Manchester 2 – 1 Arsenal: Rooney’s Dive & Mike Dean’s Love For United.

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, August 29, 2009, 17:15

I wrote that title as the game finished on Saturday and I’ve kept it because it’s an accurate description of the game. At the moment, football is very confusing. As a team, Arsenal have always tried to do things the right way. The proper way. We’ve concentrated our efforts on making our club a pure club. The football way. In return for our efforts, it seems that the officials, the FA and UEFA are all anti-Arsenal. I’ve got a lot to say on this whole subject and some of the points I’ll make today and some I’ll make a little later this week, but for the moment I’ll concentrate on the game.

We started with our new formation, the 4-4-3, but it was a slightly more defensive set of players – with Eduardo and Bendtner on the bench and Eboue starting ahead of them.

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Song

Eboue – Diaby – Arshavin

Van Persie

From an Arsenal point of view, the game was very interesting – we were clearly the better team. We dominated posession and put United to shame. The game was run by controlled by one person only and that was Mike Dean. Despite the constant fouling by Carrick and Fletcher, he allowed these fouls to go unpunished as well as without carding the United players. He was very quick to book Arsenal players and it really seemed that every decision was in United’s favour.

We had a stone-wall penalty when Fletcher took out Arshavin in the box. I have no idea what possesed the referee not to give the penalty. A clear case of inexcusable refereeing – there was no dispute. Arshavin did put us ahead from the resulting play with a sensational goal, shot from outside the area, a pinpoint shot. Arshavin brings us that type of play, he’s got a brilliant world class ability to score from outside of the area – and he seems to score in big games too. The highlight of game.

The commentators and MOTD pundits say, it should have been a penalty, but “it’s okay because he scored anyway” – that is absolute nonsense. The penalty should have been and the goal was.

The second half got worse in terms of refereeing decisions as Wayne Rooney clearly dived – clearly dived – to win a penalty. Video replays show there was no contact whatsoever. A penalty was given and that decision single handily was the most absurd decision of the game. Will UEFA ban Wayne Rooney for two games for diving. Never in a million years.

Double standards.

Inexcusable decisions.

I’ll cut it short there and talk more on his later.

The penalty decision took the winds out of our game, and before we knew it, we were 2-1 down as Diaby scored an own goal. At that point, the own goal and the penalty were Man United’s only two shots on target. Ouch.

After the own goal, we went forward and tried to get the winner, Eduardo and Bendtner coming on for Eboue and Denilson. It was to no avail. United defended well. There was a controversial moment at the end of the game, when a shot from Van Persie went in for the equaliser. Gallas was offside in the build up to the game, the goal ruled out. Wenger kicked a bottle in frustration and was sent to the stands. You’ve got to watch the highlight – it’s absurd – Wenger had nowhere to go and had to stand in front of the United fans on the roof of seated area.

This is possibly the worst match report I’ve ever written – but the game for me was outside of our control. Arsene had this to say about the penalty decision:

“It will be a big difference tomorrow in the newspapers. I don’t know…I have not seen it, I do not want especially to see it. He kicked the ball to the corner flag, Rooney, and after  – was he touched or not, was it a penalty or not – leave these decisions to the referee.”

And that statement shows exactly the differences between the treatment of United and Arsenal.

On the game, the gaffer said:

“I think what is the most difficult to take is that we were the better team and we lost the game. We were in front and had a chance to score the second goal and got punished on two goals. It is beyond belief. So overall I would like to keep the positives of this game because I believe that we can deal well with the disappointment of losing the game today. We have a great future and we can be a real force. But of course, it’s difficult to sort out tonight and we go home without any points.”

For reaction to this game, check out the comments on Match Day live – some very passionate and heart felt comments about the game – Fabrez summing up the game nicely in  more positive manner:

Personally, I find it very hard to get over defeats like this but just judging on performance rather than result, we did well in midfield with no Cesc. We held our own so credit to the lads. It wasn’t always perfect but we played a very positive brand… and we did so at Old Trafford. Not many teams dare do that. Not many teams r that confident or even capable. Ferguson playing a lone striker at HOME shows that he knows how dangerous we can be. RvP and Arsh tried…a very spirited performance from all.

Time to compose my thoughts and think about what’s going on at the moment. I’m not a happy Gunner.

Til later.

Match Day Live: Manchester United vs Arsenal

Manchester United v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League, Old Trafford
Saturday, August 29, 2009, 17:15

Afternoon all – it’s match day and match day live, which means we’re online and ready to attempt to give an online update of what’s going on at Old Trafford. It’s been a little bit of a difficult week with the Eduardo stuff going on, but I hope it’s all forgotten for the moment.

