The Ah, Arsenal Way (Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham)

Shit. Shitty shit. Not really much to say about yesterday. Arsenal didn’t play very well, and Birmingham looked good for their win. Considering we should probably have been down to 10 men and conceded a penalty in the first 5 minutes we had our fair share of luck and still managed to lose it the Arsenal way, with a bit of a cock-up at the end.

The only complaint I’d voice about Birmingham (aside from Bowyer being a diving cheating cunt) was the stupid, childish hand to Koscielny’s head. I’ve seen plenty of red card’s for less, especially in retaliation. But, somehow, when celebrating, it’s fine.

I’ve read a lot of Arsenal fans lambasting the keeper and Koscielny. Those two players have kept us in games, and have helped us progress in both the Carling Cup and Champions League. They’ve put in excellent performances in the league. What happened was a horrible mix up and not a sympton of Arsenals failure to buy big. What happened there could of (and has) happened to anybody. Rio Ferdinand once kicked the ball passed his own keeper in more or less the same situation, so “experience” would probably not really have made any difference. Shit happens. That it happens to Arsenal in a Cup Final is just the Arsenal way. Only Arsenal could really have managed it.

BBC immediately spoke of “the black hole” in Arsenals defence and immediately Alan Hansen compared Arsenal’s “leaky defence” to the “solid foundations” of the teams around them in the league. The fact remains, after conceding 27 goals we’ve conceded just 2 more than both Manchester City and Manchester United, the teams above and below us. The only other team to have conceded less are Chelsea (22 goals), and they’re 5th – surely proof that having the tightest defence in the league won’t actually win you the league, or any other competition.

I’m not suggesting we can’t improve, I’m just saying we hardly have a black fucking hole. Consider now that we have the 3rd best defensive record in the league and our first choice central defender is currently being upgraded in the factory and has been there since the start of the season “awaiting parts”.

Anyway, if you’re going to concede goals you need to score them, and that’s something we didn’t do enough of yesterday. Why we continued to play RVP when clearly injured is beyond me – he could hardly run and I think it hampered us. As great a player as he is, even he can’t magic goals out of thin air with a leg shattered in seven places. The fantastic goal he scored seemed to hurt his leg and from that moment on he was simply anonymous. Why we didn’t change him for Bendtner or Chamakh sooner I have no idea.

On a side note, Rosicky was also pretty anonymous yesterday. Surely this is shaping up to be the floppy haired little ‘goal machine’s last season? He’s been consistently awful. Why we kicked Edaurdo into touch after his failed to comeback from injury, and yet stand by Rosicky who has lost 6 yards of pace and three footballers of ability since his own injury, is beyond me.

On balance, I thought Birmingham were worthy winners – they had a stonewall penalty claim, hit the post and scored twice. That Chesney also had to make a save on Zigic in a one on one tells you all you need to know. We may have had more shots on target, but Birmingham looked the most dangerous.

I just hope now that Arsenal take the manner of defeat, an awful mistake of a goal and get all fired up, go out and prove the 17 people who text me last night wrong. I mean I can take good hearted ribbing from everybody and anybody, but when a fucking moron Liverpool fan gloats over you losing after just having been beaten by West Ham 3-1, you know there’s something wrong with the world.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke City

Good evening folks. A quick round-up of yesterday’s game and other news as the WOA team looks forward to Dev’s big 30th Birthday weekend (Happy 30th Dev!). How many times can I tell you that he’s 30 in one sentence? Just kidding Dev (Grandpa).

Condensing yesterday’s game into a small paragraph or two won’t be hard, as Stoke did what they do best, which is to convert a match of football into a boring, set piece-orientated slugfest. We started the game brightly, and could have finished them off in the first ten minutes. An early chance saw Theo Walcott through on goal, but he was unfortunate when his shot rebounded off the inside of the post and generously back into the arms of Begovic. The winning goal came just a few moments later in the 8th minute. And it came from a set piece (take note and learn, Stoke). Nicklas Bendtner did well to chest down an overshot corner and volley the ball back into the middle of the 6-yard box where Squillaci was on hand to nod it in. 1-0 to the Arsenal, and it would remain that way until the end.

Shortly after the goal Cesc had to be replaced by Arshavin with a hamstring strain. I really can’t remember anything else significant happening in the first half. The game seemed to dry up completely after Cesc went off, and Sczezsny pulled off a great diving save from a Carew shot to keep us ahead at the interval. The second half didn’t offer too much either. The best Arsenal chance came when Arshavin cut the ball back to Theo who completely miscued his shot with the goal at his mercy. I remember a similar chance in another game recently, and like then, he should have used his left foot to tuck it in.

