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Posts by Will
There’s a strange mix of good and bad news before this West Brom game. Some bookies have us favourites to lift the title, with ManUre preoccupied in other competitions. We have a better run in to the end of the season than that Northern lot. We have a game in hand, albeit against Sp*rs.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that we’ll miss two defenders and two goalkeepers until the end of the season. Szczesny may return right at the end, but it’s unlikely. Djourou is out till September, despite the best attempts of the Swiss FA to defy reason.
The really bad bit of all that really bad news is that Thomas Vermaelen will not feature for us until next season. And even that, by the sound of it, is not certain at all:
I relapsed six times. Every time I had a goal to come back, but that was then broken again and again. At first they said I would need four or six weeks after the operation. But it soon became apparent that it would last longer.
I feel no trouble in the Achilles tendon itself, but the muscles around it still need to be made stronger. I do not know when I will be back.
That’s bad news. Really bad news. He suffers from the same problem that Owen Hargreaves has. Need I say more? There’s a real possibility that he will not play for us again in any meaningful way.
That terrible news is made even worse by the fact that the player who has stepped into the breach, showed his qualities and begun to perform at the level we all hoped for, Johann Djourou, is also out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. Our season now rests squarely on Squillaci’s shoulders. And that does not fill me with confidence.
But before we can even consider thinking about the end of the season and titles, there are some baby steps to take in the form of West Brom away. Baby steps? Hardly. I respect Roy Hodgson hugely, and I reckon we’ll be in for a tough afternoon at the Hawthorns. Apart from the back five, we’ll be without Song, Fabregas, and Walcott.
Regular readers will know that I’m not a big fan of Rosicky, certainly not this season anyway. We’ll need him to put in a big performance alongside Diaby and Wilshere in midfield. Up front we have Bendtner back – err… hooray? – but much more importantly, v Persie will be leading the line. I expect:
Almunia; Clichy – Koscielny – Squillaci – Sagna; Diaby – Wilshere – Rosicky; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri.
As long as Diaby and Rosicky have fair-to-middling games, then the combination of our front three and Wilshere should ensure that we create and convert chances. We must prevail. Our season depends on it.
The emergency goal-keeper signing was a bit of a surprise. At 41, no one can say that Lehmann doesn’t have experience. I can only speculate about how the dressing room will be affected by his relationship with Almunia, which we all know was about as sour as it can get in football.
The German is a complete nutter, but in his prime, a great keeper. He’d make sure that the opposition strikeres knew he was there, all right, usually by standing on the toes, if not, with the occasional karate kick.
I hope he turns out to be a positive influence on the squad. They could learn a thing or two about getting underneath an opponent’s skin. To celebrate his return, here’s a video of his finest moments:
The bookies seem to think that we’ll recover our form and beat the Baggies, with us at 17/20 and them at 4/1 for the win. I’m aware that I’m well down for the season, and so I’ve plumped for 2-0 to the Arsenal at 9/1 with Unibet. BoyleSport had 4-3 to us at 150/1 so that got a few pennies.
As for goalscorers, v Persie to hit the net first at 4/1 with Coral was too good to miss, as was Squillaci to get one anytime at 14/1 with Bet365.
Tomorrow, ManUre are at home but without several key players against Bolton. I’ll have my fingers crossed that Owen Coyle does us a favour.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this game defines our season. If we play to our potential, then we should walk it, and send a message out to United that we’ll be chasing them all the way. We need confidence, and we need it now. A good win, even a scrappy win on the back of a good performance, and we’re in with a chance at the only title that matters.
In my preview I wrote of what impact of a win would have on our confidence, the rest of our season, and the race to the Premiership title. I also wrote that a draw would also give us belief, and that we’d likely beat ManUre at the Grove to progress in the cup.
Well, we lost, going out of the third cup competition in the space of just two weeks. We didn’t collapse at Old Trafford; we didn’t play terribly badly. We had much more possession than United; we had several shots on target. We just didn’t have enough composure in front of goal, and United were able to catch us on the break.
