Arsenal vs Man United Match Preview…

Arsenal vs Man United is the one game of the season that I look forward to most… Don’t get me wrong, shortly after it’s the home game against Sp*rs, Liverpool and then maybe Chelski, but ultimately, at the moment, it’s the biggest game of our season. Arsenal versus Man United has been a talismanic game for the Premier League since it’s conception and tomorrow – I can tell you right now – is going to be a cracker. We have played very well this season and have done extremely well to be this high up in the league considering our lack of purchases and our amazingly bad run of injuries this season.

We’ve probably had the most possession of any team in the league, we’ve also probably had the most passes, but when you look at why we’re not top of the league, it really comes down to various different points, which I’ll take a quick look at now.

Lack of finishing

When you look at the games against Man United at Old Trafford, against the likes of Villa when we got the 0-0 draw, the main issue was the lack of finishing (these are just two examples of games). Even when we have Van Persie and Niklas Bendtner, our finishing isn’t always exactly the best – but ultimately, the recent inability to convert chances into the goals is that lack of the ability to finish, which does stem from the loss of the two players above and the bad form of the recovering Eduardo and the lacklustre Carlos Vela. Vela has also been suffering from injuries and bad form this season. With Niklas Bendtner coming back and looking to slot back into the team despite a lack of training and lack of game time is testimony to the centre forward position – he will also suffer from the recovering injury syndrome and won’t be at his best for a while. He will most likely start the game against Man United and will most probably be very frustrating!

Lack of defensive discipline

When you look at the games against Chelsea and Man City, we lost defensive discipline by an overwhelming desire to win. Positionally, our defence wasn’t set up right, with Sagna and the left back of the time bombing forward and even Gallas and Vermaelen often getting frustrated and going on searing runs. The problem is the counter attack that happens next and even if it’s not really a counter attack – when the players are out of position there is space that can be exploited. We do have Alex Song and he can fill in for players when they go forward, but if we can become defensively stable and Alex Song can maintain the form that he left us with, then we can sort out the conceding goals thing.

Man United Preview

So, it would probably make sense to take a look at the game tomorrow and it’s an important game for us to win tomorrow, especially after the draw against Villa. It’s war at the top of the table and the games against us and United and us and Chelsea are both six pointers. If we can win, then we’ll be right up there – if we lose, we will be right down there.

With Vermaelen most likely to miss the game tomorrow, it looks like Sol Campbell will play alongside Gallas in his third game in one week. When you sign a 35 year centre back and he ends up playing so many games in such a short period of time, you can definitely see that there is a major gap in the squad.

Looking at the players ahead of the game, the line up should be:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Campbell – Clichy

Song – Denilson

Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin

Bendtner

Now, based on the players available I think Arsene will chose the above line up, but considering that Rio will miss the game, it may be more sensible not to play Bendtner and instead revert Arshavin to the central role allowing Nasri to come into midfield – a team that could outwit United.

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Campbell – Clichy

Song – Denilson

Rosicky – Cesc – Nasri

Arshavin

The second team I’ve noted here is a bunch of players who are on form and will have that extra 10%, whereas, Niklas Bendtner may be able to come on and make an impact from the bench. It’s a tough one, but with Rooney leading the line, I would expect to see both Song and Denilson in the team.

Let’s take a listen to Arsene pre-match, the gaffer had this say:

“We are very close in the League and so it is back to an Arsenal versus Manchester United of old. Last year we were out of it and the games had less meaning. Yes two years ago it was a big game but what is different this year is that we are on the way up so it is very interesting. It comes at a good moment for us. Over the years, Manchester United and Arsenal have had some tough games, and sometimes they were not easy on the physical side. But both teams always tried to play. It was very rarely a boring match. For me it is always one of the games of the season and so we are really up for it. We are on a good run and we have a good momentum. We want to continue that. And I always look forward to this match because it is one that promises good football.”

