Our thoughts are with Aaron Ramsey

All supporters, readers and writers of WOA would like to extend our thoughts to Aaron Ramsey as he suffered a fracture of his ankle yesterday that will see him out of the game for the next twelve to fifteen months. The boy himself had been playing some of the best football of his career, and it’s a ridiculous shame that this type of horrific injury can and does still happen. As Arsene said “For a boy of 19 with his talent to be kicked out of the game like that is beyond words.” and that’s why I’ll take a moment to reflect on events before publishing my thoughts.

Our thoughts to Aaron and his family.

Stoke vs Arsenal: The Preview

Today is a big, big game, no question about it.

Stoke have continuously caused problems for us in the last couple of years and their physical Boltonesque approach mixed in with a bit more steel and the now famous Rory Delap throw seems to be a big issue for us. We lost there last year and again this year, albeit with not our strongest team, and today we face are nemesis again.

We’ve been undone with the long throws, we’ve been undone with the crosses into the box and the muscular / physical presence of the Stoke forward line, but they’ve not come up against Gallas and Vermaelen yet and today they won’t either as it was confirmed that Gallas would miss the tie later today. Sol Campbell is set to deputise and he will play alongside Vermaelen at the back. The rest of the team news sees Arshavin and Diaby both still out.

The team, based on the absentees should be:

Almunia

Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy

Ramsey – Song

Walcott – Cesc – Nasri

Bendtner

With Rosicky, Eboue and Eduardo also available, the gaffer does have some options.

Arsene had his usual press conference yesterday and took time to talk about Stoke’s strength’s at both long throw in’s and set pieces in general, saying:

“His throws are dangerous because they are horizontal. So if anybody deflects the ball, you have no time to get it back. The ball comes like an arrow. It doesn’t come like a usual kick of the ball. It comes flat. You cannot really get in front of the striker but if one of them touches the ball it’s difficult to defend. However Stoke are good on set-pieces generally so I wouldn’t instruct my players to kick it out for a corner rather than a throw-in. We do not go for that. The problem is, with Delap, it is a corner already.”

With United not playing this week, and Chelsea play a tough game in Man City – with Carlos Tevez, we have every chance to close the gap.

“For us, we know that, no matter how Stoke plays, our solution on the day is to be efficient and to win the game. All the players are highly focused on this game because they know it’s a tricky one. But we know as well that, for us to have a chance to compete at the top – there is no choice.”

The game kicks off tonight at 5.30pm, so by then we’ll know the results of the early kick off at Stamford Bridge – remember, Chelsea have just come back from a gruelling tie at Inter Milan, so they will also be tired, despite Man City’s extra time outing against our opponents Stoke, in mid-week.

It’s going to be an interesting day of football, stay tuned…

Financially, we’re in the best position…

As the announcement that Portsmouth have become the first Premier League club to go into administration and news that Man United’s debt is approaching the 1 billion mark, it’s amazing to hear the financial results that have come out of the club today.

Our original debts at the time of the stadium stood at around £390m, with a 25 year plan to clear out the debts. News today from the official site has informed us that after just 5 years in the Emirates, we have managed to reduce our debt to £203.6m (that was in November 2009 too), which means we’ve nearly halved our debt in 5 years, and puts us about 8-9 years ahead in terms of debt management.

That is seriously amazing news to hear, and Peter Hill-Wood said this:

“I am pleased to report that the Group has delivered another profitable set of results for the first six months of the financial year.

There has been remarkable progress at Highbury Square over the last twelve months and it is clear that the next couple of years will see our property activities delivering surplus cash. This is very good news, although I would not want to speculate on the exact quantum or timing of this.  How we will use this surplus remains undecided but, in addition to investing in the team, I think we will examine investment in Club projects and infrastructure, both in and around Emirates Stadium, which will provide a long lasting benefit to the Club and our tremendous, loyal supporters.

Looking ahead, our strong financial base allows us time to take a measured and diligent approach to determining the Club’s direction beyond our move to Emirates Stadium and into the next phase of growth.”

Now of course, we’ve probably not spent as much as we would have liked to on “top, top” players, but we’re if it were not for the horrendous injury run we’ve had, there is no reason to say that we’re not competing at the top, year in and year out. We may opt against adding a player or two “just for the sake of it”, but the theory is that as soon as we remove the debt completely, then the profit we make every year can go to player transfers.

