-trick and surpassed 150 goals.  I would love to see Arshavin get 3 goals and inspire Arsenal to a famous win. Recent history suggests that a draw is more likely, but with Arshavin anything is possible.

Anyway, I don’t have any more sqaud news than you do, at the moment, so I suggest you check the feeds first thing in the AM. And I suggest you get up first thing and root for the Arsenal, they are your team after all!

25
Apr
09

Theo Walcott’s got guts

walguts

Just sitting here watching the West Ham v. Chelsea game (rooting for the Hammers) and scrolling through the news feeds looking for a story when I came across the photoshoot for the photo above.  I guess it’s part of a “Bowel Cancer Awareness” promotional which sounds like a great cause, but that really is a creepy photo. Click the link above is one shot isn’t enough.

There’s no real Arsenal news today, the boss thinks video evidence will clear Cesc. I’m putting my money on video evidence revealing a second spitter. He also said that he thinks the only reason Cesc is getting charged is because he wore a pleather hoody instead of a suit and tie. Let that be a lesson to all you kids; next time you “invade” the pitch after a match in order to spit on the opposing assistant manager, make sure you wear a tie.

I really hope he’s not being serious. I also hope that the FA doesn’t charge people because of the clothes they wear. Of course, this is the FA we’re talking about so I wouldn’t be surprised if his attire was a major factor in their decision.

I’m going to try to do a delayed publish blog tonight that will automatically publish at 5am PST so that you all have a thread to chat in. I’ve never done it before but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.  We’ll see tomorrow, I guess!

24
Apr
09

All charged up and ready to go!

When it rains, it pours, and as soon as we get a bit of sunshine, we get doused again: that’s the life of an Arsenal supporter.

You’ve no doubt seen the reports that Our Fair Captain, Cesc Fabregas, has been formally charged on two counts of improper conduct by the Football Association. These charges are for spitting and for coming on to the pitch after the match. The FA have also charged Phil Brown with bringing the game into disrepute for the comments he made about Mike Riley after the game. Both people have until May 12th to respond to the charges.

At the Friday press conference, Arsene Wenger spoke about the charges and seemed incredulous that his player would even be charged

I personally looked at the reports, at the video evidence and there is nothing in there against Cesc.

I have personally looked through as much of the FA records as I can find and I cannot find a single incidence where a player was charged for “ his behavior in coming onto the pitch after the final whistle.” This is the Arsenal captain, coming back after a long layoff with injury, congratulating his team after a hard fought victory over a pack of lying, cheating, overly orange scumbags. In my mind, the captain of the team has every right to be on the pitch to celebrate with his team after the final whistle has blown.In the history of exceptional charges brought against Arsenal players, and that is a long history indeed, this first charge is the most preposterous charge I have ever seen. In addition, when you consider the behavior you have seen this year, the racism that players have suffered, homophobia, xenophobia, the drink driving charges, betting scandals and all of the other ills in football for the FA to take a captain of his team to the bar for “coming onto the pitch” is ludicrous. These ass-clowns can’t even get the pitch right at their centerpiece stadium, and they’re going to charge the Arsenal captain for being on the pitch after the game?

And the worst part? He can’t deny that he was on the pitch. I think this charge will stick and Cesc gets a 3 match ban. Just think about that. Could you imagine for a second Ryan Giggs getting a ban for coming on to the pitch after a game?

Exactly.

As for the second charge, that he spat at or near or on or in the general vicinity of and in the direction of which toward could be described as “at” the Assistant to the Loser (depending on the day and how many drinks Phil Brown’s had before the interview) everyone keeps saying that there is no video evidence. Which means that it’s Cesc’s word against their word.

He’ll probably get a month ban for that, after all, he’s an Arsenal player and foreign to boot.

And what will come of the indisputable fact that Phil Brown by word and deed has brought the game into disrepute? You could color me surprised if he got off on that charge, because the evidence is overwhelming. That said, if there’s any wiggle room here, the FA will find it and give him a lighter punishment.

Incidentally, the May 12th deadline for submitting the facts is after the Chelsea league game and before the Man U league game — Arsenal’s penultimate game. Now, if I was a paranoid man, I might say “hmmm… that’s pretty fcuking convenient, for Man U, that Arsenal’s Captain will be, in all likelihood, suspended for what could be the title-deciding match of the season. Pretty fcuking convenient.” Thankfully I’m not a paranoid man!

This whole sordid tale has been one disgraceful minute after another and I will be glad to see the back of it. If Fabregas is found guilty we all know what his real crime is: being a foreigner on an Arsenal team. And if he’s found guilty we will no doubt hear the highly ironic charge of “Arsenal’s Indiscipline” from quarters such as Chelsea. In other words, same stuff different day, and who cares?

What I actually care about is the fact that Arsenal might have Djourou, Almunia, and Adebayor back for the ‘Boro game on Sunday which, if true,  is huge boost to our back line and to our attack (if Adebayor actually gives a rat’s ass). And like I said at the outset, as soon as the sun shines on us we get a deluge: the boss has confirmed that Thomas Rosicky will be out for the rest of the season. At this point, Rosicky has been in and out (mostly out) of the team for over a year and a half and Wenger faces a decision: cut our losses or stay in for the long term. Wenger is very loyal so I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosicky got another year to try to recover. What else can I say but get well soon little fella.

More damaging are the reports that Robin van Persie is going to be out now for what looks like two weeks, missing the first leg of the Man U Champions League semi-final. This is a huge blow for a team who’s only other real options at striker are a chronic grifter, a dofus with the touch of a defender, and then a bunch of children. Ugh.

There is a match directly in front of us and from a distance, I really hope ‘Boro find a way to stay up this year. I like the team and what Gareth Southgate has done with the club is nothing short of amazing. Moreover, I am actively rooting for Newcastle and Blackburn to make the drop so, I really want ‘Boro to get some points between now and the end of the season. Just not on Sunday!

The match on Sunday will be tape delayed here in Tacoma and Doyle’s is showing it at 8am. Perfect time to have a cup of coffee, some breakfast, and get in an Arsenal match before the Sunday kickaround. For the rest of you, the game kicks off at 5:30 am (PST) and is exclusively on Setanta (and/or some illegal video stream). So, if you’re in town, come on down and join the fun.

And finally, I just love this quote from Nicolas Anelka

Arsenal are composed of young players, aiming for third or fourth place, but we do not really speak about them for the title. Chelsea are like Real Madrid – the pressure here is huge.

Yes, the pressure at Chelsea is huge, because the owner has paid $1bn to raise his Johnny Come Lately supporter’s expectations only to have them dashed on the rocks of 2+ years without any silverware and a put together a team that, frankly, looks ripe for Arsenal to overtake at 3rd place. But, really, the thing that make me laugh the most is the delicious, delicious, irony of a player on a team that is in 3rd place calling out another team for being a “3rd place team.”

Maybe that can be our ray of sunshine for the day, we’ll need something to protect us from the deluge of know-it-all pundits who are about to hit the papers with column feet of know-it-all punditry about how much spit Cesc could have possibly spit and what this means for the future of English football and how we need an immediate return to the good old days — when teams were mostly English (read “British”) and the only thing you had to worry about was a barroom brawl afters.

Ugh, it’s going to be a long weekend.