Okay, well, it’s not really back to Arsenal vs Man United of old because there is a small matter of another team ahead of both of us with a game in hand! The gaffer continued:

“I wouldn’t speculate too much on any weakness of Man United. Let us focus on our strengths and show that we have made a big improvement compared to last year.  At Villa we got away and maybe we were a bit frustrated with the 0-0 but Villa have beaten everybody in the League apart from us. They have beaten Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool – everybody. We got four points from Villa this season so I believe we have made big, big strides forward and it is a good opportunity on Sunday to show that. It was our dream to be in this position at this time of the season. Now we know that to be successful in this [four-game] period [we must] be more a team than the other teams. We have to think how strong and how much solidarity it takes to get through a period like this. However no matter what happens after these games we will still be in a position where we will have a chance but we can put ourselves in a very strong position and that is what we want. The first hurdle demanded a lot of commitment from us and we must be capable to repeat this kind of commitment.”

And I really think that we’re in a decent state of mind considering the challenges we’ve had – players have got back in time for this game, we are at home, we have a lot of talent to win the game, and if we can avoid defeat in the next three games, we’ve got a clear run in to the title…

Come on you gooners…. more in the comments later and more on twitter as usual…. Have a good one my friends…

Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal… Result is okay, but Vermaelen injury is the big blow…

The fear we’ve all had has now become a reality. This season we’ve had a selection of defenders available to us, but with Djourou’s long term injury and Senderos’ departure, we’ve been left very thin on the ground. So thin, that we’ve had to bring in Sol Campbell back from semi-retirement but now more than ever, it’s apparent that we have a major defensive crisis. News broke today that Thomas Vermaelen has broken his leg and is out for the season.

Which leaves us with only three centre backs: William Gallas (32), Mikael Silvestre (32) and Sol Campbell (35). It’s a major problem for us and I feel that without Thomas Vermaelen at the back, we don’t have the strength in depth in that area to push Chelsea and United to the wire and push for the title.

I implore Arsene to delve into the transfer market whilst we still have a few more days and bring someone in. If Silvestre / Campbell partner Gallas until the end of the season, it will only result in one thing, the massive conceding of goals galore. We need to so something about it. It’s a fear that we’ve all had, all season and something that we knew we had a serious lack of cover in.

Campbell has been all about the fighting talk and good, as it’s the only thing we want to hear right now.

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t ready to play on Sunday. We are capable of winning every game and winning the title so that is what we are focused on. I have been training for a long time so if it comes to it, I will have to be ready,” said Campbell. “It’s a massive game and a great game to be involved in. United and Chelsea will drop points – it will come down to who gets an unbeaten run going. We have got to grind results out now. We have got to get a good result against United.

The game itself was a decent game of football – we played well, and hit the woodwork twice – unfortunately for us, we couldn’t get the goal that we needed to get the points – down the other end, a few chances for Villa as well made it probably a fair result.

In terms of player, we saw the return of Bendtner and Nasri and the former didn’t do that well at all – please give the boy some time – he is no Pele or Thierry – and he’s been out injured like forever – so it’s unfortunate that he’s been thrown in at the deep end and had to play (due to Eduardo’s injury, poor guy gets injured so often) – so he hasn’t had the necessary game time to be at his best. It will come.

And thinking of Eduardo – the time in between injuries is starting to reduce now, which is excellent news and hopefully by next season, he’ll be back to full fitness – again, we can’t expect anything more from him right now.

Arsene has spoken about the injuries, but people in the know are talking about Vermaelen being out for the rest of the season…

“Thomas Vermaelen we don’t know. There will be an x-ray. He is on crutches and it is a fibula injury. We have to check tomorrow morning if it is just a nerve or a broken bone. Eduardo has a hamstring strain, a small one. But, for Sunday [Manchester United at home], he will be out.”

Taking Gallas, Silvestre and Campbell into the remaining fixtures in the league as well as the Champions League is worrying, just imagine if Gallas gets injured? We’ll be doomed.

Arsene summed up the game saying:

“I believe we dropped two points because we had clear chances but on the other hand it was a difficult game. They stopped us from playing when we had the ball and they played a long-ball game and closed us down, so it was difficult. We didn’t always find our passing game. We know when we come here what we get and we were not disappointed. [The result] keeps our unbeaten run going. If you put all the games together I believe it maintains the positive vibes. Overall, you have to win any game at the moment. Compared to Chelsea who won today, we dropped two points.”

His comments did upset Martin O’Neill as Arsene commented on the long game, but he did go onto say lots of positive things about Villa, which O’Neill seemed to have forgotten. I hope they go on to do well – they still have to play all our rivals!