Arsene feels this will be the biggest test so far for us and I’d have to agree. It’s going to a very tough game today, but I am really really looking forward to it… I won’t spend too much time building it up – I’ll leave that to Sky Sports and the comments… but it will be a better contest this year with us flying and United without Ronaldo and Tevez…

“I believe that nobody, not even the specialists, know what kind of effect [the loss of] Ronaldo can have on Manchester United’s result. It takes time to adapt but in our case [when we lost Henry] we had someone, Adebayor, who scored 24 goals in the season that followed. Also we had players who gained a little bit of charisma, like Hleb. Personally I believe even though he was good last year he was not the Ronaldo of the year before. It was for two reasons. Firstly, he was injured at the start and had a little surgery on his ankle and secondly he was certainly already thinking to move. Then again when you look at his numbers you’d think I have the wrong opinion. He didn’t look as convincing as the year before but when you look at the number of games he played and the number of goals he scored, he was still as efficient as before. So we’ll see what happens. But I still believe Man United will miss Ronaldo. Will they find a new balance in the team and will Rooney pop up with 20 goals or Berbatov with 20 goals? That can happen. When a player becomes too strong in a team, sometimes the way of a game goes too much through him and others are a little bit isolated or forgotten. When he disappears suddenly other players turn up because the way of the game goes through different players and they maybe are capable to do that. Nobody knows really. In the end, Henry had a big weight in the team. No-one could refuse to give Thierry Henry the ball so sometimes the play becomes a bit more diversified when these players go.”

Not to forget that United have the likes of Nani and Valencia, but all in all, Arsene’s sentiments are very true.

My predicted line up today is:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Song – Denilson

Bendtner – Diaby – Arshavin

Van Persie

With Mannone, Traore, Eboue, Silvestre, Wilshere, Rosicky and Eduardo on the bench.

United are most likely to field a 4-4-2 with the following XI:

Foster

O’Shea – Vidic – Brown – Evra

Flecter – Scholes – Carrick – Valencia

Rooney – Berbatov

If you’ve picked up a paper today, you’ll a lot of articles about Arsene and Fergie being friends… they may be better acquanted, but they will certainly not be friends today…

News, official line ups and comments will follow shortly…

Come on you Gooners…

The Treatment of Eduardo Is Beyond Belief

In a world where we have seen players like Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo dive over and over again to win free kicks, penalties, con referees intentionally and bring the game into disrepute, we have also seen a judicial system that doesn’t punish them the slightest. We have seen managers like Rafa Benetiz, Alex Ferguson, Guus Hiddink and Jose Mourinho defend these players to the highest. We have never seen the FA, UEFA or FIFA take any action against these players when their diving antics are obvious, publicly viewable to all and damn right outrageous.

Eduardo was fouled by the keeper on Wednesday’s game when he past him. It was a foul, Eduardo did fall – with contact from the keeper, and the referee gave a penalty for it. Post game, we’ve had a bitter set of comments from the Celtic camp and those from UEFA. I’ve defended Eduardo since Wednesday and fellow Arsenal fans have critised me for “condoning diving”. Do I condone diving? Of course not. Diving, feigning injury and direct and purposeful physical attacks on players are three areas of football I hate and I wish didn’t exist.

I do not condone diving, but you tell me on any replay that you will see that Eduardo clearly dived and I will be surprised. How anyone can see a dive in the replay is beyond me. Eduardo says there was contact with the keeper and I will believe what the player says. You ask any of the Croatian team, if you ask Slaven Bilic, ask Arsene Wenger, you will know that Eduardo is one of the most honest players in the game.

Yes, the penalty was controversial – more so because Eduardo was going away from goal, but the treatment of him via the UEFA charge is completely unrealistic in modern day football. To single out one player and accuse him of diving, to bring a charge against him for it, when the referee didn’t think so, video replays do not suggest he does, is beyond belief. The SFA have members on the board at UEFA, which is probably the main reason for all of this.

If you’re a follower of football, then you will have seen Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo dive countless number of times – where the dive is obvious and how on earth have they never been punished?

Arsene is absolutely livid about what has happened, and he has every right to be:

“I find it a complete disgrace and not acceptable. We will not accept the way Uefa treated this case. Having seen the television again nothing is conclusive from that and it singles out a player in Europe to be a cheat and that is not acceptable. I have seen some obvious cases where Uefa didn’t intervene and that is on and off the pitch. Things have happened in Europe on and off the pitch where Fifa did not act at all. I believe that this is the first time in my time in football where a situation that has been judged and assessed by the referee and that the referee’s decision is not accepted by the football bodies.

He continued:

“Normally a situation that has been assessed and judged by the referee cannot be touched again. So that means we have opened a door that means that every single decision that is seen by a referee can be changed. They have opened a very dangerous door there. I am not disappointed, here it is a witch hunt. Eduardo has been touched by the goalkeeper we can prove that. One thing – is it a penalty or not? I am the first to say it doesn’t look obvious to be a penalty but it is another thing to judge with intent he did go down and I wish you good luck to prove that after seeing the pictures again. To single a player out like that who has come back from injury like he has, been hit like he has been, for going down I don’t blame him. When you see his leg first time I don’t blame him getting out of the way of the goalkeeper.”

And Arsene feels that the case is basically totally unfounded and I think he’s pretty much in shock.