The summary on the Arsenal web site indicated this:

  • Profit before tax of £35.2m (2008 – £24.5m) with increased contributions from both the Group’s football and property businesses.
  • Sale of 261 apartments at Highbury Square generated revenue of £96.6m (2008 – £58.4m) with all proceeds used in repayment of the project’s bank debt.
  • The Group’s property business recorded a pre-tax profit of £9.3m (2008 – £4.9m).
  • Pre-tax profit from the Group’s core business of football increased to £25.8m (2008 – £19.7m).
  • Completed first stages of a programme of capital investment in the appearance and “Arsenalisation” of Emirates Stadium.
  • Further significant investment in determined policy of re-signing first team players to new long-term contracts.
  • By 30 November 2009, the Group’s total net debt had been reduced to £203.6m (31 May 2009 – £332.8m).
  • Since 30 November, there have been a number of further positive developments in relation to the Group’s property projects:Of the 655 private apartments in the Highbury Square development, sales have now completed on 524 units with a cumulative sales revenue value of £217.0m.
  • The balance on the Highbury Square bank loan has been further reduced, from £35.7m at 30 November, to £12.9m (31 May 2009 – £123.6m).
  • Sale of part of the Queensland Road development site means that the Group’s other property activities are now debt free.

Some of the highlights of the report indicate some significant reductions in loans – notably, the balance on Highbury Square is nearly zero (will be by the summer) and all other debts are paid off. We will go into next season with only one outstanding debt, being the loan for the stadium.

One very interesting thing is that the groups total net debt had been reduce to £203.6m by November 2009 and since November 2009, the notes say there have been a number of “positive developments” in relation to the property projects. The total revenue has now reached £217m and another £75m is expected before summer.

Many people believe that 100% of player sales go into a “special pot” only reserved for player purchases – this is true in that sense, but this pot is also used for the re-signing of players and player wages, something which people forget. The re-signing of Van Persie and other keys players for example is the same money that we received for the sale of Kolo Toure.

In a world dominated by short term gain and a must win now or else attitude, it is refreshing to see our beloved club bucking the trend and striving long term to be the biggest and the best. Come on you Arsenal…

It’s My Birthday and I Can Blog If I Want To…

9 days ago marked the 2 year anniversary of the World of Arsenal, and 795 articles later and 12, 821 comments later, we’ve grown from the very first wordpress.com site, and gone through 2 redesigns to get to where we are now.

Myself and JAT have been bringing you our view on everything Arsenal, and more recently, we have been delighted to have Wills and Debs on board.

We have a full time sponsor in Gadgetee.com – they pay for the hosting and support our cause – and all advertising revenue will be presented to The Great Ormand Street Hospital supporting the cause. Overall, unlike other some of the other sites out there, we are totally not-for-profit and don’t censor our reader comments.

So, today, 9 days after the WOA 2 year anniversary, I find myself at work, on my actually birthday – I turn 29 today – with a smile on my face, a glee at WOA and a massive thank you to all the readers who read daily on the site, on facebook, through the feed or email. Thank you for all your support and may it long continue…

Til later, adios.

The Run In…

Firstly, another massive high five for Debs who posted an excellent summary of the game yesterday! A game in which our win was so important and United’s loss after Chelsea’s loss last week, suddenly give us new impoteous that we can close in on the top two and I don’t think we should for a minute think we’re out of the title race!

Let’s take a look at the next 11 games for the top three and see where we think the title will end up.

Arsenal Chelsea Man United
55 points 61 points 57 points
Stoke (away) Manchester City (home) West Ham (home)
Burnley (home) West Ham (home) Wolves (away)
Hull (away) Blackburn (home) Fulham (home)
West Ham (home) Portsmouth (away) Liverpool (home)
Birmingham (away) Aston Villa (home) Bolton (away)
Wolves (home) Man United (away) Chelsea (home)
Sp*rs (away) Blackburn (home) Blackburn (away)
Wigan (away) Sp*rs (away) Man City (away)
Man City (home) Stoke (home) Sp*rs (home)
Blackburn (away) Liverpool (away) Sunderland (away)
Fulham (home) Wigan (home) Stoke (home)
Total: Total: Total:

I haven’t filled in the totals… yet but when you look at that list, it’s true to say we definitely have the easiest run in. But we do need to catch Chelsea by 6 points and the question will lie in whether we can see them dropping six points / goal difference more than we do. We won’t win all of our games, but we can drop less than the rest. Do you think Chelsea or United will win all their remaining games? Chelsea loss to Wigan and United’s loss to Burnley are proof of the pudding that it may not be against the likes of Sp*rs and City that the top two drop points. I didn’t think Everton would beat United, but they just did that.