For those of you interested in one of our most word-class player’s comments, check this quote out from Andrei Arshavin on arshavin.eu:

In that game well-rested Cesc broke into the game and decided its outcome…. I recall that game: in the first half we played without the ball, so very little came out. Although, at the very end of the first half of the game, we had an opportunity but we didn’t manage to handle the ball right. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to score in the first half after that moment. I think that in the second half we got used to the rival, to the game, to the pitch. At times, we conducted decent combinations, but were unable to complete them with the accurate strikes. Perhaps, we were in a hurry, or just made wrong decisions in the final stages of the attacks. Actually, we needed only one goal for the victory.

And in relation to the team’s distance from Chelsea growing to 2 points (with Chelsea having a game in hand), he said “let’s wait until Feb 10″…

Okay, this article has been a bit of a deflated one after the draw and the injury to Vermaelen, but let’s hope for the following:

  • Vermaelen injury is revealed to be short term and all sources are incorrect
  • Eduardo’s injury is also short term
  • Bendtner has more training and gets better
  • We beat United on Sunday
  • We beat Chelsea the following week
  • We see off Liverpool at home and are then restored to the top of the league (wohoo!)

Let’s see what we’re really made of! The next three games can really make or break our season!

Match Day: Aston Villa vs Arsenal

Big game #1 as Arsene says…

“I have never known a run of four League games as significant as these in all my time here. Never. Not four on the trot.  It is a real coincidence that we have games – one after the other – that are all decisive. ’If we win them all we are in a very strong position for sure, so let’s start with the first one and ignore all the others for now. ’It is a great opportunity to send a message to the rest of the Premier League. We want to take it and I am very confident that we are in a good position. So let’s go for it.”

Exactly what I want to hear and we’ve been boosted by the return of a few players for tonight’s fiery encounter.

The team news ahead of tonight’s game is that Bacary Sagna is still suffering from a shoulder injury and is a doubt for tonight – but apart from that we have our back line back and we’ll also have a strong bench with Niklas Bendtner and Nasri added to the squad.

Almunia

[Sagna / Eastmond]* – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Ramsey

Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin

Eduardo

With a bench of Fabianski, Silvestre, [Eastmond / Coqulein], Walcott, Nasri, Vela and Bendtner.

The [] brackets indicate the choice if Sagna is fit and if he isn’t…

As it’s a big game, let’s have a look at the possible Villa line up:

Friedel

Cuellar – Dunne – Collins – L Young

Downing – Petrov – Milner – A Young

Agbonlahor –  Heskey

We’ll have to be careful of Villa, no doubt, but we did them over at the Emirates and we can do the same tonight! Young and Agbonlahor offer pace and Heskey offers power. Milner and Downing offer craft, and our back 5 + DM have to be alert and aware of the counter attack.

Aaron Ramsey is looking forward to the next couple of games, and in the absence of Alex Song tonight, I think he’ll start and of course he’ll definitely play some part in the next few games.

“Obviously we are playing Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool straight after each other so it is going to be a difficult period but these are the things you want to be a part of. These are the occasions you look forward to the most. Hopefully we can make the most of the situation we are in and take maximum points from all the games to put ourselves in a really strong position. I think Villa have been a solid, strong team this season, and they have a good spirit. They have caused a number of teams problems and that shows from their position in the League. They have done well and it won’t be easy for us but these are the games we all want to play in and hopefully we can get the right result.”

So, let’s start with Villa tonight and make a statement of intent. Let’s not worry about the other three right now.

Come on you Gooners!

Summary of Pre Match Conference

Afternoon folks, and there is a lot going on in the wonderful World of Arsenal… I’m going to rattle through all the latest happenings and then end on a Villa preview (a proper preview will come tomorrow though!)…

Nasri and Bendtner

To all of our astonishments, both Samir Nasri and Niklas Bendtner are in the squad for tomorrow’s game against Villa. Now, that is strange considering two weeks ago, we heard Nasri and Ramsey were out for 6 weeks, but then as a complete surprise Ramsey was named in the squad and then the bench for the game against Stoke on Sunday and also saw some game time!

Bendtner was supposed to be back in February, so again, it’s another surprise to see him named in the squad for tomorrow – doesn’t he need some games in the reserves to get his fitness back?