“He feels he has done nothing wrong. Of course the timing is not ideal. It is funny football, you can break a player’s leg and it doesn’t cause a debate for anybody but this case has been all over the world and treated like Eduardo has killed somebody. Do you know that this penalty had no outcome on the result, we were 2-0 up anyway and we would have won this game at home. We have been victims of players diving in England who were English but were never treated like that, so the media have to ask themselves to treat every case the same.”

And if you’re in the moods for reading a few quotes, this is what Andy Gray had to say:

“I am staggered by the UEFA decision to charge Arsenal striker Eduardo for ‘deceiving the referee’. It was a very strange ruling and especially considering it was for something that was unclear. For all we know Eduardo might have been touched by the keeper – and in the laws of the game you don’t have to be hammered, there only has to be the intent to tackle for a foul to be awarded – or he may just have been trying to protect his leg he injured last year.”

And just in case you think I’m biased, take a look at some of this footage:

First up, England golden boy, Steven Gerrard:

What about Cristiano Ronaldo?

And don’t forget Didier Drogba:

Surely these players should have had countless charges against them. UEFA, I implore you to explain your actions? Do you have a personal vendetta against the Arsenal? I’m 100% behind Arsene, Eduardo and our team. This propaganda is beyond belief.

Til tomorrow…

Champions League Draw: Group H: Az Alkmaar, Olympiacos, Standard Leige (The Easy Group!)

Guy and girls, the biggest day Friday this season is upon us… it’s the Champions League draw….

In today’s draw, there is only one group worth thinking about and that is of course the lucky group H… interesting stuff, I wonder if there is any background with the group names etc… does group H always get to the final, and group E never get to a final… statisticians out there, let me know!

So in our group we’ve had the luck of the draw somewhat and pulled out AZ Alkmaar from pot 2… here’s our group in full:

Group H

Arsenal

Az Alkmaar

Olympiacos

Standard Leige

I think this is one of the easiest groups we’ve had in a very long time, so let’s win quick, rest quick and blood kids! (That’s what Arsene is thinking anyway!)

The rest of the draw saw the following teams draw together…

Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa
Group B: MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich
Group D: CHELSEA, FC Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL
Group E: LIVERPOOL, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debrecen
Group F: FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dinamo Kiev, FC Rubin Kazan
Group G: Sevilla, RANGERS, Stuttgart, Unirea
Group H: ARSENAL, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard

Good, bad? I’m certainly happy!

Arsenal 3 – 1 Celtic (& Champions League Draw Preview)

Arsenal 3-1 Celtic
UEFA Champions League, Emirates Stadium
Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 19:45

Well, guys and gals… it was a professional display of football yesterday. A solid performance, which saw us produce an efficient display of containment and attack. Congratulations to the boys for the win yesterday and we’ve made it 4 wins out of 4 so far this season…

  • Eduardo 28 (pen),
  • Eboue 53,
  • Arshavin 74

Much of the press this morning is about Eduardo’s penalty and many anti-Arsenal people are all to quick to call Eduardo a cheat and diver etc, but I’m very happy to completely dismiss this whole silly subject. Players many exaggerate a tackle now and again. Gerrard has won so many penalties by ridiculous diving where players aren’t even near him. Eduardo did well, got past the keeper and thought it was going to get clattered. He won a penalty. End of story.

Okay, onto the game.

We started with our new formation once again, but this time deployed a few more defensive minded players. We started all three of our “defensive midfielders” as well as former defender Eboue at right forward. Name of the game, contain and attack.

The line up was:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Song

Eboue – Diaby – Edaurdo

Bendtner

It was a strong line up of course, and featured our normal back 7 players, which is understandable considering our need to win this game over two legs. Players like Van Persie and Arshavin largely rested and Cesc and Rosicky completely rested and not included in the squad. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Van Persie, Arshavin and Cesc all back in the starting line up on the weekend.

The game itself started well and we weren’t too great in attack, largely down to Bendtner not having a clue how to play anything resembling football. I won’t dwell on it too much, but Bendtner was pretty terrible. Eduardo won a penalty just before the half an hour mark and duly converted from the spot and the rest of the half saw a battle in midfield, and a little forage forward by Celtic, but ultimately, we looked in control.

The second half saw a more pressurised game for us and by not allowing Celtic any time on the ball, we managed to really turn the grind. Some good play from Diaby setting up Eboue, who pushed the ball past one player and stuck the ball well to make it 2-0.

Arshavin, Ramsey and Wilshere all were subs yesterday and they all looked decent, with Arshavin picking up the third goal after good work and a swivel shot. Although Celtic got a consolation, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, it was literally the last kick of the game.

In terms of player performances, I was yet again impressive by the back 6 – the four defenders and the two defensive midfielders. Vermaelen and Gallas look like a partnership made in heaven, both confident in each others abilities.

Okay, time to listen to Arsene:

“I believe that in the two games Celtic were well organised and showed some great mental qualities. They never gave up at any moment, and for me, they are a good side. Over the two games, they were a bit unlucky, because in the first game the free-kick deflected. They were always one behind the score and when there is a technical difference between the two sides, it makes it even harder.”