Looking at the table above, I think we can win all of the games, but think we may just get a draw or two in the process. I don’t think we can afford a loss anywhere in the run in. Chelsea will most likely bulldose through, but against City, United and Liverpool they could easily drop points. I wouldn’t rule out Villa get a draw at the Bridge or Sp*rs doing them over at WHL… looking at United’s fixtures and the fact that they look the team with the most problems, home games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Sp*rs now look very tough for them as well as the away games at City and Sunderland.

As the comments suggested, it’s not over yet… let’s take a read of what Dampatti had to say on the matter:

An objective look at the remaining premiership fixtures shows that Arsenal have a favourable fixture list and with only 2 really tough games left, they are very much in the title race. What happened to United on saturday was exactly what i (and a lot of Arsenal fans) had predicted a while back, the top 2 are DEFINITELY going to drop points because their hardest matches are their last matches. Chelsea still have to travel to Man Utd, Liverpool and have Man City and Spurs at home. Man Utd still have to go to Man City and still have Spurs and Liverpool at home (some might say that those two have poor records in Old trafford but then again, Villa did and United only managed to get a single point from them this season). If the season continues to play out according to the laid down script (i.e Arsenal smashing the teams below them, Man Utd and Chelsea dropping points in midly tough fixtures) Arsenal have a fantastic chance of taking the title this season.

Theo believes too…

“People tend to write us off. We stay in the background and do our own thing. We’re just six points behind Chelsea. It’s looking good. It was frustrating in the early stages of the season with results not going our way, but it’s coming together now.”

So, do you still believe? We don’t have a fixture until the weekend, so we should be rested up in time for the Stoke game… isn’t it time we put one over them at their stadium… Bendtner and Eboue to start I’d say (more on that later – a proper preview on Thurs / Fri)….

Okie dokie, that’s a wrap, until next time my friends…

Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland… 3 points is all that matters.

The day couldn’t have gotten to a better start with Everton beating Man U 3-1 at Goodison Park, meaning we had the chance to close the gap to Utd in second place to 2 points. Massive chance. The starting XI for the game was:

Almunia

Eboue – Silvestre – Vermaelen – Clichy

Song – Ramsey

Fabregas - Nasri – Walcott

Bendtner

Sunderland went for an attacking line-up playing with Kenwyn Jones, Darren Bent and Frasier Campbell, although it looked more like 4-5-1 than 4-3-3 most of the time. As we lost to Sunderland in the away fixture back in November, it was also important that we didn’t let them do the double over us, even though incidentally, that was also their last league win!

We were quickly out of the blocks, which was refreshing to see, as we tend to start games slowly. We should have been 2-3 nil up inside 15 minutes and that would have been very much welcome. But then again, we’ve only scored one goal inside the first 15 minutes all season, and that was away from the Emirates!

The first real chance of the game came inside 4 minites on the counter, courtesy of Theo who embarrassed Sunderland defender George McCartney with his pace. A lovely ball from Cesc inside our half found Theo on the right, and off he went. He was so quick, no one could catch up with him; not even the Arsenal players trying to get into the box so he had to shoot from the right-hand side- just wide! Nasri also had a chance from a short corner routine, but his shot was deflected agonisingly over!

Theo again beat George McCartney down the right after being played in by Eboue, but with no one in the box and with the angle much tighter, he shot straight at the legs of the ‘keeper. He collected the rebound and passed it to Bendtner who shot just wide. Another chance fell to Bendtner, who had his shot deflected- onto the bar! He really ought to have scored though, as it was a fabulous chance.

Frazier Campbell did get clear of Silvestre, but he recovered well to block the shot. We had a chance immediately on the counter, but it came to nothing thanks to fabulous blocking from Sunderland.

Our midfield play was excellent, though we were slightly lacking in the final third but we finally got the goal our approach play deserved. Eboue made a storming run into the box and his cross/shot took a deflection, leaving Bendtner with the simplest of tap-ins at the far post. Rubbish defending though- there were about 3 Sunderland defenders in the box around Nikky B but behind him!

The rest of the half followed in much the same vein although Sunderland had a great chance to equalise, after Kenwyn Jones was played in between our centre-backs, but he screwed his shot wide with only Almunia to beat. So the score at half-time remained 1-nil to us, even though we had the chance to kill the game off, and really should have. Silvestre even had a fabulous pass across to Theo on the right, his low cross almost reaching Bendtner, but the goalkeeper was out quickly.

That’s how the first half went. We were well on top, but we had to make sure we didn’t ease up in the second half. 1-nil is never a safe scoreline and if we learnt anything from the away game at the Stadium of Light, it is that Sunderland can be clinical.