Arsene said this:

“The list of injuries is going down a bit. We have Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner back in full training, so that is quite good news for us. Abou Diaby is injured, but Bacary Sagna is back.”

Very interesting, as these players coming back will add a whole load of strength in depth to the squad! I love the selection dilemma, I don’t think we’ve had it all week!

Alex Song

The player of our season is back, well, he will be back very soon! Arsene had this to say:

“The earliest he could come back is tomorrow. They have to fly back from Angola to Cameroon and then back to London.  I believe the earliest they will fly back is today, but we expect him tomorrow or Thursday. [As for Sunday] we will see how he comes back. But I must say he looked tired in the game yesterday.”

I think we’d do everything we could to have him play on Sunday. A rest from now until Sunday is 5 days and that should see him ready! To be able to play Song in front of Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen and Clichy is a dream come true!

Chris Smalling

So, it has emerged that the sources that said we had bid for the defender were indeed correct and that our initial bid was rejected. News is that Man United have gazumped us with a £7m bid. And Arsene has confirmed that in today’s press conference:

“It just looks like Manchester United offered more money than us. As long as the player has not signed anywhere it is not the end of it. Let’s see what happens there.  We will not come out on what we are doing exactly but as you [reporters] say it has come out on television but that doesn’t mean it is true.  So let’s see. If we have anything more to tell you we will let you know.”

With Sol only a short term option, Silvestre looking very weak and Senderos looking to leave very soon – we do need a new centre back soon and it’s clear that Arsene thinks Smalling is that player. We still don’t know if Gallas will be here next season although Arsene is confident that he will.

If we did sign Smalling and Djourou was available, we’ve have four centre backs – Gallas, Vermaelen, Smalling, Djourou and of course the youth and Song as backup. Not bad…

[Update:

Manchester United have won the race to sign highly-rated central defender Chris Smalling from Fulham. Okay, now that's just silly... we shouldn't have let that happen if we really wanted him... more to be heard from Arsene on this tomorrow I suppose!]

Philippe Senderos

Philippe as joined Everton on loan… and it’s good for us that he’s getting some game time – either he will change our minds and we’ll play him again next season or he will sign permanently? Senderos sounds delighted with the move – and of course, why wouldn’t he?

“I am delighted to be an Everton player for the remainder of the season. I can’t wait to get stuck in and play for Everton. Hopefully I can get some first team football in during my time here. I am here with high hopes and hopefully I can fulfil them. I have spoken to David Moyes and he hopes to give me opportunities here. Hopefully I can grab that opportunity and stay in the team. Everton’s form over the last few weeks has been better and they are getting stronger.”

It’s a weird spiral of out of favourness that has engulfed Senderos and I think it’s more personal / political than the quality of his game. He ousted Sol Campbell from the side and at one point had almost blind faith from Arsene – but maybe he didn’t become the player that Arsene thought we would become and as a result, was sent on loan.

I think Arsene thought he’d be bought by Milan or Everton at the beginning of the season and when that didn’t materialise, Arsene had a problem. The funny thing is that Sol is now back in the team and it looks like he has ousted Senderos out of the club!

Jack Wilshere

A statement that I thought Arsene wouldn’t say is that Jack Wilshere is going on loan. And it’s because he was so highly rated that Arsene didn’t want him to go on loan because he thought he’d break into the first team.

However, now it looks like Monsieur Jack is off on loan!

“We have interest from Premier League teams. “It will be decided today or tomorrow. Burnley is an opportunity. At the end of the day, Wilshere will have his word to say, because he needs to decide where he likes to go.”

It is rumoured that the interested teams are Bolton, Burnley and West Ham, with the former promising first team football and the latter one of Jack’s favourite teams. It’s true to say that the player hasn’t really flourished at all this season and it’s no wonder Arsene’s happy for him to go on loan!

Aston Villa Preview

So, moving onto tomorrow’s fixture, we should see our normal back five restored to the team. Early thoughts suggest that the team line up will be:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Eastmond

Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin

Eduardo

With a bench of Fabianski, Silvestre, Traore, Ramsey, Nasr, Vela and Bendtner.

I’m sure we’ll hear further news of the squad by tomorrow, but it looks like a reasonable bet, with Eboue and Song being back for the game on Sunday.

A proper Villa preview tomorrow, but for the moment, I’ll leave you with that!