And time to hear what he had to say about the “dive”:

“From outside I must say it looked a penalty but having seen it again on television, it doesn’t look to be a penalty. But I must still say that we were always likely to score the first goal because Eduardo had a great chance before the penalty and we always looked in control of the game tonight. I believe that it was not a penalty but having seen it again, I’m not sure that the ‘keeper didn’t touch him with his right knee. I am a bit cautious because with what happened to Eduardo, you know. He might have jumped out of the way, so you have to speak to him. I don’t think he would have complained if the penalty was not given but did he want to get out of the way of the ‘keeper? I have to ask him. I haven’t spoken to him yet. We looked capable of scoring but that doesn’t mean that the penalty is important if it is not a penalty. That doesn’t mean I do not want a penalty that is not a penalty, but I do not go as far to say Edaurdo dived. He went down, for what reason I do not know. But I do not think he would have complained if the penalty was not given. Is it acceptable? I have never asked in my life any guy to dive to win a penalty, but sometimes players go down because there is no other way to escape the goalkeeper’s tackle, sometimes they dive. We got a penalty against us two years ago in the Quarter-Final of the Champions League that made the difference when Babel dived. Nobody ever apologised to us, it was a blatant dive and nobody spoke about it.”

Eduardo is such a genuinely nice guy, a heart warmer and ultimate professional… I hope this whole dive thing goes away very quickly… which it may do as the whole of the football nation will be tuned the Champions League Draw…. which is live and exclusive everywhere from 5pm!

Let’s take a quick preview of who we may face:

Pot one
Barcelona
Chelsea
Liverpool
Manchester United
AC Milan
Arsenal
Sevilla
Bayern Munich
Pot Two
Lyon
Inter Milan
Real Madrid
CSKA Moscow
Porto
AZ Alkmaar
Juventus
Rangers
Pot Three
Olympiakos
Marseille
Dinamo Kiev
Stuttgart
Fiorentina
Atletico Madrid
Bordeaux
Besiktas
Pot Four
Wolfsburg
Standard Liege
Maccabi Haifa
FC Zurich
Rubin Kazan
Unirea Urziceni
APOEL Nicosia
Debrecen

The way this will work, is that there will be 8 groups of 4 teams each. One team from each pot will be chosen and there are some hard teams in each pot as such… Looking at the different pots, it looks like we could be drawn with anyone…

So, here is what I thikn the hardest and easiest groups will be… let’s see who we actually get later today…

Hardest Group

Arsenal
Real Madrid
Fiorentina
Wolfsburg

Easiest Group

Arsenal
AZ Alkmaar
Besiktas
Debrecen

I would actually be very very surprised if any team out of pot four made it past the group stage… so surprised, it may be worth some sort of bet… Anyway, the draw takes place at 5pm today, so not long to go now… fingers crossed everyone!

P.S. Thanks to JDD, it’s clear that Eduardo didn’t dive…

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Celtic

Boys and Girls…

The time has come for second home game of the season and I am very much looking forward to my trip to the Emirates today – free scarf at hand, ready to twirl it around pre, during and post match…!

Okay… let’s dive straight into it… tonight it’s Arsenal vs Celtic at the Emirates for a place in the Champions League proper.

Arsenal v Celtic
UEFA Champions League, Emirates Stadium
Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 19:45

The good news coming out of the Arsenal camp is that Rosicky will be back for Saturday’s game, but he looks certain to miss tonight’s game. The extent of Cesc’s injury is still relatively unknown, but one thing we know for definite is that he won’t be back today. The hamstring injury originally feared looks like more of a muscle problem and Arsene revealed he hopes he is back for the Man United game:

“From last Saturday we lost Cesc Fabregas who did not train today. His scan was quite reassuring as he has no muscular strain but it will take a few days to settle down. There’s a chance he’ll be fit for Old Trafford.”

Which is great news… I’ve made my feelings clear – for the big games, we need the big players and Cescito, mes amigos, is one of our biggest players (not in size!)… and his presence will be very useful for what will be our biggest test of the season.

One player who looks set to start today is Welsh 18 year old International midfielder super-duper extraordinaire… aka, Aaron Ramsey, who came on for Cesc at half time against Portsmouth and played very well, scoring a goal in the process too… Arsene spoke about the midfield yesterday and highlighted Ramsey as a potential starter:

“It is another chance for him. It’s a big season for him but don’t forget he is only 18. I believe his target for this year, and I told him before the season started, is between 15 and 20 games. The way he is developing, he could get that. I am not scared to put Ramsey in [for this game],” the manager added later. “But we still have Song, Diaby and Denilson”

So, it looks like Arsene will rotate the midfield a little, we’ve seen Diaby rested originally before he was fit, then we’ve seen Song rested, Cesc rested and by the law of a rotation policy, that should see Denilson rested today! It must be tempting for Arsene to field more of the younger players today, considering our 2-0 advantage, but as this game represents such an important game for us, I’d expect a semi-strong team… so here goes my predicted team line up:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Song – Diaby

Eboue – Ramsey – Eduardo

Bendtner

With a bench of… Mannone, Gibbs, Silvestre, Denilson, Merida, Arshavin and Van Persie. I’m thinking Van Persie will be rested to the bench and Arshavin may be rested completely, although he may feature on the bench if Arsene deems necessary. I’d also expect to see Merida come in but maybe not start. The full squad lists are:

Arsenal (from): Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy, Song, Ramsey, Denilson, Diaby, Bendtner, Eduardo, Mannone, Van Persie, Eboue, Arshavin, Wilshere, Gibbs, Silvestre, Merida.