We had some bad news moments later when Theo was stretchered off with an ankle sprain. Stoke had one decent chance from memory when Huth headed over a Stoke corner from a good position. Otherwise, for all their tedious long throws and corners, you have to say we held our own extremely well, and grounded out a vital 3 points which took us to one point off the top, with Manchester United having to play a couple of tricky away games in a few days.

It has since transpired that both Cesc and Theo will miss Sunday’s Carling Cup Final against Birmingham at Wembley, which is bad news, but I am confident we can cope without them. Birmingham worry me when I think of the prospect of playing against Zigic and Martins. However I am told that we will have our full-strength back 5 available for the game, and we are always capable of scoring goals with players like Nasri and Arshavin available. I have also read reports (albeit unconfirmed) that RVP will be back for the game too. Fingers crossed he is available, and we can only hope that Theo and Cesc come back for the Barcelona game on March 8th as they will be vital if we are to stand a chance at the Camp Nou.

So, Wembley is finally upon us, and a chance to end the trophy drought once and for all. I can’t see it being a classic encounter, but that really doesn’t matter if we end up lifting the trophy does it? A few of us will be heading to The Torch by the stadium for pre-match drinks for those who are going. Otherwise, let’s cross our fingers, legs, and all other cross-able body parts and pray that Theo and Cesc come back from injury ASAP. Come on you Gunners!

Arsenal vs Stoke Preview – Van Persie & Koscielny Miss Out

Yesterday the Arsenal world was rocked with the news that Robin Van Persie has a hamstring injury and will miss today’s game. With Chamakh and Bendtner woeful in recent games and Vela and JET plying their trade elsewhere, yesterday was full of debate on who / how we should overcome his injury. My comments in yesterday’s blog comments were not meant to imply that Bendtner and Chamakh are “suddenly” useless – but instead a comment on both of them in regards to form or lack of it.

Both Chamakh and Bendtner have not really stolen any headlines in their outings – remember, they have played Leeds home & away, Ipswich, Huddersfield and Leyton Orient – games in which Premierhip strikers normally get a few goals… But with Van Persie injured, one of the aforementioned two will play… so the question is who will get the nod?

Maroune Chamakh

Chamakh started his Arsenal career well, and in his first 20 games, was the lone striker – he scored 10 goals during this period and despite Van Persie’s 11 in 9, you’ve got to consider 10 in 20 is not a bad scoring rate – and something that endeared him to the Arsenal fans. In more recent times, his performances have not been up to the standard of earlier in the season and the player has also admitted that he is feeling exhausted and physically tired, despite not having any game time for the last 2 months.

Niklas Bendtner

“Nikki B”, as many call him is our special enigma – sometimes very frustrating, sometimes sublime but most of the time, somewhere in between. His recent selections on left midfield and right midfield don’t do him justice, and if we can our minds back to last season, he performed well when as a long striker. Bendtner has scored some important goals, none other than his strike against Ipswich, which pushed us into the Carling Cup final. The player himself is super duper confident, and the question is, whether he can start showing us why Arsene has so much faith in him!

So, who do I think will play tonight? Well, if Van Persie is only injured for one game and will be back for Sunday’s final then I think Bendtner will play – but if it’s more serious and Arsene thinks he will miss the weekend, then Bendtner will be earmarked for Wembley, and Chamakh could come in tonight.

So, let’s take a look my chosen XI:

Szcznesy

Sagna – Squillaci – Djourou – Clichy

Wilshere – Song

Walcott – Cesc – Nasri

Bendtner

With a bench of Almunia, Eboue, Gibbs, Denilson, Arshavin, Rosicky and Chamakh

Despite great performances against Barcelona that he was the only attacking player with any desire against Leyton Orient, I don’t think Arshavin will play against Stoke – I do think he will play on the weekend though. Arsene believes the old Arshavin is back and said:

“I love Arshavin because he’s a player who can always give you hope that he can make the difference. He was troubled by confidence problems for a while but he is now back and that goal against Barcelona helped him. He is a top-level player who lives on success and when it doesn’t go for you for a while you question ‘what am I not doing right and why? Nobody is immune to that. I have seen so many big players – and believe me Andrey is one of them – and they all go through periods like that. It is part of being a human being.”

Let’s hope he is back and puts in some decent performances from now until the end of the season!

A special mention to Aaron Ramsey and Jay Emmanuel Thomas who both played for Cardiff yesterday (and Ramsey scored)… some excellent performances and if they do that week in and week out – then there is definitely a place for them in the Arsenal team!