Stoke 3 – 1 Arsenal, it was like a game of Pro Evo…

There is only one way to explain or try and explain the disaster that was yesterday, and that’s in the mode of Pro Evo…

So, you’re playing Pro Evo, top player level and you’ve been doing well during the season, but you’re playing every two days – the league, the Champions League, and the cup… now your players are starting to pick up injuries… The red bar under the player’s name is increasing player by player – the likes of Gallas and Vermaelen are nearly full injury max bars. Clichy is tired after his first game back, it’s time to rotate the squad. The game after the cup game is another league game and you know you’ve got to be at your best for that game.

In Pro Evo, I would do exactly what Arsene had done in yesterday’s game. The difference is that I would have won! Actually, with the row of 4 games, Villa, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea, damn, it would have needed a few restarts on Pro to get me to focus correctly…

Okay, so what happened? Well, it was an inevitable result. And I’ll analyse the game by going through each player.

Fabianski

Coquelin – Campbell – Silvestre – Traore

Eastmond – Denilson

Walcott – Cesc – Vela

JET

Fabianski – The keeper played well overall – however, he like Almunia and Mannone, isn’t a fan of the physical crossing type of play and he did well, he went for a lot of the balls, but you also can’t consider him to be any better or any worse than Almunia in the air. Traore – a player who has a lot of potential in the attacking sense, but seriously sometimes forgets the basics of defending. For Stoke’s third goal, I was literally shouting at the TV, “Traore, get goal side!”, but I suppose, it didn’t even cross the player’s mind.

Then we have Super Sol and not so Super Silvestre. Looking at them both together yesterday, it was crazy to see how good Sol was compared to Silvestre. I have to give it to Sol, his fitness and his physical presence were second to none. Unfortunately for both of them, Coquelin at right back didn’t help. The young player has been impressive in the reserves and in defensive midfield – but at right back against a physical team and a tricky player in Etherington, he was put of his depth.

In midfield, Cesc captained the side alongside the ever improving Eastmond and Denilson. The problem with the midfield was the lack of height, strength and pace. JET was up front in his debut alongside Vela and Walcott – and I have to say this – and it is weird to say it – he impressed me more than the other two.

So where did it all go wrong – I think as my French commentator said “tres fatigue et sans experience” in talking about Traore, Silvestre and Coquelin and then Eastmond (who replaced him at right back). Very tired and lacking experience – but also lacking cover – Denilson failing to keep up with Stoke on their second and where on earth was our left back? That moved summed up the game.

So we’re out of the FA cup and we’re about to start a four game run of games with Villa, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea and if we can keep a squad and first defence choice team fit for those games, we can pick up the points we need to maintain our position at the top of the league (of course Man U have overtaken us for now), and with those four games coming up, you can make sense of Arsene’s decision again to play the team he played.

Arsene spoke on the game:

“It was a game that was more physical than technical and physically they were stronger than us today. We had a fantastic attitude and at 1-1 we looked like we were on top in the last 20 minutes and it was important not to make a mistake. We got caught on the counter attack on the second goal and that was an important moment in the game. “

And on also commented on Sol Campbell’s first game back:

“He did for me very well. For a guy who has not played for five months he had a very good performance. Maybe in the last 20 minutes he was a bit fatigued but surprisingly fit for a guy who has not played for such a long time. He is motivated, works very hard in training and you could see that today.”

Hmm, no time to even think about the FA Cup exit as the games are coming thick and fast and we’re off to Villa Park on Wednesday for a must win game.

More tomorrow…

Stoke vs Arsenal – FA Cup Preview

So it’s the weekend again and that means more football, this time in the form of a tricky FA Cup tie away at Stoke.

It almost makes a nice change after two consecutive games against Bolton, although I’d expect to see a very similar opposition. We all know that Stoke don’t play the greatest football, and rather like Bolton, they like to hoof the ball up-field and play a physical game. Whatever team Wenger puts out will have to be up for this and get stuck in as much as possible.

With the upcoming run of games, I’ve no doubt that there will be changes. Diaby is the latest player to be added to our ever growing injury list after the match on Wednesday. He picked up a calf injury and will miss both the Stoke and Villa games at a minimum. Bacary Sagna is another player who will definitely not be playing on Sunday. With Eboue away on international duty in Angola Wenger has chosen to rest the full back who has looked fairly jaded recently.