Celtic (from): Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, Loovens, Daniel Fox, McCourt, Scott Brown, Donati, McDonald, Maloney, McGeady, Samaras, Fortune, Zaluska, Naylor, Flood, O’Dea, Caddis

Personally, I’d love to see Wilshere start and think this type of game is very suitable for him – but I have a feeling Arsene doesn’t want to play both Ramsey and Wilshere in the same starting XI for such a big game. Arsene also reminded us – the fans – that of course, the job is not done, there is a fair amount still to do:

“My priority is still to get into the Champions League first and once we are in it, to try to win. We live in a pragmatic world so let’s first get in it. It’s not job done, it’s job to do. That’s how I approach it. There’s a job to do and to finish. We have done a big part of it but the most important [thing] is to get over the line and that’s what we want to achieve tomorrow.”

So, raise your scarves, tune into the game on TV, find a pub with the game on and get ready for another great European night!

The 4-3-3

Today’s topic for conversation is the 4-3-3. Some people call it a 4-5-1, others a 4-2-3-1, others call it a 4-1-4-1, but ultimately, in shape it’s a 4-3-3.

This season has seen a change of formation and it’s something that has personally taken me by surprise. I’ve always been a 4-4-2 man… remember the days of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp up front, with Robert Pires on the left and Freddie Ljungberg on the right… Remember Overmars and Parlour? Remember Wrighty and Smithy? Two wingers, two strikers, 4-4-2.

Arsene’s recent change to 4-3-3 did have been a little bit perplexed pre-season, especially with a defeat to Valencia, but the more I see it, the more I am beginning to like it. We definitely have the players suitable for the formation and the two best teams in the land last, playing some of the best football around – Man United and Barcelona, had adopted a 4-3-3. Man United had Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney and Barcelona with Messi, Eto’o and Henry.

Players such as Eduardo, Vela, Arshavin and Walcott are without doubt suitable for right forward and left forward roles, with players like Van Persie and Bendtner also comfortable across the front three. Van Persie plays the outside right position for his country and is a position we’ve seen him drift into in recent games. Bendtner has been playing on the right and has defintely impressed me. Players like Cesc, Ramsey and Diaby can play more forward, whilst allowing us to have two defensive midfielders to sure up the defence.

Cesc is a player who really does like the formation as he can express himself more and he commented on what the formation does for him in his pre-match article in the weekend’s programme:

“We are playing a different formation this season, and of course that’s up to the boss, who knows us better than anyone. He looks at us from the outside so he knows what is best for the team. It is true that in this position I don’t have to run as much. I can still do a lot of running, but sometimes it’s more in my own way. For the last two seasons, I was finishing the game really really tired because I was defending, I was attacking, I was pressurising and usually there was just two of us in the middle against three from the other team. It was tough to be honest. Sometimes people don’t realise how much you have tun in midfield.”

And Alex Song likes the formation too, allowing him to play in a more defensive minded role:

“I am the first defender in the midfield, if you like. That means Cesc and Denilson can push forward a little more. I’ll stay in the middle so that I can stop counter-attacks and close passes down. But we see also that when the other guys lose the ball they come back immediately to help out too. I like playing in this position and just want to keep trying to do my best all the time, helping the team to move upwards.”

And of course Arsene has hailed the new formation too, but remains open to changing it if required.

“We have played a 4-3-3 formation early in the season and there are many benefits from it. But it is not a definite system – it can change in some games and I might move to a 4-4-2. At the start of the season, I wanted to play high up the pitch, making a threat in the opponents half early in the game.We like to do that, because we are an attacking team and it gives us the opportunity to use our character.”

At first I was apprehensive of the new formation, but it has totally grown on me, what do you think?

4-3-3 for the title?

How long Cesc is out for could determine our season…

It’s clear that Cesc Fabregas is very important to the team, he’s our engine that makes the team tick. Yes, we can play without him and we did so for periods of last season, especially during our unbeaten run – but Cesc has been vital to the form we’ve been showing this season so far. He makes the team move, creates space, dribbles well and has the experience needed in this league. How long he is out for will be important for our season. After Celtic, a game in which he could have been rested for anyway, we go to Manchester United and then Manchester City for two away games that will surely be an indicator of our abilities this season.

If our captain is not available for those games, we will most probably see Diaby, Denilson and Song form our midfield shield. Arsene said we’ll find out in the next 48 hours the extent of his injury and I’ll be on edge whilst we don’t know… Whilst I don’t doubt the credentials of Diaby or Ramsey – when it comes to big games, I’d prefer Cesc in the heart of our midfield. He has the “big game” factor in his locker.