The team looked jaded. In fact, they didn’t look much like a team at all. There didn’t seem to be a lot of mental strength, and the injury to Djourou robbed us of whatever resilience and fighting spirit we had at the start of the game.
The manager attributed our lack of oomph to the crushing defeat at the Nou Camp:
Subconsciously I feel the disappointment of Tuesday [against Barcelona] played a part in the game. You could see something has gone, not in our effort or attitude, but confidence-wise.
But I don’t feel like the season is slipping away. I believe we can do it. It is a good test for us now to show we can regroup and show the mental strength and togetherness quickly.
We will have to answer this kind of question in the next two or three weeks. We have to show we have an answer.
Whether or not we do find an answer, whether or not we fight for the title, and whether or not this season ends up like the previous five – trophyless and disappointing – depends very much on our back five.
According to the official site, Djourou will miss the rest of the season after suffering a dislocated shoulder against ManUre. He will be sorely missed. His performances this season have shown that he has come a long way, and has become the defender that we’d previously only seen in glimpses in seasons past. He’s been solid, and formed a great partnership with Koscielny at the back in Vermaelen’s absence.
Speaking of whom, where is he? I’d been given the impression here on the official site that he’d play for the reserves before the end of February. That hasn’t happened.
Even if Cesc and Robin stay fit, they still need support in the form of a good reliable keeper, a strong defence, and good defensive players in the middle of the park. Assuming Song returns, that’s the latter sorted. But if Vermaelen doesn’t return soon, we’ll be relying on the services of Ignasi Miquel. With the greatest respect to him, I don’t know that he’s up to the job at such a tender age, and with so little first team experience.
Although Almunia played well against Barcelona, he flapped when Rooney scored, and I don’t think he has the confidence and backing of either the team or the manager. Our goalkeeping Poles, both threatening to establish themselves with the No. 1 jersey when they got themselves injured, will be missed. Will James Shea stay on the bench till the end of the season? That doesn’t inspire me with confidence.
Wenger now has a chance to really earn his wages. He must motivate a deeply disappointed squad. He must find an emergency keeper. In short, he must inspire his team to fight for what remains of the season.
We were in a good position at the end of last season. We could have won the title, but defeats to Sp*rs and Wigan allowed Chelski to lift the title as we collapsed with a distinct lack of confidence. It may not feel like we’re doing well, but in terms of the most important competition, we certainly are. Wenger must make the players realise how much we can still achieve. Only 3 points separate us from the league leaders, and we have a game in hand.
We can still win something this season. The title, the most important prize of all.
Arsenally still believing,
The result today is not just about the FA Cup. Success today will lift the players’ spirits, and show that we can beat United in their own back yard, and catch them up in the race to the Premiership title. Not having a replay would also give our title campaign a boost, while other teams in the League will take heart that ManUre can be beated, even at home.
Draw, and our confidence will still be lifted. We’ll show ourselves, and other teams in the top flight that United aren’t invincible at home. We’ll have the upper hand in the tie, and we’ll face West Brom next week with renewed optimism and determination to beat anyone.
Lose, and I would be concerned for the rest of our season. That would mean we’d have gone out of three cups in a fortnight. ManUre would still be difficult to beat in our minds, and their Premiership campaign would be given a boost, not ours.
So which will happen. I’m not full of confidence in a win, as much as I’d like us to thrash them, and see Ferguson’s face turn into a chewing beetroot. A feel a draw may well be on the cards. It seems obligatory for us to have cup replays this season.
We have to consider that a wounded ManUre is a dangerous, smelly beast. Having been not so much beaten as humiliated by Liverpool and given the league’s chasing pack a boost, I imagine a strong response from them in a competition that means much to the red-faced Scot. They haven’t won it since 2004. We’ve even won it since then, in 2005.
In terms of who starts for us, we’ll be without our captain Fabregas, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. Szczesny will be out for about six weeks, so James Shea will understudy Almunia, while the hunt for an emergency keeper goes on. I have concerns about the midfield, and if Rosicky starts then it’s crucial he has a good game. Diaby played well against Barcelona and I espect him to continue in Song’s absence.