The second half started in similar fashion and we were practically camped in the Sunderland half. But it was generally quiet, by way of chances. Fabregas sent a free-kick from the left into the box and it took a faint touch off a Sunderland player and fizzed past the far post! Theo later forced Gordon into a decent save and Vermaelen’s fierce free kick had to be palmed away by Gordon.

Sunderland again had the chance to equalise after Bent outpaced Silvestre, but Almunia was there to make the save with his legs. Ramsey also had yet another Arsenal shot deflected away from goal and Gordon made a few more good saves.
Nasri got subbed for Rosicky later on with Theo also coming off for Sagna, Eboue moving into midfield.

But with Sunderland defending stoutly, the second goal just wouldn’t come, and it took an injury-time penalty to settle the nerves. Fabregas was brought down by Frazier Campbell (in or outside the box? I’d say it was inside) and the referee gave a penalty, only our second of the season. Fabregas got up to take it, and even though he missed our other penalty, he slotted this in confidently to the far right, sealing the comfortable win.

It wasn’t a classic by any means, but who cares? It’s 3 points on the board, and we’re only 2 points off 2nd place. We might not be any closer to 1st place as Chelsea won, but it was a good weekend for us.

Fabio was at the game, presumably to watch Theo. Who else? Maybe Bent? But either way, Theo needed to impress, and in my opinion he did. Not that he had his best game- he didn’t. But he showed enough to suggest that there’s still ‘life’ in him. He got into great positions a number of times and although he didn’t deliver a good enough final ball all the time, he was a constant thorn in their side, and the few times he provided a decent ball in, he didn’t have enough support. Obviously, it’s club that matters for now, but I think if he plays most of our games until the end of the season, he’s got a great chance of going to the World Cup, as he should be peaking at about March/April, and there’s no chance of him suffering burn-out.

Here’s what the Boss had to say about Theo’s performance:

“I think he is much sharper than three weeks ago. He is still lacking a bit of confidence in the final third but for 60-70 minutes he looked dangerous. He made good runs and I believe he is on the way up.”

Eboue had a storming game! Need I say more? And it was really nice not only that he did well, but the fans’ respnse to him after the game. He was even trending on Twitter! I guess last season’s problem is now water under the bridge- we love him, he loves us. good stuff. He was definitely the man-of-match and he got a good ovation when he was replaced by Denilson with a couple of minutes to go.

I didn’t really notice Ramsey much, but I according to a stat he made more complete passes than any other player, so I guess he must have had a good game! I think he deserves to start more games. Bendtner did alright as well, although you can tell he’s still trying to get his sharpness back. The goal would have boosted his confidence, not that he needs the confidence boost, anyways, but at least he’s back on the scoresheet.

I’d say our defence held up well, apart from the few times we let them get a 1 v 1, but generally, we weren’t troubled much. Almunia also had a quiet game, which was what we needed, after all the negative column inches our goalkeepers have amassed over the past week!

Fabregas picked up his 5th yellow of the season and according to the ATVO commentator, he misses the next game! I’m not too sure about that, because I remember there’s a different rule after Christmas- you need 10 yellows to be suspended. Anyways, hope I’m right and he isn’t, as we’ve got Stoke away!Not going to bother with Arsene’s reaction to the result, as it’s easy to figure out what his reaction would have been! :)

We’re quietly beginning to string a good run in the league and we’ve won our last 2 games, conceding none. Ofcourse they’ve both been home games, but hopefully it’s a platform we can build upon and if we win against Stoke it’ll be evidence that we’re serious of at least doing the best we can to win the league.

Arsenal vs Sunderland Preview and My Take on The Porto Refereeing…

Howdie folks! First of all, a massive hi five to Debs for her excellent second post yesterday, Porto 2-1 Arsenal… Not a good welcome back to the Champions League, right?, a brilliant read and an insightful overview of the game. Before I take a look at the Sunderland game tomorrow, I just want to touch on the refereeing decision and the goalkeeping situation we find ourselves in.

As a team, having watched the game again, we weren’t that bad. It’s obvious that teams are targetting Gael Clichy as a weak link and I really hope the boy can regain some form as we know he has before. I have noticed several times that Nasri and Rosicky, when deployed on the left normally go infield or across to a more natural right side, leaving Clichy exposed, whilst Arshavin does a little better, he is often high up field attacking. On the right, most of our team do cover, most of our midfield and forward line are right footers (right footers tend to spend more time on the right hand side of the pitch than others) and Walcott, Nasri, Rosicky do provide cover there. Arsene above all, will be the person who can see this and I hope he is addressing it in the right fashion or it could undo our season.