“If it is a little pull, he will be out for three weeks, if it is just tightness, maybe he can get away for Wednesday. In 48 hours, we will have a better view.”

Arsene is hoping to add to his midfield group of players, and if Cesc is injured for 3-4 weeks, then it may hasten the decision. Although Denilson and Diaby have played and can play the defensive midfield role, I feel both are more offensive as are Cesc and Ramsey. In reality Song is our only “real” defensive midfielder and that’s where we need to strengthen.

“[Will there be] Much transfer movement? Certainly not. Any? Maybe, but certainly not much. I was always happy with my squad, that’s a quality I have. Don’t forget the players we have out – we have quite a big squad. At the moment Abou Diaby hasn’t played until the other night, we have Rosicky, Eduardo and Nasri - there are plenty of offensive players who are still not there. Carlos Vela is still injured and not playing so we have plenty of possibilities; offensively I don’t think we need to strengthen the squad. Defensively, number-wise, maybe we could still do with one.”

Arsene also continued to talk about the fact that signing a quality defensive midfielder is a very hard job.

“I must confess one thing. I’ve spoken to 10 managers and all 10 are looking for centre-backs or defensive midfielders. It looks like the offensive players are the most-paid but at the end of the day, in the modern day, all the managers I speak to ask me the same thing. ‘Do you know a player somewhere?’”

The funny thing of all of this is that Arsene sees Alex Song as a centre back long term, which means we don’t actually have a defensive midfielder at the club… in one way!

In other news, Arsene has informed us that Carlos Vela won’t be back until October as he’s got an ankle injury – something he picked up on International duty. He is a player whom I’m dying to see more of this season and will definitely add something to the front three – his cameo appearances last season exciting the fans and the manager alike. He’d be very comfortable in any position in the front three in our new 4-3-3, and could be a very important player for us this season… if Carlos Vela is injured for a month, it could also hasten the attempted capture of Chamakh, but we’ll have to wait and see.

In another update from Arsene, we have also been updated on Theo Walcott’s injury and it looks like he will be out for another couple of weeks and that he will miss the next two games for definite… it’s a little bit weird because for Man United away – our next game in the league – we could be going up there with no Theo Walcott, no Samir Nasri, no Thomas Rosicky, no Cesc Fabregas and no Carlos Vela, which is half a team! Theo at the moment can’t really run and Arsene has been quite critical of the summer exploits with England and the England Under 21s.

Take a read of what Arsene had to say about Walcott:

“Theo will not be available for the Man United game. I believe it will be a problem for England as well. He has an inflammation of his lower back. At the moment straight line running is OK but no curves. That’s why last year I didn’t want him to play for the Under-21s. I know how it works. The player comes back later than everybody else, he doesn’t have a decent preparation, you are under pressure to rush him back, you play him earlier than you should, he gets an injury, and you see him again in October.  That’s what usually happens and that’s why I was adamant that he does not go with the Under-21s. He had no decent preparation for the championship, for the season, and in the end England will pay the price as well. Once a player is already playing for the top national team, what is the reason to take him with the Under-21s, who are originally destined to promote the players to the first team? That’s what I couldn’t understand. It is not anger [I feel] because I knew at the start what could happen. But it is frustration, yes, because I can’t see the logic in that whole process. In the end, England, and Arsenal, have a handicap.”

Guys, I’ll leave you now, time to spend some time in the sun… time to think about who to sign and who we should play at Celtic…

Arsenal 4 – 1 Portsmouth

Arsenal 4-1 Portsmouth
Barclays Premier League, Emirates Stadium
Saturday, August 22, 2009, 15:00

  • Diaby 18, 22,
  • Gallas 51,
  • Ramsey 69

Evening all, and what a first home game of the season. I’ll keep this match report brief and pretty much a mini-match report as I’m on route out and have done a – what is now becoming a routine event – stop at an Internet cafe on my way from the Emirates to a night out (with a change of clothes beside me) to write up my version of events.

Before I start talking about the game, a side note is that Cesc Fabregas is injured – he has had two injuries before the game – a muscle injury in his leg and a sore right ankle, swollen and tender too. He was taken off at half time during the game and although it’s not clear what the current injury is (although it may be by the time I finish writing this), he looks to be out for the Celtic game on Wednesday as well as the game next weekend against Man United. Let’s wait for more information from the gaffer and we will probably hear something later tonight. Fingers crossed.

Back to the game, and Arsene rested a few players and rotated his squad, playing the same way, but this was the starting line up:

Almunia

Eboue – Gallas – Vermaelen – Gibbs

Denilson – Diaby

Arshavin – Cesc – Eduardo

Van Persie

It was good to see Eduardo play today and he did look very sharp – he’ll be a very important player for us this season and he’s skillful play is a delight to watch. And it was the Crozilian who was at the centre of the first goal skipping past the Portsmouth right back with one of his classic kick the ball one way and run round the other way of the player – and an excellent cut back to Diaby who scored a great goal to put us in the lead.