So I expect:
Almunia; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Wilshere – Rosicky – Diaby; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri
The bookies have the home team as firm favourites at odds only slightly better than Evens. We’re 11/4 with most bookies, which has got a few Arsenally pennies. In terms of correct score, I think the game will be close and the scoreline will reflect that. We’re 12/1 for 2-1 and 40/1 for 3-2 with Coral. The half-time/full time split gives good value on the comeback, with ManUre/Arsenal 39/1 with Unibet. I might go for a line on 2-1 with the half time/full time split as above. I’ll update you when I discover what odds I can get on that.
As for goalscorers, I’m down for Nasri to score first, widely available at 9s. We’ve been fairly effective from set-pieces; Djourou is available at 20/1 with Bet365.
Let’s book our place in the semi-finals. Let’s stay in one cup this fortnight. Let’s regain our confidence and beat the league leaders. Let’s take this season by the scruff of the neck before it threatens to run away from us.
COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!!
I didn’t blog last night because I was just too angry. But sorry folks, I’m still angry. Furious, livid, enraged, indignant, even splenetic. That’s not going to change for a long time.
At work, even my Luton-supporting line manager sympathised thought the refereeing decision was dreadful. Even my Chelski-loving boss and colleagues agreed it was wrong. And even the ManUre fan thought it was harsh.
What they all said was that Arsenal would have lost anyway. I disagree. They quoted stats like the fact that we didn’t have a shot on target the entire game, that Barcelona had 73% possession and completed 900 passes. All true, undeniably so.
But that doesn’t paint the whole picture. In two previous games against Barça we’d struggled for the first half. In both those games, however, we grew into the matches, drawing one 2-2 and winning the other 2-1. Diaby was becoming more of a presence. The defence was growing in confidence, and Wilshere was beginning to make his extraordinary talent shine in the middle of the park.
Then we lost v Persie to a second yellow. Not for kicking the ball away at a free kick, but for taking a strike at goal one second after the whistle had gone for a marginal offside decision. I’ve never seen anything like it. There are situations where refs dish out mandatory yellow cards, such as celebrating a goal by taking off a shirt. Always gets a card, no exceptions.
Yellows are rarely given, in the Premiership at least, for kicking the ball away. If it’s an obvious time-wasting tactic when a free kick is awarded, then yes, you do sometimes see a yellow. But if it comes a matter of seconds after the whistle blows for offside, and it would be a player’s second yellow, how often have you seen that before? I haven’t ever.
Which is why I’m perfectly happy to bring up the possibility of a bung. Referee’s are always given some latitude to allow the game to flow. They are encouraged to keep all the players on the pitch if they can legitimately justify it. To dish a yellow out like that to our most in-form striker was taking advantage of the rules to get the player off the pitch. Disgraceful.
AW was far less slanderous than I just was in his comments after the game:
It’s not a surprise the referee didn’t book a single Barcelona player. I just spoke to [the] Uefa people. They are shocked as well. He killed a promising, fantastic football match. What for? If it’s a bad tackle it’s a second bookable offence but the way he did it it’s embarrassing, if you love the game. If you have played football at a certain level you cannot understand that decision. It’s impossible.
Robin van Persie was more blunt:
In my opinion it was a total joke, the sending‑off. How can I hear his whistle with 95,000 people jumping up. How can I hear that, for God’s sake? Please explain me that.
I sincerely hope that Busacca is found to have taken a bribe from Guardiola, Xavi and Dani Alves, and they all receive the punishment they deserve, nothing less than public flogging, before being forced to march naked through the streets of Islington.
Of course we’re the ones who’ll be punished for this debacle. According to the official site, AW and Samir Nasri face UEFA charges of being honest improper conduct, and will face the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body on Thursday 17th March.
All that said, there were points where we didn’t help ourselves. It was Cesc’s ridiculous back-heel that gave Iniesta the ball to feed Messi for their first. Overall, our club captain hardly set the world on fire. Koscielny’s trip on Pedro gave the Catalunians a penalty. Bendtner should have won it for us at the end.
