Archive for the 'Champions League Campaign' Category

17
May
09

Women Drivers, Giant Skivers, and War chest Connivers

Adebayor just wanted to Upgrade to a bigger contract WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ADEBAYOR ANYMORE???

Badge kisser.

Back in August, during a meaningless Arsenal v. Real Madrid match, following on the heels of a summer of seemingly schizophrenic interviews by Arsenal’s then 30 goal scoring target man, Adebayor scored a meaningless goal and promptly ran over to the fans and kissed the badge. Of course, they booed him.

At the time, linked above, I wrote that Adebayor was acting like a jilted lover.  I really thought that the big fella just wanted to be loved. He didn’t get why Arsenal fans would boo him after last summer; in his mind he loved us, he was just doing what he needed to do to get an upgrade to his contract, and now that he’d bagged Beyonce he wanted us back. The thing he didn’t understand is that a lot of Arsenal fans would never forgive him for sleeping around.

And now, he gives an interview that in essence expresses how much he’s hurt that the fans that loved him no longer love him.

I bet it hurts.

I know a lot of people who supported Ade even after the summer debacle only to watch him slowly go downhill all season, put in lazy performances, and slowly erode any fanbase that he might have once had. Like the jilted lover, he just kept spiraling down, deeper into his shell, and became more and more listless. This in turn engendered more and more ire from the fans, and has culminated in the insane interview above.

Like I’ve said before, I was there when Ade scored his first ever home goal, back in March 2006 and so I’ve always felt a bit of a special connection to Adebayor. But if his relationship with Arsenal fans was complicated before, given the interview above, the season we just witnessed, and last summer’s transfer saga, he has managed to simplify that relationship and I doubt there are many left in his fan club.

I know he has one less in me.

Damn Women Drivers

There’s a bit of a bombshell over at The Mail where Martin Samuel interviewed Andrei Arshavin and he.. uh… said some stuff. No, I don’t mean his clear adoration of Barcelona. Nor do I mean his opinion that Arsenal need to buy two players, everyone says that. I mean his disgusting and Neanderthal views on women.

I would never give driving lessons to women. We need to build new roads for them. Why? Because you never know what to expect from a woman on the road. If you see a car behaving weirdly, swerving and doing strange things, before you see the driver you know it is a woman. It is always a woman.

I mean come on! Everyone knows that it’s not always a woman, it’s always a woman ON A CELL PHONE.

(I’m kidding, I love women… to do the dishes, to clean up my room… I’M KIDDING, I REALLY DO LOVE WOMEN.)

How much is in the war chest? As much as Arsene wants.

You will see a lot of stories about how much, or how little, money Arsenal have to spend this summer. I suggest you ignore them all, and just let Arsene handle it, because Arsenal have plenty of money, if they want to spend it. The stories about how Arsenal are skint are nothing more than a vain attempt to sell papers.

Ive been over this ground before but since it seems to come up in every thread I thought I might just remind everyone about the official Arsenal financial reports.  Read them for yourself, start with the 2008 report linked above and work your way back. You will see that Arsenal are basically a profit making machine, earning roughly £30m a year (AFTER tax) every year for the last three (since the new stadium). This annual profitability has left them with a £93m cash reserve.

Now, add in that the half-yearly financials that were released this spring, which showed a £24m pre-tax profit. And add in the fact that Arsenal made it to the semi-final of one of the most profitable Champions League campaigns ever, and the semi-final of the FA cup and I suspect that profits will break the £40m mark this year.

It’s astonishing really.

That money is the reason the board insisted that they don’t care if they miss the Champions League. That money is the reason that Usmanov’s bull about owners paying down the debt is a ruse.

Money is there, and after we sell Adebayor for £10m (that’s a joke, kids) there will be more than enough to buy some big, unheard-of, defender and another central midfielder.

So, can we put this tired story about Arsenal being skint to bed? And could someone please restart the Xavi Alonso to Arsenal rumor?  I like that story.

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05
May
09

All my troubles seemed so far away…

In the land of the blind, the one one eyed man is king

All season long it seems like all of us have been looking back while Arsene Wenger, the iconoclast, refused to look into the past and instead steadily gazed into the future. In our obsession with the past, Wenger recons we got this season wrong and once again I find myself realizing that the teacher may have been right all along.