Til tomorrow, Adios… 3 points tonight?

Arsenal vs Stoke Preview + Huge Round Up…

Round Up

Morning all, and it’s been a crazy week for all connected to the Arsenal – we beat a Barcelona side which is dubbed “the best in the world” and then drew to a lower league side, Leyton Orient, having dominated pretty much the whole game! I’d have taken the Orient draw in order to win the Barcelona game, so it’s not the worst result in the world – the pessimists will say it’s another game – the optimists will say that we’re still in four competitions, and quite a lot in them…. so we should be happy…

But in the next 3 weeks or so, we have an astonishing six games in 17 days, and it’s completely our fault – we could and should have avoided that by actually beating a very under average side, and we’ve got to consider what the consequence of that inability to win will be? Of course, obviously, we have another game to play…  but surely if we’re playing more games, we’ll be utilising more players – more players that can’t always be outside of our first choice picking – Song and Sagna both played against Leyton Orient as did Arshavin, who can definitely be considered an important player.

Our 6 games in 17 days are:

  • 23 Wed Feb – Stoke City at Home
  • 27 Sun Feb – Birmingham City in the CC final
  • 02 Wed March – Leyton Orient at Home
  • 05 Sat March – Sunderland at Home
  • 08 Tue March – FC Barcelona Away
  • 12 Sat March – Manchester United Away

Can you believe it? That is a seriously tough run in…

Now, for season ticket holders, they lose a credit in a way, as the Leyton Orient game will now be considered as part of their season ticket – to be honest, watching our second team misplace 20 passes and scrape through to the next round of the cup is not as good as seeing our first team take on the likes of Barcelona.

Arsenal vs Stoke

So back to the Premiership, and Stoke travel down to the Emirates tomorrow in what is a MUST WIN game… and if we win, we will go one point behind United, albeit, with a game in hand. It’s essential that we capitalise in the hope that United don’t win their next game. Personally, regardless of the fact that we have the Carling Cup final on Sunday, Wednesday’s game – in my eyes – is bigger. Well, firstly, simply because it’s the next game. But more importantly for me is the Premiership – within one point of United – who have a tough run in, and we could be a few points ahead of them by the time we play our next round of the Champions League (optimistic?)…

The team news is that Djourou is back and so is Van Persie, both who had slight knocks / strains earlier in the week – with Diaby still injured and suspended, the team picks itself:

Szcznesy

Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy

Wilshere – Song

Walcott – Cesc – Nasri

Van Persie

With a bench of Almunia, Eboue, Gibbs, Squillaci, Denilson, Arshavin and Bendtner…

That’s just the 9 changes from the Leyton Orient game… Arsene will be having a press conference in the morning, so we will see if he chooses the same team as me…!

So, onwards and upwards I say… and finally, the Daily Mail are trying to scare Arsenal fans by taking a different stance on Nasri, saying he won’t sign for us unless we win a title, which is the opposite of what he said… he said – “I want to win trophies with Arsenal”…. whilst rumours are rife that we’ve signed a couple of Barcelona youngsters (again)… more news on that tomorrow…

Update: We have signed Jon Miquel Toral, a Barcelona “C” attacking player – apparently he spoke to Cesc before deciding to join the club!!

Anyway fellow Gooners, have a good day and surely, I’ll speak to you during the day in the comments!!

Late To Orient

I’m going to start by saying the unpopular though. Leyton Orient were pretty poor. There, I’ve said it. They weren’t great, they sat back, they defended for 89 minutes and looked content to lose 1-0 instead of gambling on conceding a second or scoring themselves. No one told the lad up front though and he provided the only bit of decent play they conjured up in more or less the entire second half and scored a pretty solid goal. You’ve got to hope the keeper does better there, but credit to the lad for putting the ball in the net. He seemed a bit out of the game plan anyway, in the dressing room he cleaned his boots instead of joining the huddle and then just walked out on camera. Seemed odd, especially as no one seemed to give a shit that he’d scored.

Anyway, everywhere else the media seem overly concerned with “credit where it’s due” or “Leyton Orient deserve all the plaudits”. They don’t. They were part of a dull match where one team wanted to lose by as few goals as possible and the other team couldn’t really be arsed to score more than one. Arsenal were pretty dire, but I’m not using that to suggest Orient don’t deserve credit – they don’t deserve credit because they were equally poor. On reflection 1-1 was probably a fair result, as neither side really took the initiative. Some might think I’m being harsh in my assessment of Orient, but the game was there for the taking if they wanted it. Was Denilson going to stop them? Was Bendtner going to stop them? No, of course not, but instead they conceded the game from the outset, and that deserves no credit at all.