As a result, I’d expect to see a host of changes, and a lot of youngsters given a chance. Here’s what Wenger has had to say on the squad:

“We have called up Kyle Bartley, Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Francis Coquelin, Gilles Sunu, and Craig Eastmond.

“Sol will be OK to play [after regaining fitness] but, right now, I don’t know if I play him. However it is a big opportunity for him if he does.”

Based on this, here is my predicted line up:

Fabianski

Eastmond – Silvestre – Campbell – Traore

Coquelin – Denilson

Walcott – Wilshere – Vela

JET

We could see Emmanuel-Thomas play in the midfield 3 with Vela up top to give the midfield a bit more bite. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what Wenger decides to do. I think Rosicky may also get a place in the squad, he’s been doing well recently and would be a great option to bring on if things aren’t going our way.

Whatever team is put out, it will be a very tough, physical challenge for them, but one that I believe we can win. Campbell at the back (should he play) adds a great deal of height and strength to the team, and as long as the rest of the team play the passing, flowing football we all know and love, we should be in the pot for the 5th Round Draw.

With United and Liverpool already out of the competition, it’s a great chance to win something. I’m sure all the players will know that and Wenger will too. So let’s hope we put in a good performance and kick off and extremely important couple of weeks with a win!

Introducing Wills…

Morning all…

Just a quick hello from a very cold and rainy Paris. My scouting mission to check out the Paris Saint Germain youth team (future Arsenal players) has not proved very fruitful… But I am here for another couple of days…..

Anyway, I’d like to introduce you to long term commentor and brand new WOA author, Will Scott!

Will has joined me and JAT on the writers panel down at WOA head quarters. Will is a massive Arsenal fan, currently in London at a work placement from his original home place of Manchester…

Will has been an avid game-goer since the age of 8. His favourite all time player is Dennis Bergkamp and a very interesting fact is that Will was born on the same day as our very own Cesc!

Will will be posting a Stoke preview a little later!

Speak soon!

Time to turn our attention to the FA Cup…

So, after a good back to back set of wins against Bolton, and a rise to the summit, we have a momentary break from the league in the form of the FA cup and we find a few players injured and maybe a few more rested. Diaby is out of the game on the weekend and out of the midweek game too against Villa, as he has a calf strain and Bacary Sagna will be rested. I don’t think he will be the only one rested and I’d expect to see a little rotation – although we don’t have too many options due to the very vast injury list!

As expected, Cameroon have advanced to the next round of the African Cup of Nations, although they did give us hope as they twice went behind to Tunisia, although the end result of a draw means they come second in the group by virtue of winning their opening game… Zambia, Cameroon and Gabon all ended up on 4 points with Tunisia on 3 – that is probably the tightest and silliest end result – but it means we will be without Alex Song for a while longer. Egypt take on Cameroon on Monday and I hate to say it, but I will be supporting Egypt.

Anyway, back to the FA cup and Stoke it is on Sunday – it’s a tough one – it will be a physical one too – and without Diaby, we’ll have an average height of 5′ 8″… I’m away in Paris from Friday to Sunday, so you may be graced with JAT’s pre-match preview. I’ll try not to speak too much about the game, as I’ll leave that for JAT.

Evaluating the game on Wednesday, Denilson returned to the starting line up. He did look a little rusty, but that could be due to the injury. He will most likely feature again on Sunday at Stoke and again at Villa and we can judge his fitness and progression. Earlier this season he was pretty awesome, and scored some good goals. He was delighted at the come back saying:

“It was very difficult for us in the first half. [At half time] the boss said we had to show how much we care to win. In the second half we put in a brilliant performance.  Now we have to continue to focus in training and in the games and the results will come.”

The return of Denilson got me and Bob thinking about who our best first team was. Who are our best XI and it was a tough one, but it made us realise the strength in depth we have. We did this on the premise of no players being injured. Let me take you through the teams first and then after this, I will explain my decisions.