Arsenal started the season off by looking back to the famous win at Anfield in 1989. A win that so permeates Arsenal’s collective psyche that books have been written about the journey toward that one, glorious night. The club were gearing up for this year’s trip to 1989 as far back as last year by giving away copies of Nick Hornby’s book along with a bottle opener that played audio from the famous final moments of that game. Then, this season Arsenal ponied up and created a special away shirt in commemoration of that win, a special supporters pack with video of the game, a tie in product line, and then proceeded to nearly give them all away for free in a half-off effort that would assure people would be wearing the famous yellow and blue for years to come. It makes sense to look back at that game, I still get chills when I watch the final moments of that improbable 2-0 win that secured the title. Thomas, charging through the midfield indeed.

And during the summer as players jumped ship, we fans still refused to look into the future. Wringing our hands about the departure of Flamini and Gilberto and steadfastly holding out that players from the past, like Stephen Appiah, were the only way to right the listing ship. To paraphrase Wenger from yesterday’s press conference, if after the disastrous first 5 Premiership games of the season he’d have said that Alex Song would become a world class holding midfielder and that Arsenal would be on the cusp of another Champions League final berth “You would have called an ambulance.” Our belief was low because we were looking at the past, at players like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and teams like the invincibles, or even just at the season prior, while Arsene Wenger belief was seemingly irrationally high because he was looking forward, at the potential of players like Alex Song and Carlos Vela.

And even now, all the sports writers in the world are looking into Arsenal’s past in order to try to decipher what will happen today. Why not? After all, it’s comforting to look at Arsene Wenger’s record in Europe or his record against Man U and try to see a pattern there that will tell the story of today. Too bad no one told Arsene Wenger, he holds out that he’s never even watched a tape of their Champions League final loss at Barcelona.

In the midst of this orgy of nostalgia a funny thing happened to this Arsenal team; they started believing the stuff that Wenger is selling. They stopped looking at the past and they started believing in themselves, in the supporters, and in Wenger’s future. If you’ll permit me a bit of nostalgia about the season, once the belief took hold they have since gone on an improbable 21 match unbeaten streak, they won on penalties against Roma… at Roma… by hitting every penalty after an injured Eduardo missed the first, they overcame an horrific injury to Eduardo and an injury plagued season, and just 6 days ago they held on for an incredible 1-0 defeat against Man U despite missing half of their first team stars and relying on 19 year olds and written-off goalkeepers  for heroics.

Did Wenger see all that happening? Not specifically, but I think he believed in the team enough that he thought something like that might happen. Even that is pretty incredible if you think about it and makes me look at the way I criticized the team and the way I look at the future of this team in a whole new light.

You’ve heard me say how no matter what happens today I’m proud to be an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal have nothing to lose today: Man U are the defending champions, they have the 1-0 lead, they outplayed Arsenal on Wednesday last week, they spend irrationally big (supposedly offering £63m for Frank Ribery) and their prawn sandwich brigade have irrationally high expectations of their club. Win or lose, I just want to see a full blooded performance from Arsenal and I have no doubt that they will play their hearts out.

After all, they are not looking back, they’re all looking forward.

I’m home sick today, and my daughter is sick too so I’ll be watching Arsenal from the comfort of my couch and in High Definition on ESPN2. I could probably live blog but I doubt I’ll do it, just because I don’t want to spend my time chatting here and would rather just enjoy the game.

I encourage all of you to do the same: get a beer, get on the strip, and enjoy the day. What do you have to lose?

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.

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?

15
Apr
09

Arsenal v. Villareal (1-1 agg)

Before we get started, please take a moment, close your eyes, head down.

Ok, that was for the 96 people who died at Hillsborough in 1989, certainly the most important moment in recent football history. A day that changed the way we all watch the game.

There’s no good way to segue from that so, let’s just get stuck in here with the football news.

First, did you happen to catch the insanity yesterday? 4-4 draw in the Chelsea v. Liverpool match? 7-5 on aggregate? No one could have predicted 12 goals over two legs, no one. I was able to watch some of it at work, where it just so happens that I can get ESPN 360, and honestly that match terrified me because it’s the exact type of game that Wenger is saying Arsenal will play today.