Arsenal were dire, as I expected when I saw the team. Song was solid enough (though it’s alongside Wilshere/Fabregas that he truly sparkles), Miguel had a good debut and Arshavin looked like he really wanted to finish the week with more than 1 goal – but those three aside the rest of the team looked lazy, lethargic and dis-interested. Sagna was solid if unspectacular.

It’s something that has annoyed me for a while now. Arshavin, Denilson, Chamakh, Bendtner, Rosicky and Almunia are all players with a point to prove, all players who should be pushing for a first team place. Players who should be putting Orient to the fucking sword and giving Wenger a selection headache. Of those players only Arshavin made a claim, looking as revitalised as Wednesdays goal suggested. It irritates me that the rest of those players manage to be so lethargic. Where is the hunger in the fringe squad? The first team is settled and solid, and probably our best 1st XI for a few seasons now. But outside that there are players like Denilson and Bendtner knocking on the door. Players who do not match the hunger and desire of those ahead of them, let alone the skill.

I’ve picked on Denilson and Bendtner the most because simply, after 5 or 6 years at Arsenal they should be better. They should want to win. They should be showing the spirit and organisation that Orient showed. They should be replaying many years of faith and development by at least looking like they give a shit, not back heeling the fucking ball in our penalty area. I get that players have bad games or dips in form, but as Arshavin has shown, you just have to put your head down and work bloody hard. I’ve stuck by these players through a lot, much to the annoyance of some of you regulars – we’ve had many debates about the quality of Bendtner and Denilson in particular and I have always backed them to shine. I don’t doubt there talent, but I’m beginning to think that until they sort out their fucking attitude they might as well not be here.

You only have to look at the emergence of Jack Wilshere, a player being groomed to replace Fabregas, who is happy to sit back and do the simple stuff if it means playing. A player that doesn’t shy from 50-50 challenges like Bendtner, a player who is capable of passing the ball out of danger when it’s important, a player with intelligence but most of all, a player with heart, passion and commitment to see the lack of those qualities in the fringe squad. He’s bypassed the lot of them in 18 months since his display in the Emirates cup a while back against Rangers.

The ‘b’-team lacks leadership, passion and heart. Who was beating the drum, who was shouting, organising, pushing the players? Was the experienced Tom Rosicky doing this? No. Were any of the players? No. The only thing that passed for leadership on that pitch from Arsenal yesterday was Arshavin chasing every ball down like a terrier and for an Arsenal team that is not good enough. I understand that Rosicky is the leader of the fringe players, but he simply didn’t do enough yesterday, so let’s hope he gets some pointers before the replay.

Still, the extra fixture doesn’t matter too much, as it will mostly be the same players again (so tiredness shouldn’t be an issue), and it gives those players another chance to prove themselves. I’m also trying to work out if the replay will affect the quarter final fixture, as if we progress I think the replay may mean a possible tie against Manchester United will be put back from the same week as the Barca return leg. It may be a blessing if it means we avoid two massive games in 4 days. I’m not sure if that will come off though, time will tell.

Finally I leave you with the best of the weekends action distilled into a single image:

John Terry.

Leyton Orient v Arsenal – The Preview

From Barcelona at the Emirates to Leyton Orient at the Matchroom Stadium – those are the two ends of the spectrum and this game will help us to land back on planet Earth and focus us back to our bread and butter – the domestic leagues and cups! So, off to Leyton Orient, and hopefully it will ground us, as we’ve got a few games between now and the Barcelona away leg and it’s important we focus on each game at a time.

Arsene is someone who normally prepares quite a lot, but rather surprisingly, he has admitted that he hasn’t had too much time to prepare yet for the match today – despite banging on earlier this week that we must focus on all our games one by one…

“We always try to prepare properly,” he said. “That gives you a guarantee to be at a certain level but, of course, it does not guarantee that you qualify.  This is the charm of the game. To be successful in the end, you need to go through in these kinds of matches. It is a mental test of how much we want to win. If you want to win, you have to play well at Orient. We have had reports of their games and we watched them a little bit against MK Dons. They have a good left back and they have a striker who looks dangerous, Alex Revell. So you see we always look after our opponent. To be fair I have had no time [since Barcelona to find out about Orient]. We watched 30 minutes of the first half against MK Dons and I will watch the rest this afternoon.”