Looking at the goalkeeping position – in the big games against United and Chelsea, when Almunia has played, he has not done much to warrant any praise and ultimately, most people feel he shouldn’t have conceded the penalty at Old Trafford and of course, doesn’t seem to be effective – as most teams score all their shots on goal. However, looking at the reasoning behind it, it is probably because when the opposition players shoot, it’s normally on a break, and harder to defend. Almunia does normally do the basics right though and he’s got over the nerves thing. The problem with Fabianski is the nerves thing. He’s better than he showed against Porto and it’s a shame that the nerves got the better of him, as he did pull off some great saves.

Looking at the first goal – very poor – very very poor – but these things happen – for every 20 great saves, every keeper has a mistake up their sleeve and for every 20 mistakes, one will be a very embarrassing one. “Nuff said”. The second goal was silly. Sol shouldn’t have touched it, but he did. Fabz shouldn’t have picked it up, but he did. Fabz shouldn’t have turned his back to goal, but he did. Ultimately, whilst a quick free kick is allowed, the referee made a mistake. If the Porto player who scored had taken the ball from an Arsenal player, then fine, go ahead, put the ball down and score. But as soon as the referee touches the ball, a quick free kick cannot be taken. I don’t know how the referee allowed what happened, but he basically bottled out of the decision and it’s severely costed us.

The errors were, as Cesc said, school boy errors (btw, isn’t he becoming more Spanish, accent etc? all the time)… but for the first time in many years, Arsene has launched an verbal on a ref that is very true, but he may find himself under the wrath of UEFA soon… the gaffer said this:

“But he missed a 100 per cent penalty on Rosicky. That is a judgement in a second that I can accept. For me, the back-pass of Sol Campbell was accidental. He has judged it is voluntary. Okay we have a difference there. That I can accept. Technically so many mistakes. His body position. Where he stands is completely wrong at the moment he gives a free-kick. He takes the ball from Lukasz Fabianski. They score. What he does doesn’t make common sense and is against the rules of the referees. When a guy makes so many technical mistakes that are not even linked to judgement, I believe he is not competent.”

Interesting and strong words from the manager, and there will be more on this later I’m sure…

Arsenal vs Sunderland Preview

Onto tomorrow’s game and we’ve lost Diaby (again) from the squad – this time with a knee ligament injury (how on earth do our players get so injured?). We do have a half fit Almunia and a more than half fit Song back in the squad too. But no sign of Gallas, Eduardo or Arshavin. Arsene has commented that Sol is very tired and may not be able to start tomorrow, so we may see Silvestre in his place. Denilson must be dropped, especially if Song does return – Ramsey surely deserves a starting berth ahead of the Brazilian? I’d personally start Walcott as we could do with some pace up front, and I doubt Rosicky can play so many games in a row…

The team could very well look like this:

Fabianski

Sagna – Silvestre – Vermaelen – Clichy

Song – Ramsey

Walcott – Cesc – Nasri

Bendtner

What do you think? What are your line-ups?

I’ll leave you with the bitter sweet news that Van Persie is out still, but back soon… how soon?

“If you ask me is it the beginning of April, I would say categorically no because he has not started any real fitness work yet. Once he starts that, it will take at least six weeks.  Maybe [he will be back] at the end of April if all goes well. If there is no set-back, he should be back before the end of the season but it is very difficult to predict.”

Til tomorrow…

Porto 2-1 Arsenal… Not a good welcome back to the Champions League, right?

Wow. That was eventful, wasn’t it? It was a cracking match, but we’ve now got a 2-1 deficit to overhaul during the second leg. But we’re definitely not out of it, far from it.

The atmosphere at the Estadio do Dragao was electric, as usual, even without a full-capacity crowd, and it was always going to be a hard task for us to win the game, especially with a number of 1st team regulars out with injury. The much-maligned Almunia was sidelined with a finger injury, meaning Fabianski was drafted in as his replacement. Gallas was also missing, Sol Campbell playing in his stead. Our midfield general, Alex Song was also missing, along with Arshavin & Eduardo. None of those injuries are long-term, so we should have them back over the next few games. Which meant Bendtner was able to make yet another start, after recovering from his groin injury. The starting XI looked like this:

Fabianski

Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Diaby

Rosicky – Cesc - Nasri

Bendtner

The match started in frenetic fashion, with Porto having 2 quick chances, both due to errors on our path. A sloppy Denilson pass put Porto’s Falcao through, but he was denied by a last-ditch challenge by Sol Campbell right in the box- a brilliant tackle. But that was the nature of the game- our errors led to Porto chances, and inevitably their goals, both of them comical. For the first, Silvestre Valera skipped past Gael Clichy on the left way to easily to deliver a cross, or was it a shot? Either way, it went straight to Fabianski for an ‘easy’ catch, but for some reason, he fumbled it in! He seemed wrong-footed, but why, I do not know. The only person his fumbling would have pleased in the Arsenal camp would be Almunia, who has been criticised of costly fumbles of late- he’s safe in the knowledge that his deputy will not be displacing him anytime soon.