Team One

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Diaby – Song

Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin

Van Persie

Team Two

Eboue – Djourou – Campbell – Gibbs

Denilson – Ramsey

Walcott – Nasri – Eduardo

Bendtner

Team Three

Gilbert – Senderos – Silvestre – Traore

Eastmond – Merida

Watt – Wilshere – Vela

Simpson

Now, that’s three teams of players who have all played in the first team and when you look at the squad like that, you can kind of see why Arsene doesn’t want to buy – I really don’t think any other team in the league can do what we can do – think about it? Can Liverpool, Chelsea or Man United do what we have done above. The first two teams look very good, don’t they? The only area is potentially the defence in the second and third teams, but look at the strength in depth we have. Poor Tom Cruise who has featured in the first team hasn’t made it in the three teams above, neither have players like Coquelin and JET – both on the bench against Bolton on Sunday.

Another controversial decision is that Carlos Vela doesn’t make the first or second team! Am I wrong? Who would you replace to have him in either team?

I think we’d all agree on current form that the first team chosen is the best, the right side midfield position probably the only debatable one, we have three players in Nasri, Walcott and Rosicky who could all play there. I’ve chosen Rosicky because he has probably had the best rating of those three throughout their rare cameos.

Food for thought hey!?!

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that and they’ll be a Stoke preview coming to you tomorrow somehow!

Arsenal 4 – 2 Bolton, Post Match Analysis

It was a cold day in the journey to the ground yesterday and a long and arduous journey. The tubes decided to skip Arsenal station and of course Holloway Road (well for some selected trains, one of which I happened to be on)… but there was a certain buzz around the supporters – a certain feeling of excitement as everyone knew of course that if we did win and win by two clear goals, we’d reach the summit of the league for the first time since August.

You could hear the conversations – “Denilson should go straight back in… he’ll need the match practice – play Eastmond in the cup!” – “Arshavin should be rested, give Vela a chance”, “Walcott shouldn’t start – he’ll get battered by Bolton”. It’s  a part of match day that I love.

The team news was announced, exactly as we all thought – our first choice back five for the first time in a long time. Two of our first choice middle three in Cesc and Diaby and of course Denilson restored to the line up. Arshavin, Eduardo and Rosicky made up the rest. It was a strong line up. And it was all about this game, not worrying about the next.

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Diaby

Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin

Eduardo

We had Theo on the bench for the first time in ages, and Vela, and Eastmond and of course Traore if Clichy got tired. All guns blazing, time to get the game on…

But to my shock, could you believe it, within the first 10 mins, we were 1-0 down. A defensive mistake I would say and Cahill was free to score in the box. And then suddenly it was 2-0 to Bolton – Clichy failing to clear well, and Denilson bringing the man down. Almunia nearly got to it, but Taylor slotted it away from the spot.

We looked around at each other in a state of disbelief and so did the Arsenal players. But our captain marvel Cesc was calm and despite being fouled every 5 minutes for the whole game, he gave a lift to the team by his never give up attitude and with about 5 minutes to go, a moment of magic from our oldest outfield player in Rosicky – showing us what he’s made of and adding another goal to him impressive goal / minutes on the pitch ratio.

We all knew if we could get one back before half time, we could go on and win it! And that’s exactly what we did.

Five minutes into the second half and a bit of controversy as Gallas wins the ball illegally in midfield and then the ball bobbles to Cesc – the best player in the league at the moment – and he evades about three challenges before slotting the ball into the back of the net – from an incredibly tight angle.

The foul on Davies from Gallas was a foul, but the referee didn’t blow for it and we continued. We’re a pretty nice team when it comes to kicking the ball out, but Bolton had been time wasting so badly during the first half, that we honesty all thought it was another time wasting attempt – it turned out to be more serious, but there’s nothing we can do about that now.

At 2-2, you kind of knew there was only going to be one winner and our other ball playing centre half scored his seventh of the season. The ball bobbled around the Bolton area and Thomas Vermaelen was at hand to slot the ball home. Awesome stuff. At 3-2, the game was still to be played, Bolton could equalise and we wanted the 4th.

And there was one man at hand to give us the fourth, in our diminutive Russian, Andrei Arshavin, a nice bit of foot trickery and finish from close range. You sense we have a few players in Rosicky, Arshavin and Cesc who can score out of nothing.

At 4-2 we had chances to score, and it really should have been 5-2 if Arshavin had squared to the returning Walcott. All in all, a good day to be at the ground, a nervy one at that too.

We’re top of the league and we’ll stay there until midweek next week at least!