Being a lower division side, you have to think that Arsene is taking a little for granted, but he has done a little homework, which is good, unusual to talk about in the press conference, but nevertheless, he’s going to try and be on top of them by the time we get there…

Team news ahead of the game is that Squillaci will play – Djourou was injured, but is back in contention now – and Koscielny is exhausted after the Barcelona game. Both Djourou and Koscielny have formed a very good partnership and it’s an ideal time to ease Squillaci back into the team after his second half performance against Newcastle. One of the key players will be rested, but we won’t find out who until later today. Personally, I’d like to see Djourou rested as he is more injury prone and has had a few scares most recently. Diaby is still suspended and it is an opportunity for Arsene to rest as many as he can…

My predicted line up is…

Almunia

Eboue – Squillaci – Koscielny – Gibbs

Wilshere – Denilson

Bendtner – Rosicky – Arshavin

Chamakh

With a bench of Szcznesy, Sagna, Djourou, Song, Walcott, Cesc & Van Persie

There is enough quality on the pitch to win the game and of course, failing that, there is definitely enough quality on the bench to come on and make a difference. It will be tremendously hard for us to take this game as seriously as the tie itself deserves, after the heroics of midweek, but with Jack Wilshere in the middle of a team who is full of players who want to become first team regulars, there should be a good level of desire within the team…

I’ll leave you with a few words from our new number 1, Szcznesy, who everyone is glad to see between the sticks and the boy himself wants to stay number one for as long as possible:

“That’s my target really [a decade], that’s my goal,” said the stopper. “I would love to [do that] but I know I have a few others that want to have the No 1 shirt. I’m going to have to be at my very best to keep it. If I am given the chance to stay the No 1 I would be very happy to [continue]. There is very good competition at the Club so I can’t say there is no threat. I know that I have to be at my very best because if there is any slip up or drop in my performance, other goalkeepers will be happy to take my place. I can’t demand playing time at a Club like this being 20-year-old. I know that when my chance came I had to take it with both hands and try to take the No 1 spot.”

Good stuff Wojciech… keep on playing well and you’ll be the fans choice too!

So, all hands on deck – time of the team to get back to domestic affairs and put half a dozen past Leyton Orient…

Come on you reds!!!!!!!!

The Day After The Day After The Day After The Big Win…

Morning fellow Gooners…

It’s the day after the day after the day after the big win…. and I am still enjoying it – beyond belief… everyone’s insistent on telling me to “wait until the Nou Camp”… and I say… youuuuuuuu shutttttttuppppppp…. we just beat Barcelona – dubbed “the best team of the decade”… a team who spends more money that it earns, had the world’s best player in Lionel Messi – the team who were at full strength – with the top three players in the world – well FIFA say they are anyway with Xavi and Iniesta in their ranks too, and their new striker, David Villa.

All of their players could probably get into any team in any league. There is no denying their strength and quality – and at times, they showed it – but we, the Arsenal, were resolute, were strong and we played our game. We countered well, and in the end the better team won.

We beat them on our patch and we have the players to beat them at their place – do not think for one second that we don’t stand a chance – we stand every chance. Barcelona have to try to score and we have the players to counter them. Of course, it hinges on our first team keeping fit in time for the game, but if they do, I have complete belief that we have the quality and desire to win the game…

Our team was very much delighted with the win, but the good thing to know is that they all have commented on the fact that know the job is not done and they will have to repeat their efforts in the second leg. Jack Wilshere has become the newest icon of the Arsenal and for those of you who lambasted me during my praise of the player after his England debut – you are Arsenal fans – believe in him, he is the real deal. He is a player who at 19 has done so much – he’s taken his chance whilst other regulars were injured and is now our first choice central midfielder. I’m sure Arsene now considers him one of the first names of the teamsheet (don’t blame me if Arsene rests him against Leyton Orient)…

Arsene was full of praise for Jackie boy and very recently he said…

“He has Spanish technique certainly. But he has an English heart because he is an English boy. He just loves to win like all the other players in my team and he showed that on Wednesday night. What I like is that he takes everything with a cool head. When you are at his age, you want to play and to play again and show how good you are. He is not phased by the occasion and he is not inhibited. That is what is fantastic with him.”

Very true… to think this time last year, young Jack was playing at Bolton on loan trying his best to get into their team. I am so glad for him, he is a proper player – passion & desire and ability – he has it all… the game on Wednesday was his best game, so he says…

“It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, probably the best couple of weeks of my life,” he said. “It’s the biggest night of my Arsenal career so far. Definitely, without a doubt [Barcelona are the best team I’ve ever played against], with players like Xavi, Iniesta and [Lionel] Messi. I’ve been watching those players for years. By far it’s the biggest night of my Arsenal career so far, like I said, [but] we’ve still got a job to do at the Nou Camp.”