So 11 minutes in, and we were already behind! But we had started to get into the game, and it was not a surprise that we were level pretty soon- but the identity of the scorer was definitely a surprise! We had a corner on the right, Vermaelen flicking the ball, finding Rosicky on the far right who simply headed it back across to an unmarked Sol Campbell who headed it in! It was Sol Campbell’s 2nd goal in his last 2 Champions League games, the last coming in that Champions League final in 2006. An omen, maybe?! (minus the final result, ofcourse!) But the result on the day suggests that we need to do more before contemplating the possibility of reaching the final.

We were well on top after Sol’s equaliser, with Rosicky and Bendtner both testing Helton. But we went into the break on level terms, the half being memorable for the constant fouling meted out to Cesc who clearly wasn’t happy with a number of the Porto players when the whistle blew. The referee ought to have booked a number of the Porto players, or at least warned them, but he was far too lenient, and it was more of the same in the second half!

We started the second half much brightly than we did the first, and we had the ball in dangerous positions, even though we didn’t test the Porto ‘keeper, Helton, that much. But it did look like the next goal was going to be at his end, which could only mean that Porto would go on and score! And score they did, in highly contentious circumstances, about 5-6 minutes into the second half!

Right before the goal, Rosicky had a pretty decent shout for a penalty, but the referee was having none of it. Looking at the replays, I personally do not think it was a penalty, but almost everyone else seemed to think it was, including a few neutrals. One of the Porto players had over-run the ball a bit, and Sol had the simple task of shepherding the ball to Fabianski. But he accidentally touched the ball to Fabianski, at almost the last instant. Fabianski had already committed to picking up the ball and wasn’t alert to the fact that it had become a back-pass, so he picked up the ball! Porto had an indirect free-kick inside the box. Fair enough, even though Arsene disputed this in the post-match interview. The next passage of play was the highly controversial part, which also proved to be the deciding factor of the game.

When the referee blew for a free-kick, the ball was with Fabianski, with Sol the only other Arsenal player around. Two Porto players were quick to get in the box to take advantage. The referee demanded the ball from Fabianski, who arguably had no choice but to give the ball back. But the problem was that he was nowhere near his goal and before he had the chance to get near, the free-kick had been taken and the ball was past him and into the net in a flash. The referee allowed the goal to stand! Arsene was LIVID and even had a bit of a long discussion with the referee near the touchline. He was probably trying to get the referee to explain how on earth he allowed the Porto players to take the free-kick so quickly, especially as it didn’t look as if the referee was ready for it! He had turned his back on play to speak to Sol, who was directly behind him, when the free-kick was taken. Add that to the fact that the referee had gone out of his way to demand the ball, and the Boss was justifiably furious! One definitely cannot blame the Porto players, as they were well in their right to take the free-kick quickly and one would expect us to do the same if we were in a similar position. But the referee ought to take the blame for it, as he didn’t hand the situation well.

Here’s Arsene’s take on it:

What can you do? The backpass was accidental. Where do you see a defender kick the ball back with his toe? It was completely accidental. The ball hit Sol, it was not on purpose and it has to be intentional to be a free-kick. It is difficult to understand how the referee can interpret that or not see that. Then, on an indirect free-kick, if you allow the team to play quickly, just five metres from the goal, how can the team defend that? It is better than a penalty. It was unbelievable that he allowed Porto to play straight away and push the ball into the net.
I have never seen that and I have been in the game a long time. It is completely inappropriate that he allows that in such a situation. When the referee gives the free-kick he has to allow us a chance to defend it, otherwise it is better to give a goal straight away.

Either way, the goal was given and we found ourselves 2-1 down, and we weren’t able to improve on the score-line, even though the match was very much end to end. The match was played at a high tempo and it was hard to keep up with it at times!

We had a few more chances to get another goal, but so did Porto and to be honest, any time they had the ball anywhere near our box towards the end of the game, I was pretty worried we would concede, so I was happy to take a 2-1 scoreline! Anything worse and we surely would have been out of the tie?

We did made use of our substitutions, with Theo coming on for Rosicky, Vela for Bendtner, and Eboue for Nasri, but none of them were able to make a telling impact. Eboue did have a brilliant drive into the box creating a chance, but it didn’t come to anything.