Bendtner’s chance is another example of how the game would have been different with v Persie on the field. The Dutchman would have slammed it home; the Dane fluffed it.
And to top it all off, the promising young Pole Szczesny, who had played excellently since getting his place in the side, is out for the season with a hand injury. With Fabianski also out till August, that leaves Almunia. It must be said that the Spaniard did play well in the Nou Camp. Let’s hope he can keep that up as we challenge for domestic titles.
Let’s pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and destroy ManUre on Saturday.
Just to make life even better, I must bring you the distressing news that Sp*rs have qualified for the last eight, drawing 0-0 to AC Milan. Watching the game, I couldn’t help but think that Arsenal would have destroyed either side with ease. Not much comfort now, but that is an encouraging thought.
To end with and to cheer you up:
A man walked into a costume shop and asked for a Dracula costume. The shopkeeper said “You need to go to the Spurs shop over the road”. The man replied, ” You misunderstood. I said I wanted to look like a count.”
Well folks, it’s the big one. The league may be our bread and butter, but for the last 7 seasons we’ve enjoyed the chocolate pudding that is the knockout stages of the Champions League. And tomorrow night, as if I have to remind any of you (!), we take a 2-1 lead to the Camp Nou.
The big news is that Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas will be in the squad at least for the game. I suspect that the captain will start, but that we’ll see the Dutchman start the game from the bench. For all AW’s assertions that “I am very bad at mind games”, whether our in-form striker will start will give Guardiola something to think about.
It will certainly be a great game for the neutral, with Barcelona needing to score, but whether it’ll be a good game for the gooner depends very much on our use of the ball, if and when the Catalunians decide to give it to us.
We simply cannot afford to gift possession back to them. But if we play to our potential, we certainly will have chances at their end. With Puyol and Cesc’s mate Pique out, they’ll have Abidal and Busquets at centre half, by all accounts. That could give us an edge. If they’re not used to their positioning, we may even get a few half-chances. We must take them.
For me, whether we take our chances or not depends on whether v Persie is on the pitch. I don’t want to rant about our other strikers lack of form here, but suffice it to say I think it’s crucial for our chances that he at least gets on the pitch at some point.
One thing scares me, and it’s not just their little Argentinian. Just one goal from Barça means that they go through. Just one.
As was noted below in the comments, we haven’t had the rub of the green recently, at least from the referee. With a bit of luck, some good passing, and a chance taken, who knows what can happen? A good defensive performance coupled will exorcise the ghost of the Carling Cup Final. A win, and the spectre of the 2006 CL Final will vanish into thin air.
Who starts? Will AW go with Denilson or Diaby in Song’s place. Whoever starts needs to put in a massive shift. I’d like to see the Frenchman get the nod. He can be excellent when he’s on his game. Let’s hope he’s up for it.
So I’m expecting:
Szczesny; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Diaby – Wilshere – Fabregas; Nasri – Bendtner/v Persie – Arshavin
It’s hard to find decent odds on an Arsenal victory, but seeing 8/1 on us coming up trumps got some of my hard-earned straight away in my local Coral. The Half Time/Full Time choice of Barcelona/Arsenal is a ridiculously tempting 69/1 with Unibet, which got a few pennies. They also have Arsenal 5 Barcelona 3 at a frankly ludicrous 999/1. But not even I’d throw money away like that!
Back on this planet, first goalscorer gives me a bit of a conundrum. I’d go for v Persie, but he’s not even on the bookies’ list which worries me. Theo’s on there, but no Robin. Hmm. The 7th player down the list is Nicklas Bendter at 12/1 with BlueSq. If he does score, I’ll never moan about him.
As Simon noted in his comment after the Sunderland non-result, we’ve hardly had the best luck when it comes to refereeing decisions. We do need a good slice of luck tomorrow, but with graft, desire, and a bit of footballing magic we could do the unthinkable and beat them in their own back yard. We’ve done it to Real and to both Milan clubs – let’s add the Barcelona to that list.
COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!!!!!!!!
Arsenally on the edge of my seat already,