So passionate, but at the same time, so down to earth. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

So, all I can say to my fellow Gooners… is enjoy it… enjoy the fact that we beat “the greatest team in the world”…

I’ll be back tomorrow with an FA Cup preview… but for now, relax, put your feat up and watch Crawley beat Man United…

Adios amigos…..

Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona…

Morning All…

You read it right, Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona. And what a game…! For the neutral, it was a great game between two teams who play football the right way. For us, it was a nervous game, a heart in the mouth game and what a game!

The whole area was buzzing pre-match and the usual lot were everywhere, a massive turnout in the Tollington and a pint or two later a walk down to the stadium. All fans in good spirit and when I went to my seat, I was greeted by a nice red flag and another 55,000 flags were on the seats of all… As the players came out, the noise was resounding, and the flags were amazing.

Beautiful, wasn’t it?

Ahead of the game, there was a massive boost for all, some say it was a risk, but Samir Nasri was named in the starting XI. No-one thought he’d be fit, let alone start.

The starting line up was:

Szcznesy

Eboue – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy

Wilshere – Song

Walcott – Cesc – Nasri

Van Persie

With a bench of Almunia, Gibbs, Squillaci, Denilson, Arshavin, Bendtner and Rosicky

For the first time in a while, against a big team, there was an air of confidence around the fans and the players – and we started the game with a swagger. And we created chances with the best one dropping to Van Persie who really should have hit the target. But it wasn’t too long until Barcelona got in it and started to control the game from midfield. With Villa and Messi dropping deep, their midfield was overloading our midfield and their left and right backs found a lot of width and we started to get exposed – Clichy and Eboue often allowing Alves and Maxwell in – and when Barcelona eventually went 1-0, it came down the left when Clichy played Villa onside and a Messi pass put the Spanish striker through.

The first half ended 1-0 to the visitors, and although we didn’t play that badly – the authority of Barcelona did shine through – their game seemed better than ours – positionally, and distributively. We seemed to allow them to pass and then close them down when they had the ball – for us, they did the opposite – they closed down the options and then closed down the player with the ball. It was tough.

The second half was different – we closed them down better, upped our work rate and also closed down their options, which allowed us to recover the ball better – and for me the stand out player of the second half was Jack Wilshere, who went further up the field and seemed to have an extra pair of eyes on him… and his vision and creativity made us tick… and suddenly, a game which looked out of our reach, looked very much like a game where would could take something from…

Arshavin and Bendtner came on for Walcott and Song (the latter walking on a yellow card tightrope, having been booked early on) and they changed the game. The equaliser came via good work from Arshavin who passed the ball back to Clichy who them lofted the ball into Van Persie’s path – who despite wide and at an acute angle, lashed it past the keeper – 1-1……..

And then five minutes later, under serious pressure from Messi, a great interception from Koscielny, a good spot from Bendtner to maintain possession, a first time pass from Wilshere to Cesc, who sprayed the ball out wide to Nasri, who slowed it down and cut it back……… Arshavin slots it home!!!

2-1 to the Arsenal and that’s how it finished – it was electric. What a night… it’s only half the job done, but done well…

Arsene spoke about the game and said:

I am highly delighted because it was a special football match. The game promised a lot and absolutely fulfilled the promises between two exceptional football teams who always try to play. We were not only strong on the physical side but on the mental side, we kept resilient. We took advantage of one special piece of skill from Van Persie and the goal for the second was after some good build-up play. It was a special night. When we suffered, the fans were still very positive.

And he also highlighted the job to do over there:

Tonight’s result gives us a chance to go to Barcelona with belief. We know it will be a very difficult game but we will prepare well. We will be highly focused and we go to win our game. It is a special lift for my team. Our players have shown exceptional strength tonight and togetherness. This will enforce that.

Enjoy the result boys and girls… it certainly was a great European night at the Emirates.

Arsenal vs Barcelona – The Preview – Nasri Returns…

The big day has arrived…

It’s Arsenal vs Barcelona, at the Emirates… our biggest game of the season and we’re on top of our game, so Arsene says and raring to go for this one. I’ve spoken to a lot of fellow Gooners and there is a genuine excitement and buzz around the place… a different buzz, a confident buzz, a “we’re going to beat Barcelona” buzz… the question is, is the team ready for their biggest test of the season… actually, the biggest test of any Arsene Wenger team perhaps?