What’s scary about that is that as I was watching, first Liverpool scores 2 in a row and I start thinking “ok, so that makes them 3-3 on aggregate, but Chelsea has the away goals advantage” and then it hit me: a win puts Arsenal through, irregardless of the score line. 11-10? No problem, as long as Arsenal get the 11. But any draw above 1-1 puts them through and, of course, a loss by Arsenal puts them through as well. So, if Villareal score a goal, and especially an early goal, say a Pires goal in the 10th minute, then this match could turn into a goal fest.

I’m not saying this to freak you out, rather, well, rather because I’m already freaked out! and I need to get this off my chest. Thanks for listening.

So, we just have to win. Right? That’s all there is to it. My prediction is a 1-1 draw in regulation and that Arsenal win in the extra period 3-1. Also that Eduardo will nab a goal in there, somewhere.

As for lineups, I was fully prepared to predict that Song would start in defense, Diaby next to Cesc, and Silvestre would play at left wing-back but the boss squished that idea, specifically.

You don’t need a manager to pick the defence, Gibbs has no experience and Alex Song has not played a lot at centre back. But at least we can have someone close to Gibbs who has experience [in Silvestre].

So, Arsenal are playing a 19 year old at left back and a United reject at center back. OK, offensive lineup it is.

In that respect though we are in good shape; Eduardo is fit, Vela and Bendtner are on the bench, Adebayor is starting no matter what formation we use, Cesc is back, Theo has no knocks, Nasri has recovered from the flu, and Diaby is ready to go. The only question mark is Robin van Persie, who the boss (in the same link above) says is still suffering from a groin pull and will require a fitness test today to see if he can play.

The crucial thing about that is that I can’t predict the lineup without knowing if van Persie is fit.  I can give two options, though:

van Persie  Adebayor

Nasri   Song   Cesc   Theo

DEFENSE

or…

Adebayor

Diaby   Nasri   Theo

Song   Cesc

DEFENSE

Either way I can’t see Cesc playing in the hole since he isn’t match fit, we’ll need all the cover we can get for the defense, and when he played more forward this weekend it was nearly a disaster. I also think Wenger will favor Diaby on the left since it gives extra cover to Gibbs.

I’m sure you all disagree, please post alternate lineups to your heart’s content. One thing to consider in doing so is that Denilson has played every minute of the Champions League campaign. I considered it and still chose the lineups I chose.

Also, if Song, Nasri, Robin or Diaby pick up a yellow, they will miss the next game.

So, that’s pretty much it. There’s no word on van Persie and nothing on Senna either so what you have above is what we got. Kickoff’s at 11:45am and I managed to move my meeting so, I can be at Doyle’s. See you there, if you’re in town. If not?

UP THE ARSE!

12
Apr
09

Wigan 1-4 Arsenal; Resurrection

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way. — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Yesterday’s match was not a Tale of Two Halves; if you were going to make that analogy it was more like a Tale of Three Thirds with Wigan dominating the first 60 minutes, Arsenal getting a glimmer of hope through some brilliant play at the 60th minute, cutting Wigan apart for 20 minutes and then pouring salt on the wound at the death.

So, I didn’t see it as a Tale of Two Halves, rather, to borrow one of the other major themes from Dickens’ novel, it was Arsenal resurrected. There is no question, Arsenal were dead for 60 minutes. The only question left to be answered was how far down Wigan was going to bury them.

In that first 60 minutes, Wigan dominated play by denying Arsenal space to work their intricate passes. It is a strategy that has worked so well for clubs earlier in the season and Wigan was so good at it that even Arsenal’s saviour, Arshavin, was essentially marked out of the game for 60 minutes. Credit to Steve Bruce and his Wigan team, they put in the kind of hard work and industry that usually guarantees a point against Arsenal; and they did it relatively cleanly.

In fact, in the first half it was Arsenal who were more guilty of dirty play. With Gael Clichy out, a very young, very inexperienced Kieran Gibbs was thrust in to battle and had the exact type of game one would expect; inconsistent. At the end of the day, though, it wasn’t the sloppy headers and brilliant clearances (he nearly cost us on several occassions; he certainly saved us on several occassions) that people will be talking about, it will be the yellow card.