There weren’t really any stand-out performances, although Sol was generally impressive and showed he’s more than capable to deputise for either of the centre-halfs. Fabregas didn’t really have that much of an impact on the game, but then, he was being tackled every other minute. Clichy was a bit worrying defensively, but I just feel as if he needs more games to get back to his best; we all know, and I’m sure he does too, that he much better than this. Fabianski did make a couple of decent saves, but his 2 errors have pretty much overshadowed them, as you would expect, considering we lost the match as a result.

A disappointing result, but on reflection, it is hardly a disastrous one, given the circumstances. We do have the crucial away goal, and a 1-0 win at the Emirates on the return leg would more than be enough but if we were to concede, we would have to win by 2 clear goals. We won 4-0 the last time Porto visited us at the Emirates, and there is no reason why we can’t repeat the same next time round. We should hopefully have the likes of Alex Song and Arshavin back by then, Bendtner, Clichy and Theo should have had a few more games under their belts, but we have to cut out on the silly errors if we want to have any chance of getting through to the next stage.

No point dwelling on this result though, we’ve got Sunderland at the Emirates on Saturday for the start of our unbeaten Premier League run! :)

Porto vs Arsenal – Match Day Live…

It’s been a long while since we’ve had a match day live (as we only do them for away games)… but it’s time to dust off the old MDL text commentary and gear up for an awesome match day…

We’re eagerly awaiting the team news…

And here it is:

Fabianski

Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Diaby

Rosicky – Cesc - Nasri

Bendtner

Subs : Mannone – Vela – Walcott – Ramsey – Silvestre – Eboue – Traore

Over to the comments

Porto vs Arsenal, The Actual Preview

The “FA cup not in it” lull has come to an end and tomorrow we take on the mighty Porto at the Estadio do Dragao. It is going to be a cagey encounter, where we know a win or a draw will put us in good stead for the home game two weeks today…

Team news ahead of the game tomorrow is that we’ve got quite a few absentees… Gallas is out with a calf injury that will see him miss tomorrow’s game, but apparently he will be back for the weekend. Arsene has talked about him being on the edge of getting injured and that it’s lucky that he hasn’t, so this little niggle should be expected. It’s reassuring to have Sol Campbell able to come in and replace him rather than Mikael Silvestre – even though Campbell is older than the Frenchman and has probably made a lot more “errors of judgement”, I’d still prefer him at the back rather than Silvestre.

Eduardo was thought to be back for this game, but unfortunately, he’s also out – the good news is that Carlos Vela returns, so at least we have a striking option alternative to Niklas Bendtner. Alex Song hasn’t recovered from his knee injury yet, and as we knew before, Andrei Arshavin is out for a couple of weeks. The interesting news outside of that is that Matty Almunia is out with a “finger injury” and Arsene recently admitted that Almunia had recently been playing with a twisted finger – which I find very very strange – how on earth can a keeper play with an injury to a finger… here’s what Arsene said:

“Manuel Almunia has a finger injury, and the hand is quite useful for goalkeepers. He had already a twisted finger and he made it worse and I didn’t want to take a gamble on it. Eduardo has a recurrence of his hamstring injury.”

Maybe the whole Stoke, Villa, Untied, Chelsea, Liverpool was too important or tense for Arsene to switch keepers, and now it’s over, we can “ease” Fabianski back into first team action… interestingly, some papers have reported that Eduardo hasn’t recovered from his injury in time, but will be back for Saturday, but quite clearly here, Arsene has cited a recurrence of the injury, meaning he’ll probably be out for much longer…

So, let’s look at the line up – the first 8 picks itself I think (back 5 and three in the middle) and it’s the wingers that we’re all not sure about….

Fabianski

Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy

Diaby – Denilson

The front four could be:

Walcott – Cesc – Nasri

Bendtner

or

Eboue – Cesc – Rosicky

Bendtner

or

Nasri – Cesc – Rosicky

Bendtner

I think Arsene will play either Walcott or Eboue and Rosicky or Nasri – one with guile and one with pace. Goonerman from the comments seems to think it will be the middle one (Eboue and Rosicky), but with Nasri on such good form and with Walcott in need of games, I’d be more inclined to go with the first option. The bench will most likely be (if option 1 is chosen): Mannone, Silvestre, Eboue, Traore, Ramsey, Rosicky and Vela. Your thoughts on the team selection duly welcome!

A few videos to finish off with, first the Inspired by Zidane post that been making the rounds…

Inspired by “Zidane – A 21st Century Portrait”, A Night At The Emirates is a unique and immersive documentary. Shot with a single camera on the 10th February 2010 during the game against Liverpool, the film is about the Arsenal matchday experience from the perspective of the fans.