Straight onto the team news… straight to Arsene’s recent announcement of the squad:

“Samir Nasri is in the squad. But the starting line-up will be decided tomorrow. He’s recovered quicker than expected. I said it will be 21 days but it will be only 17 days. Everybody’s absolutely adamant that he’s completely medically available. It’s down to me to make the decision. I will take no medical risk but it’s good to have him in the squad. Rosicky is available. He’s in the squad. But there’s no Diaby. He has a calf problem. He did it with the French national squad against Brazil.”

So, what do I think about the Samir Nasri situation? Yes, he is back in the squad, but it’s been quite a while since he’s played. If he is 100% fit, he should play – if he is not 100% fit and there is any chance that he will get injured again, then he shouldn’t. The conundrum is that if Arshavin plays, but is not on top of his game, then he is a weak link – but if Nasri plays and gets injured, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot…

Would I play him from the start? No, I wouldn’t. He shouldn’t – if a player is injured, and returning, he needs to be eased into the team by small outings and 20 minutes at the end of the game – I can’t see any good in risking the player, considering it’s mid season and we have another leg.

My predicted team is therefore…

Szcznesy

Eboue – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy

Wilshere – Song

Walcott – Cesc – Arshavin

Van Persie

With a bench of Almunia, Gibbs, Squillaci, Denilson, Nasri, Chamakh and Bendtner

This year, I honestly believe that we can do it – I don’t know why!

Maybe because Arsene keeps on saying things like this….

“The only thing I can say is we are in an ideal condition to face them. We cannot complain. We have the belief, the confidence and the players available. We are 90 per cent in February and that was not the case last year. I feel we are in an ideal position to face them. We just want to show how good we are. We want to show the belief we have in our game, in our quality, more than looking at the past. We have practiced. We are determined, focused and we want to win this competition. We know we face the super-favourites of this competition but the only way to do it is to knock them out.

Arsene – he is the eternal optimist!

Let’s see what we’re made of… for those of you fgoing to the game… come down to the Tollington pre-game… I promise I will be there…!

Arsenal vs Barcelona – Are You Ready???

Are you ready? A question that all fans will answer……… “Of course I’m ready”….

But the real question is whether the team is ready. We’ve had many false dawns – defining moments – those pre-match talks where Arsene says “we will show you all and produce something special” and then end up going 2-0 down within the first 10 minutes! But this time, we’re not talking off the pitch… this time we’re talking on the pitch. With the exception of the 4-4 at Newcastle, our form has been pretty good since the turn of the year. Our football has been a joy to watch and it’s all been building up nicely to the tie this week.

For me, I really believe we have a first XI that oozes class and quality – the rapid rise to the number one jersey for Szcznesy has been well deserved and he has earned his shirt. He’s played well and the main thing is that he does the simple things well – and that’s key. He’s commanding and breathes confidence to the defence – a defence which has been marshalled admirably by Djourou creating an equally impressive partnership with Koscielny.

I think they both have enough nous to snuff our the danger of Messi & Villa and for me, the two key players will be the Songshere megasphere… I mean Alex Song & Jack Wilshere – who are starting to really dominate the midfield nowadays.

Song spoke about Jack and had nothing but praise for him:

“Jack is an unbelievable young player – it’s hard to think that he is just 19 years old because he’s playing like a guy with 200 Premier League appearances. I’m very happy to play alongside him – he always wants to listen and learn, and I’m not surprised to see him in the England team.”

I like my new combo, the Songshere megasphere, it’s got a ring to it…

Song also took time out to talk about the way we should approach the game and said:

“The reference point for us has to be the Chelsea match from December, when we pressed them very high from the first minute and gave them no room.  We need to do that to Barcelona – they have a similar style to us and it should be a pleasure for everyone to watch. I can’t wait. Everyone’s talking about it, not just here – a lot of my friends have been in touch wanting to come over and watch. It’s a very good tie,  I think we took a lot from last year’s matches. Both of us are in good form and if we can keep as many players fit as possible for both legs then we can do something.”

And he’s hit the nail on the spot there – we need to give 120% throughout the game – Inter away, Real Madrid away, Juventus at home, Chelsea at home this season – we gave 120% – we press high up the pitch, we were disciplined, we were focused and took our chances.

With Robin Van Persie in the form of his life – 11 goals in 9 games – we have a serious goal threat. You’ve got to give it to RvP – despite the plethora of injuries, he is really coming back into some form – a massive accolade to the confidence in his own ability and the faith that Arsene has shown in him.