I don’t know what Alan Wiley saw that caused him to produce just a yellow but it was a straight red in my book. Gibbs was the last man, had Valencia on his back and rightly headed the ball back to the keeper. The problem was that he didn’t put enough power into the header. Valencia recognized the error and essentially swam over Gibbs, got in front, and then when he felt Gibbs’ inevitable contact, went straight to ground.  I’m not saying Gibbs didn’t foul Valencia, rather, just searching for a reason why he didn’t get a red card. Maybe it was the contact by Valencia or the ease with which he went to ground but something caused Wiley to just produce a yellow.

Had he sent Gibbs off, the game, and Arsenal’s season, would have been very different. Imagine the next few games with Silvestre at left back and Song in the center, that’s what would have happened had Gibbs gotten the straight red that most people felt he deserved.

As it was, the ensuing free kick hit the woodwork and rather than burying Arsenal completely, and if you count the let off of getting just a yellow it very well could have been the moment of the season. Rather than going into the half down 2 (or 3) goals and down a man, Arsenal were just down one goal.

After 10 minutes of the second half, Arsenal still looked like a dead team. Wenger had abandoned the 4-2-3-1 in favor of a more defensive formation with Cesc providing the cover for the Arsenal cover. Moving Cesc back actually opened things up a bit for Arshavin and Walcott but I honestly didn’t think they were going to slice open Wigan at any point in those 10 minutes. Any chances that Arsenal made inevitably went to Bendtner who’s profligacy of late ensured that headers were more likely to go out of touch than to find the back of the net.

Of course, it’s always at our lowest moments, when the patient seems most beyond repair that this Arsenal team seems to be “recalled to life.” And so it was that Fabianski’s free kick was flicked on by Bendtner, fell to Theo, who expertly dribbled past his man and passed to Arshavin. Arshavin was hauled down, but rather than roll around looking for a penalty, he kept playing, and flicked a lovely little pass to Theo who plumb put the ball in the side netting.

Arshavin. How wrong I have been about him. As he was engineering his escape from dreadful racists Zenit I admit that I made the mistake of underestimating this guy’s character. I kinda felt like he was just another example of spoiled footballers, when in reality he just wanted to get a chance to play at the top level.  And while I don’t want to rush out and buy him a Valentine’s card just yet, I really do love his work rate, his desire to win, and all the positive things he says about the club. And though I complained about the tranfer fee, I’m admitting now that £15m is looking like another Arsene Wenger bargain because this guy has the ability to lift a team from the ashes, like he did yesterday. No matter how much I want to give Man of the Match to Song, I have to give it to Arshavin. That first goal was just so crucial to pulling Arsenal out of the muck.

After that first goal, the conclusion was always inevitable: Arsenal weren’t the same, dead, team that Wigan was eating for lunch. They were alive with sparkle and flair.

Just as the equalizer lifted the team, Arsene went for the jugular and threw Adebayor and van Persie on.Those two immediately opened Wigan up and provided a huge lift.  Though it was Silvestre who was the beneficiary of a set play between Arshavin and Cesc, it was the threat of Ade and van Persie who made Wigan tremble. And though most people will point to horrible defending, in the end, Ade provided link play that led to the final two goals.

4-1 to the Arsenal and most pundits are claiming that the score-line flattered Arsenal, but I’m not so sure. I think that this Arsenal team will always fight back and though they might not link up perfectly, and passes might go astray, they will never take their foot off the pedal like they did against Man City back in November.

I just read a wonderfully frank interview with Arsene Wenger in which he talks about the character of this team and speaks about the mistakes he made this year and last. It’s hard to pull just one or two quotes about but I do want to leave you with just a few thoughts. First, Wenger points at Rome as the turning point of this season, saying

When I look at that match, we are away from home and missed the first penalty. We had kids taking the penalties, yet still managed to win. There is a key moment in all stories and Rome was ours.

We were not losing before, but we weren’t convincing. Since Rome, we are scoring again and we are better linking up as a team.

In a way, that quote exemplifies Saturday’s match as well: they were down a goal, Djourou was taken off injured, they had a mere child playing at left back, and yet, they still managed to win. 4-1 flattering? not for this Arsenal team.