And finally, I want to get you into South Africa spirit and World Cup frenzy… check out the new Akon video:

Adios for now…

A Quiet Weekend… Let’s talk Porto…

Howdie folks, it’s been a very quiet weekend in the world of Arsenal, with absolutely nothing happening… the FA cup was a boring affair – obviously as we weren’t involved, although there was a bit of good fortune for the likes of Pompey and Chelski – with Villa scoring very late on to force a replay with Palace. Now we’ve had an extended break, our players should all be rested and raring to take on the once great Porto.

Porto vs Arsenal Preview

So, we’ll be without Arshavin this Wednesday who will also most likely miss the Sunderland game on Saturday too. For once in the season, we actually have an alternative that can come in in place of Arshavin in Theo Walcott – although I would prefer him to play on the right as he doesn’t look that great on the left. Nasri has supposedly recovered from his knock and should start the game too.

The key to winning this double headed tie, in my opinion is the disciple which is required in the Champions League. Once of our problems this season is a lack of team discipline when playing the bigger teams – which leads to conceding quite a few goals (as shown against United, Chelsea and City)… so against Champions League teams, it’s important to have a sense of patience – because if we don’t we will be punished.

Porto are the kind of team who play with style and have match winners – but also play not to concede, they have had a good balance in recent years. If we don’t win, then it’s not the end of the world, we can score at the Emirates – but this year, I would be a tad scared if we lost, as our home form gung ho hasn’t really worked. A draw away, an away goal or a win, of course, would make the home tie much easier.

Arsene has been reflecting on the Porto  game, post Liverpool.

“We know that when you go to Porto you need a solid defensive performance. I was reassured on Wednesday – that was maybe the biggest part of our game against Liverpool. We looked solid defensively for the first time in the last three big games, and that was vital before you go out for a Champions League game. I believe in the first leg our defensive performance will be important because against Manchester United and Chelsea we were 2-0 down after 20 minutes and that is massive in games. So let’s keep our defensive discipline we had against Liverpool and I am sure we can score when we play. Porto is a tough draw. They don’t look like a prestigious team but every year they are in there and they can surprise people. They have been playing very well recently.”

And I’d have to agree with Arsene – the defensive performance against Liverpool was important for the belief that we can shut teams out. The gaffer also took time to comment on Diaby’s recent performances and how he has become a very important member of the squad, showing both strength, power and an attacking verve that makes things happen – and the player has definitely changed my mind.

Eduardo should be back for the game and we’ve now got two options – Eduardo or Bendtner – just come back from an injury or just just come back from an injury – it’s tough for them obviously as they’ve lost their sharpness, but it’s tough for us too to see them miss from a yard out!

“Eduardo has shown signs in training that he is getting sharper again. It takes a long time to recover when you have been injured as he was, but he is getting stronger and stronger. It is not a worry that he does not score – I told him that, once you start to make assists, it is the same as scoring and that, for me, there is no difference. I said the same to Robin van Persie earlier in the season. Don’t forget that, at the start of the season, Robin made several assists, but did not score. The goals will come – the team gives you back what you give to the team, so it is just a question of patience.”

Well, yes, I’d agree with that, but Eduardo has had a massive amount of game time in which not to score! However, we’ve got to deal with what we have and we’ve got to get behind both the Danish and Crozilian strikers – I wouldn’t hesitate to say that they will come good soon.

We’ll look ahead to the Porto game in more detail tomorrow but I want to leave you with the craziness which has come out of the FA in regards to the league and Champions League – can you believe the idiocy that has suggested that the 4th Champions League spot becomes a play off between the four teams from 4th to 7th. For example, this season, if we do stay in the top 3, then even if Liverpool finished 10 points ahead of Man City, the four teams, Liverpool, Man City, Villa and Everton would play a knock out competition to see who gets into the CL… That’s crazy – there is every chance Bolton could sneak into 7th and then play in the Champions League?

Sky Sports commented:

“A proposal is believed to have been raised at a meeting of the 20 Premier League clubs which would see the top three progressing, with the teams finishing fourth to seventh then meeting to determine who would take the fourth spot.”

If the play off was between the winners of the FA cup and the 4th place finish, it would make more sense, but from 4th to 7th just doesn’t make sense. We’ll see what happens with this, but I really don’t think it will take off…

We take on Chelsea in the reserves tonight, which looks to be the most interesting thing in the last 4 days… come on boys, let’s show them who are kings of the reserves!!

Til tomorrow, relax and enjoy!