And Diaby made it two goals from one start as he finished well when we broke from a Portsmouth corner. Arshavin in unfamiliar right back territory, passing to Cesc who did one of those Pro Evolution over the top passes to an onrunning Eboue who squared to an unmarked Diaby… 2-0.

Portsmouth managed to get one back through ex-Sp*rs  player Kaboul – as he rose higher than Almunia (note to the keeper, get a punch on those balls, take out the centre forward if you have to!!) and the score was 2-1 at the break.

The second half saw Ramsey on for Cesc but it was much of the same – Gallas making it 3-1 with a fortunate flick in after a Vermaelen square after an Arshavin free kick. And the fourth came through a brilliant piece of play when Van Persie sent Ramsey through who finished with amplomb.

More reaction from me and you on the game tomorrow, but let’s here what Arsene had to say about the game:

“I feel we create good space for our midfielders to run in and to go into the box. On that front we look more dangerous. If you analyse our goals at the moment our strikers provide more than they score. That is maybe down to the way we play as well. “Abou is a more offensive player but if he decides to play defensively he is exactly like Vieira. At some stage when Gallas moved out I put Denilson centre back and put Diaby central midfield in a defensive role. And he looks completely similar to Patrick to win the ball back. But he is a guy who has a quick transition from defence to offence, from box to box, that is his fantastic strength, to change quickly. Nobody can go with him when he has that, when we are on the counter-attack. He is fantastic.”

And Arsene spoke about today’s support, which was pretty decent – loud and excited. We got free scarves too…

“I feel the fans were positive. Today we had some fantastic moments in the game, as well some moments when we were a little bit flat. You felt that the crowd was always behind the team. We are trying to create something special at the stadium, to make it more warm, to warm the whole place, and the scarves are a part of that. You will see much more – it is not up to me to talk about that – but we want to make this place very special. There is more we will do. “I never expected it the other way round. At some places there are exceptions like up north at Celtic or Rangers where the fans are a bit more fanatical. But in a big city like London you have to accept that the waves have to come from the team and they have to get the people off their seats, not the other way round. When that doesn’t happen maybe the vibes coming out of the team are not right. People maybe cannot always explain what is happening in the team but they sense that if the whole team is right or not. Last year we did not give enough belief to our fans that we could win. And as well maybe the belief of our fans has been affected by the negative publicity we got.”

Speak later dudes and dudettes – have a great Saturday!

Weekend Preview

Games are coming thick and fast at the moment and after a summer of emptiness, we’ve had two games in relatively quick succession and before we know it, we’ll be travelling to the Emirates for our first home game of the season, and it will be a very sweet return to the Emirates as I’ve seriously missed the venue. Having said that, the Emirates Cup was a good early visit – but now it means something.

We have Portsmouth this Saturday and I’ll be previewing the game in it’s entirety tomorrow, but early good news is that Eduardo will be back, as Arsene revealed he is was only withdrawn as a precaution.

“Eduardo had a tight groin in the warm-up and he felt he could not play. He had no power and we had to change [the team sheet] quickly. Eduardo I believe will be back in contention but Theo Walcott will not be back at all. Rosicky, Djourou, Nasri, Fabianski – they will all be out. There is a slight concern [over Walcott's back injury] but we believe it is a question of days and not of weeks. We will see [if he is fit to face Manchester United next Saturday]. It is always difficult to set a date. I thought he would be available for Celtic, I thought he would be available for Everton, but he wasn’t. That’s why we will be cautious.”

And that’s brilliant news – with many people under the impression that Eduardo may be out for longer. Walcott too looks to miss this weekend as well as the midweek game and is back at the right time, as Man United will be our biggest test of our credentials this season.

It’s pretty amazing that we’ve played two games and scored 8 goals, and none of Arshavin, Bendtner or Van Persie have scored, with goals coming from midfield and defence. When the front three do start firing, we’ll certainly get a few more goals in the locker this season and I really think that they could get off the ground this weekend against Portsmouth. In my opinion, Arshavin has looked off the mark so far this season and I think there is much more for him to come. He looks a little unfit, a little leggy, so a home game against a club struggling for goals could be a prime opportunity to dismount Sp*rs off the top of the league.

(P.S. Framed pictures of Sp*rs top of the league are available at the Sp*rs shop for £19.99 signed by Sol Campbell – and there is also a DVD coming out about it very soon).

There has been a good start to the season in terms of performance as well as in terms of togetherness too, and Almunia has been in the press talking about the spirit as well as the signing of Thomas Vermaelen.

“The things we had to improve were the communication, our positions on the pitch, how to work as a unit and as a team. There were many things to improve. All the team is defending well. The midfielders and strikers are defending all together and Thomas Vermaelen is a good signing for us. He’s a very good player, a good defender, great left foot, good in the air. He is complete. But we have to keep going. Thomas looks like he’s been at the club for more than a few months. He’s a very calm player. He’s a very tough player, a great defender. He is very relaxed and that makes the people around him relaxed as well. Not only William Gallas, but me Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna as well. We have confidence about this player.”