And finally, in case anyone questions what Arsene is doing (I’m guilty of this) , whether he has “lost the plot” and for all those people who publicly called for Arsene Wenger to be fired I just want you to know that Wenger’s response is

I am not running after personal glory. Everything I do is for the club, the players and the supporters.

It’s not that he’s inflexible, it’s that he just deeply believes in these players. It’s not that he’s unaware of what’s going on, it’s that he wants players like Song and Djourou to grow and make a name for themselves. It’s not that this Arsenal team sucked in those first 60 minutes, it’s just that they hadn’t quite clicked yet.

But when they did click, it was a sight to behold.

4-1 to the Arsenal, and next up is Villareal on Wendnesday who are potentially going to be without midfield dynamo Marcos Senna.  Right now? Even if they do get Senna back, I’m not worried. After all, this is an Arsenal team that has been to the edge and just blindly lept into that void. What’s come out is remarkable, and deserves crediteven if they don’t win anything.

Which they will.

06
Apr
09

Villareal v. Arsenal; a Preview Full of Question Marks

Injuries

Arsenal will release more information this afternoon on injured trio Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, and Samir Nasri but Wenger spoke very hopefully about all three yesterday. Wenger said that van Persie was 50:50 to pass fitness, that Samir Nasri’s tests looked good, and that “Theo Walcott should be all right.”

I look forward to this afternoon’s press release and I will update this section when that’s made public. No news will be forthcoming on Diaby, Eduardo and Rosicky as they are all 100% ruled out for the trip to the Spanish coast.

Update: Nasri and Walcott are in, van Persie out.

On the other side, Marcos Senna is being included in the team but is a question mark to make the game. I’m going to say that he’ll be fit and that Villareal’s manager is just trying to keep Arsenal guessing.

As I said yesterday, Cazorla is out for the season, suffering a broken leg in Villareal’s complete loss to Almeria. How complete a loss? They finished the last 30 minutes with 9 men after Cazorla was injured and Pires was sent off. Fingers crossed that they have heavy legs tomorrow!

Contracts

There’s a lot of column inches being devoted to the two or three supposed  contract/transfer stories swirling around the club. Is Cesc leaving? Adebayor? Robin van Persie? Will there be a wholesale clear out?

I don’t know.

No one knows. What we do know is that if Arsenal lose this match and the one against Chelsea on Saturday then our hopes for any kind of trophy this season will be severely diminished. So it’s best to stay focused on these two matches rather than a bunch of shit stirring.

I also know that this “five years without a trophy” story is seriously getting on my nerves. If van Persie leaves because he wants to win a trophy, good luck to him. I don’t know where he thinks he’ll go where he will be guaranteed to win something: as far as I can tell Man U don’t need another perpetually injured striker. But irregardless, have fun in Italy or Spain or wherever will have you, Robin, oh and you’re welcome for the years that Arsenal stood by you while you spent months upon months in the infirmary. Honestly, if Robin leaves it will particularly chap my ass, but if he leaves then f*ck him.

I also know that, like Wenger, all this speculation and chitter chatter about stuff we have no control over just serves to get people amped up over nothing. Moreover, talking about contracts and Cesc leaving, despite the fact that he has been unequivocal about his future every year (including this one) that he has been at the club, distracts the players from what’s important: Tuesday’s Champions League match against Villareal and Saturday’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea.

So, that’s my final word on this speculation. I’m not devoting any more column inches to bullshit rumors and shit stirring by cunts like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, etc. etc. No one is leaving the club this week so speculating about what might happen this summer is pointless.

Good bye yellow brick Pires

Robert Pires has admitted that this Champions League match up is very emotional for him, and that especially the return leg to the Emirates will be like the testimonial he never had.

I agree, and I will be very sad to see Pires, at 63 years old, limp around the pitch and get dumped out of the competition by a very hungry, young, and fit Arsenal. I will be sad for a moment… then I will be happy!

The first leg kicks off at 11:45am (PST) and unless you’re going to watch the match alone at home on ESPN Deportes I’m inviting all locals to join us for Setanta’s broadcast at Doyle’s Public House. I can’t have a pint because I will be caring for my lovely daughter after the match but I will have one of their state of the art sarnies. They are delicious.

See you there and remember: UP THE ARSE!




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