Man Utd 2 Arsenal 0 – Review.

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Mar 132011
 

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.

Diappointed Wenger at Old Trafford

Not again!

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,

Will

Man Utd vs Arsenal in the FA Cup – Preview and Odds

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Mar 122011
 

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

Odds

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!!!!!

Arsenally Yours,

Will

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4 Review

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Feb 062011
 

Worrying news from Twitter. Stade 2 – the French equivalent of MoTD has accused Rosicky of throwing the game. See here if you speak French. Unbelievable. He played pretty badly, but that’s nothing new. They claim he had a hand two of the goals, and that Interpol are opening an enquiry. They can’t, Interpol is just the means by which police forces communicate and they don’t have a ‘police force’. Complete rubbish. I hope Arsenal lawyers are onto them sharpish.

On a lighter note, this is far more likely 😉 Phil Dowd’s betting slip, courtesy of twooner @darylbooth.

Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4 Review

Never has the tired cliché “a game of two halves” been more depressingly appropriate. Last night I couldn’t find the words to express the feelings of disappointment in our team and anger at the culprits – Dowd, Diaby, and the criminal Barton. And it must be added, fresh frustration in our transfer non-activity after the injury to Johan Djourou leaves us with two fit centre halfs.

It started so well, didn’t it? We were two up while some fans were still finding their seats. And the goals were so easy. Arshavin found Walcott after 43 seconds, and my fellow Hemelite found the back of the net. Next Djourou scored his first league goal for the club, heading in Arshavin’s free kick. Another good performance from the bonkers little Russian became irrelevant in the farce that was to follow.

Before half an hour we had four, and I was considering my 7-0 and 7-1 bets at 500-1 were a sound investment. There were signs, however, that the men in black hadn’t been to Specsavers. V Persie got crunched by two toon players, and was penalised for it. He took his revenge by getting the third and fourth goals, a cut back from Walcott and a totally free header from a Sagna cross.

There did turn out to be 8 goals as I’d predicted, but who’d have thought that the next four would be all Newcastle? Certainly not me. Even if you’d told me we’d have to play the second half with 10 men I’d have been confident that we’d have seen out the rest of the game with ease.

No doubt Pardew said something in the dressing room about commitment. No doubt he complained that they’d hardly put a challenge in. He’d have been right to say that, Newcastle in the first half were as dire as we were excellent. A different team emerged from the Toon dressing room, and it was one that craved blood.

They didn’t waste any time trying to get it. The convicted violent criminal that is Joey Barton went in hard and two footed on Diaby, in precisely the kind of challenge that breaks legs. The Frenchman’s reaction was one of fury, he grabbed Barton by the scruff of the neck and was rightly sent off. Given our number 2’s injury history, such a reaction was on some level understandable, but for the most part just plain idiotic. There was no way that Phil Dowd could allow him to stay on the pitch after that, and he knew it. Stupid.

All Arsenal players are routinely given more hard tackles than other teams receive, because of the view that “Arsenal don’t like it up them.” Some players, like Vieira was in his early playing days and Fabregas is now, are rountinely kicked around the park, in the view that it will disrupt our style of play. But both those players learnt that the only way to deal with it is not to react. To get one over their opponents by a goal and a hard tackle, not by getting themselves sent off.

I have no doubt that Barton got what he was after from Diaby, which just tells you all you need to know about the scouse git. How Phil Dowd let him stay on the pitch is just beyond me. But by reacting in such a way, Diaby’s just making the situation worse, and no doubt more teams will now act in the same way. We’ve got Wolves after the midweek international. Great!

Another decision that baffled me, was how Nolan could stay on the pitch. He did exactly the same thing as Diaby, if not worse. Szczesny clung on the ball after Barton had scored their first, a deserved penalty which Koscielny gave away. Nolan had him in a headlock and who got carded? You guessed it, Szczesny.

After they scored a lucky second, they got their third thanks to another refereeing blunder. I have no idea why a penalty was given. Koscielny jumped with Rosicky and a Toon player and the linesman waved his arm frantically. It wasn’t a soft penalty it was a ridiculous decision.

Tioté’s equaliser in the dying minutes of the game was a fine goal, to be fair. But my head had been in my hands long before then, as gooners everywhere could sense the goal coming. There was a brief moment of hope before the final whistle when v Persie scored, but it was disallowed for offside. He was level apart from his arm, which as I understand it makes him onside. But at least the decisions had a degree of consistency to them – they all went against us.

Game over, we’d managed to lose a four nil advantage. We could have been two points behind ManUre after they lost at Molineaux.

But that’s not the whole story. Yes, Diaby was an idiot, Barton’s a violent criminal, and Phil Dowd is as blind as a bat, but still. We showed a worrying lack of heart, muscle, leadership, and crucially mental strength to throw away the lead in that manner.

It’s often noticeable that a team’s performance drops when a key player is injured. Given how well he’s performed for us all this season, Johan Djourou has turned into such a player, and his loss is worrying. Fingers crossed it’s not serious. But such a drop in form – think England v Brasil in Japan when Rooney’s foot went – may be understandable, but it’s certainly avoidable.

It must also be difficult to stay focussed on discipline as a team when one of your own loses the plot in the manner that Diaby did. But you’d expect a team whose manager is constantly banging on about mental stength to have that focus, concentration and desire. They were not helped by the cauldron of St James’ Park, but they were also not helped in the second half by their captain, who as I saw it did little to raise his voice or the players’ spirits. Whether or not Cesc is captain, we need a vocal player on the pitch, and I don’t think we had one in Newcastle.

You also have to question the wisdom of bringing off two of our potent attacking weapons. It seemed as though the players on the pitch suffered a drop in confidence with the arrival of Eboue and Rosicky. Bringing them on said to Newcastle – we’re worried, and we’re not going to attack. Compound this with the fact that the Ivorian and the Czech were totally anonymous, and you have all the ingredients for the surrender of a four goal advantage. Shocking.

I hope the players are ashamed of how poorly they reacted to the adverse situation, to rubbish refereeing, and to rough tackling from the opposition. I’ve never seen such a bad half of a game from Arsenal in a long time, and I hope it’s a good while before we see the like again.