Arsene, of course, is looking forward to this game – with all the Cesc furore, I think the manager is keen to “get one over” Barce and really press home to Cesc that he was right to stay at the Emirates this season. Arsene spoke about the style of play and said:

“I believe, if we manage to get them under pressure, we will create chances. Ideally that is something we can work on before the game. Sometimes you have that extra special focus in these kind of games which makes you more efficient, so hopefully we have that. The question at the Nou Camp you can wonder is will we change the way we play? But here [at Emirates Stadium], we will try to play to our strengths. We will try to attack the other team. If we play in the final third defensively, we will not only be happy, it will not be our game.”

That’s so very true – our strengths are our attack. We need to terrorise their defence – a defence without key man Carlos Puyol. They’ll have a decent player in reserve, but between Van Persie, Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin, we can surely get at them – with Cesc pulling the strings just behind the front three, we can really do some damage!

Cesc to score against Barce on Weds? If you’re a betting man, it’s worth a fiver….

I’ll be back tomorrow for a proper pre-match blog, team news and formations, but for now, let’s support Milan as they entertain Sp*rs at the San Siro…

Boy, do I love the Champions League!!

All Wolves, No Bite

I don’t know if many of you play video games at all, but recently I’ve been playing Dead Space 2. It’s basically John Terry: The Game. Loads of long armed John Terry’s come rushing up to you and try to climb on top of you whilst you’re trying to play the game. If shooting things in space was ever a long metaphor for corners in a football match Dead Space 2 is there. Except in this game you can shoot the bastards legs off, pick them up and throw them at him. I had a dream last night to that effect, that in the Champions League final we met Chelsea and at 1-1 with ten minutes of injury time to go, we bought Eboue on armed with a Plasma Cutter – he went about strategically dismembering the opposition, but somehow the ball still bounced on Drogba’s isolated foot and ricocheted into the goal, a bit like Bent’s beach ball masterpiece, and we still lost. Arsene Wenger went mental but still didn’t buy a defender.

Anyway, back in the real world, we beat Wolves 2-0 with a performance befitting a team full of confidence, not a team that conceded a 4 goal lead last week. We were solid, assured and gave them nothing but the occasional sniff. That their best chance was in the final 5 minutes and still wasn’t on target says everything. If you set aside the awful ‘mare last week, our first 11 is getting stronger, and more solid, looks less wobbly and looks increasingly powerful. It speaks volumes about the players self belief that we went out and played the way we did after last weeks capitulation. We kept a clean sheet, not from Wolves lack of ambition, but because we snuffed them out from the midfield and back. The easiest way to defend is to attack.

Questions remain about the team when you take out Song, Djourou or Fabregas, but then I’m almost certain most teams would suffer, maybe just not to the extent that Arsenal do. When we lose those players we lose our heads. But, as the team strengthens together, hopefully the rest of the team will solidify too. Hopefully the next time our best defender goes of injured and a midfield player gets sent off we won’t ship one goal, let alone 4.

Song plays like a man who does not give a single fuck. He tackles, passes and runs and seems to have struck the perfect balance just recently of being defensive and restrained, yet going forward without leaving us exposed. In effect he’s turning into a very accomplished Defensive Mid who can play ball better than most of the attackers he faces. Wilshere aside, Song is the most improved Arsenal player this season pipping Djourou for me, just.

Van Persie continued his fine run, scoring the opener with a wrong leg volley off a wrong legged Fabre-cross. And Jack Wilshere was simply incredible. How Robin got man of the match in the fantasy league instead of little Jack I’ll never know (I’m not arguing though, RVP was my fantasy captain), as he ran the game from start to finish. His importance and stature within the team already is such that when he bollocked Fabregas for leaving him short Fabregas said sorry. He not only provided the creativity in the middle, he acted as the pivot for the team, linking attack and defence. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Fabregas is also now in a rich vein of form, as Wilshere not only complements him but feeds him dynamite from behind. However that works.

Anyway, I watched the Manchester derby. It wasn’t an awful shower of shit like the last one, but it was pretty distressing watching a team with Tevez and Silva, two of the best players in the league, just dicking about. Bottling tossers. Manchester United were there for the taking and they still managed to arse it up. And then Rooney scored a stupidly good goal. The tiny eyed bastard. Incidently there is a Dead Space monster that looks a bit like Rooney. It’s like a gibbon with no face that constantly screams at everything as it runs about furiously. It’s easy to imagine the monsters are saying “NOT A YELLOW CARD REF, YOU PRICK”. Good goal though, even if it was a shinner.

So, finally, Wednesday. Fingers crossed Messi forgets to turn up yeah?