Bad news today too as it was confirmed that Gibbs is out for the rest of the season. He was doing so well, I just hope he recovers and can get back to his best.

Adios for now.

We are top of the league, I said we are top of the league

Evening / morning… although this is not a proper match report, having just returned from the game in high spirits, I think it’s appropriate to say WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!! I know Chelsea have a game in hand, but how good does it feel?

I’ll be back in the morning, but I’ll leave you with Arsene’s view of the game:

Chelsea have a game in hand but it is good because we had two difficult games against Bolton with a new manager. We faced two cup games and our mental strength, our physical strength, were deeply tested in both games.

And a quick comment from Arsene on Diaby’s injury:

Diaby has a calf strain, from a kick he got at Bolton on his calf. He went into the game with a stiff calf already and he didn’t survive. I don’t know how long he will be out. You have to check with him because you see more on the scan, so we have to be cautious.

Hopefully he won’t be out for too long…!

At least until Saturday, we’ll remain top of the league. I’ll be back in the morning with a proper overview of the game!

Arsenal vs Bolton Match Preview

Afternoon fellow Gooners,

It’s officially match day and that means it’s time to play Bolton (again)… in about [insert the numbers of hours until after the game] hours time, we could be top of the table. Yes, top of the table, for the first time since [insert the last time we were top of the league].

It’s an amazing feat considering how far behind we were a couple of weeks ago – but of course, we must forget the fact that we may go top and concentrate on the game itself, and something Arsene agrees with.

“It is a good target. But let’s first of all focus on winning the game, that is the most important thing. We are there to win. At the moment [going top] has not too much as a mathematical meaning. But it has a psychological meaning, yes. It shows we are there and will fight at the top of the table but mathematically it has not too much significance because it is a long way to go. It also shows that everybody wrote us off but we are back in it. That is a step we have definitely made.”

We will be without a few players as normal, with Nasri and Ramsey definitely out and Merida joining them on the injury list. Denilson and Walcott return today and news coming out of the Emirates is that Denilson will start ahead of Eastmond with the young prodigy being dropped to the bench and in the mindset for the game on Sunday against Stoke instead with the FA cup being less of a priority.

The line up today based on the noises we’re hearing should be:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Diaby

Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin

Eduardo

It looks like Clichy should be straight back into the first team too, having been on the bench against Bolton (the away leg), and with Arshavin most likely to be rested against Stoke, he shpuld play today. The line up above does look quite strong. We of course have Vela on the bench too – so depending on whether we can see Rosicky play two games in a row or depending on whether Arshavin is indeed rested, we will see who gets the nod.

With back to back games against the opposition, it’s important we’re focused and Arsene has re-iterated this point:

You would tend to think that [the hard work was done on Sunday],” he said. “But I believe in our intelligence and the rational part of my brain tells me that Bolton fought very hard and gave us a very difficult game.

“So let’s focus really to be on top on Wednesday. I feel if we are not completely 100 per cent focussed we will not win the game. It will be highly important for us to have a go and play without any handbrake. But also we must prepare to play at a high tempo and give absolutely everything for 90 minutes. To surprise them is difficult because everybody knows you cannot change too much the way we play football from one day to the next, so they will know us. But we will certainly play with a higher collective pace than we did on Sunday because we will be at home. Our fans will be behind us and being at home puts us in an even stronger position. Our fans can help us win matches. It is a little bit a special [situation] but we have a little psychological advantage from the first game so let’s take it.”

On a separate note, and I’m not sure if there is any truth in this, but apparently we’re after Fulham defender Chris Smalling. We did discuss this in the comments a few days back but it looks like the BBC, Sky Sports and a whole host of sites are reporting a move for him today:

Sky Sports News understands that Arsenal have made a move for Fulham’s promising defender Chris Smalling. The Gunners see the 20-year-old defender as an excellent prospect for the future and could pay as much as £7million to secure his services.

Maybe if we’re about to agree a deal that may see Senderos go to Celtic (which has it’s own will he / won’t he saga behind it with Mowbray saying he’s not after the player but the player saying the move is on the cards)… then maybe this young lad will be brought in as an option – cover for Gallas / Vermaelen and can also play at right back. Every time we need a forward, we seem to sign a right back (a la when Sagna came in) and it seems to be an interesting move…