The signing of Thomas Vermaelen seems be a master stroke of genius from Arsene. He’s really added some steadiness to our team, some assurance – for those of you who watched the Celtic game, an amazing track back, brilliant recovery pace and his efforts saved a goal. Awesome stuff. If you’ve been watching Sky Sports news, you may have heard the interview with Gael Clichy who discusses the departure of Kolo Toure saying that players will leave, but Arsenal will always remain better after their departure. Also hinting that Vermaelen is a more than adequate replacement.

All I can say is that it’s an awesome start to the season – the two games – at Everton and the Champions League at Celtic – were very hard games and we did very well to win both and look so comfortable.

In a little bit more of an insight, Arsene did admit that the stadium has obviously affected our spending power and that is why we had to sell Toure and Adebayor, especially at a £42m combined package, whilst only bringing in one player – but if you do it right, like Arsene, then you can put an attractive team together, get into and stay in the top four, challenge for honours and service the debt…

Arsene on the debt:

“Arsenal will be more successful by building a new stadium, but it is not easy to build a new stadium and remain where you are. Look at all the clubs who have built new stadiums and where they are now: Derby County; Leicester City; Coventry City; Southampton. They all went down.”

Exciting times ahead, an action packed weekend of football ahead, more tomorrow…

Celtic 0 – 2 Arsenal: Lucky… but efficient…

A very good performance by Arsenal saw us beat “The Hoops” 2-0 at Celtic Park.

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
UEFA Champions League, Celtic Park
Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 19:45

  • Gallas 43,
  • Caldwell 71 (og)

Indeed, a very good performance. But a different kind of performance, an efficient performance that saw us “grind out a result”. I’d say Saturday’s performance was more expansive – but at the same time, I’d say that Everton were quite woeful defensively compared to a more defensive minded Celtic who were very organised. It’s clear to see that we’ve adopted a “close down the opposition” tactic this season, which the whole team seems to be working towards.

The two goals were lucky by some measure – the first coming froma big deflection from the back of William Gallas (that’s 2 goals in 2 for the former captain) from a Cesc Fabregas (that’s the 5th goal he’s been involved in this season) which wrong footed the keeper and went in the bottom left of the goal (if you’re the keeper) despite looking like it was going wide.

The second goal coming via the introduction of a stronger, leaner and fitter Diaby – who did look stronger, leaner and fitter – and had hair and had facial hair – but still had that horrible over playing and bad touch…! But a good run from midfield saw him play in Clichy whose cross was deflected in the back of the net by Gary Caldwell.

The game did open up as Celtic tried to get a goal back, but our team grew more tired – and two away games in four days takes it’s toll. With no game today, tomorrow or Friday – a good three day rest before the league home game against Portsmouth is exactly what we need.

The news coming out of Arsenal associated people is that Eduardo has a hamstring injury which may keep him out for a while – I’ll confirm the news as soon as I hear more.

After the game, I’ve heard more press coverage and quotes than any other game I can remember – Arsene, Sagna, Vermaelen, Van Persie and Tony Mowbray all in the press… let’s hear what the gaffer had to say first:

“I think it was a fierce battle. I felt collectively we dominated the game but Celtic were always willing, fighting and counter-attacking. In the end, despite being in control, we scored two lucky goals. It was a big fight tonight and we needed a strong Arsenal side to win the game. The crowd and players were absolutely up for it and I believe with an average performance we would not have won the game today.”

And that’s right – the collective work done by the team was very much a key to the success and the result. Although from some quarters, people say there wasn’t much going on in terms of attack, it was clear to see that the performance was high and that if we had dropped a level, then it would have been a different game.

“We have a good advantage but it’s 180 minutes, we’re ahead after 90. When you want to go through you want to play well for 180 – that’s our purpose. We want to win the home game and of course qualify for the Group Stage. We are in a strong position and we now want to take advantage of that. I believe we have to make sure we win the game at home. It would not be serious to take that game in a non-serious way. It is a massive game, what is at stake is massive to us because we want to play with the best. Even with an advantage of two goals we want to finish the job at home.”

And that game is next Wednesday, 26th August at the Emirates and maybe, just maybe, we will be able to rest one or two if we get an early goal – but whether or not I should be thinking about resting players so early on in the season is quite silly really isn’t it? Isn’t it?

One thing that is always special on a European night is the atmosphere of the grounds around the world and around Europe – and both Rangers and Celtic have always been renowned for the noise in their respective stadiums, and Sagna had something to say about the atmosphere.

It was hard to stay focused on the pitch. It’s difficult to play against this kind of atmosphere. It is one of the most amazing I have ever witnessed. But we did quite well with it. The danger was to come here after such a good win and take it easy but we stayed focused and defended as a team and played as a team. We were confident, we want to play good football and achieve some things this season. It was a strange first goal but that’s football and I think we deserved the luck. They have a good team with good players and we have to be careful [in the return leg].”

Okay, I’ve rambled on about the game for long enough now, so will wrap it up now. A special word to Cesc and Vermalen – both who put in 10/10 performances, dominating both midfield and defence. Awesome stuff…