Carling Cup Final Preview & Odds

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Feb 262011
 

Profuse apologies to my legions of couple of followers. My broadband has been down for the last week or so and all the phone calls in the world couldn’t persuade my landlady to pull her finger out. Anyway, I’m back, and have now put in some measures to ensure I can blog from other locations.

I didn’t miss much, only our only victory against Barcelona in my lifetime… no use crying over spilt internet connections. What a game it was. We hardly dominated – they passed the ball twice as many times as we did, but the win puts us in a fantastic position when we travel to the Nou Camp.

Oh and I missed the game against Stoke, which was notable only for the injuries to our captain and to Theo Walcott. According to the Sun Cesc demanded a meeting with AW to persuade him to let him play in the Carling Cup Final tomorrow, but firstly I don’t believe anything I read in the Sun, and secondly, we’d be stupid to risk losing him for the Barça rematch. Thankfully, according to the Offical Site, it looks like Cesc will miss the Final and the FA Cup replay against Orient. Theo, or the “Bovingdon Bullet” as we say here in Hemel, is less fortunate and will be on the sidelines for a couple of weeks minimum, which will see him miss the second leg against the Catalunians, but possibly feature against ManUre in the FA Cup, assuming we beat Orient at home.

What we need tomorrow is for the squad players to replace Theo and Cesc and play their socks off, something we didn’t see when we faced Orient at Brisbane Road. Our ‘B’ team’s collective failure to beat the East Londoners gives us a yet another replay in an already congested fixture schedule.

So which of them will line up against the Brutal Brummies at Wembley? Diaby, Koscielny and v Persie are back after injury, and I think all three will start. I for one hope that we do see Diaby rather than Rosicky replacing the captain; the little Czech has been rather poor this season.

Cesc’s absence means an extra burden on the young shoulders of Jack Wilshere to step up and provide the creativity. That doesn’t concern me. As the boss says:

He’s had very good games. His confidence has grown, his responsibility has grown, certainly. Our game goes naturally through Fabregas. When he’s not there, it will go more through Wilshere. The way of the game is simple: it goes always through the team’s strong points. So that the game goes through Wilshere is a good thing for him because it means the players around him have confidence in him. He will enjoy this game.

I hope he does enjoy the game, and I’m looking forward to seeing hi sleft-footed passes out to Nasri on the right flank, but how he copes with Lee Bowyer is what concerns me. Bowyer will niggle, leave the boot in, go in hard in 50:50s and generally make life difficult for the young man. It takes a great deal of maturity to rise above such things, and the guy’s only 19. Keeping 11 men on the pitch may be more tricky than usual, especially when you add the giant Zigic into the equation.

So the team I expect is:

Szczesny; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Diaby – Song  – Wilshere; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri

Odds

The bookies have Arsenal as clear favourites, with the odds of us claiming our first piece of silverware in five years a mere 4/7 at best. I’ve gone for a 3-1 Arsenal win at 12/1 with William Hill. 4-2 to us at 66/1 with Stan James was very tempting, but my Arsenally long shot is 4-3 at 150-1 with Victor Chandler. 7/2 on any player getting their marching orders was too tempting to pass up.

As for goalscorers, you’ve got to go for v Persie to score first, haven’t you? Well I did, at 15/4 with Bet365. The odds of Jack the lad finding the net at anytime are 5/1 and that got a few pennies as well.

So – can we lift the first bit of silverware since the FA Cup in ’05? Of course we can. Will we? The answer to that question depends very much on a mature performance from a very young man.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!

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.

No Transfers but some Toffees – Arsenal vs Everton Preview and Odds

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Jan 312011
 

It’s been a particularly crazy day as £30 million is spent on a coke-snorting, tart-sh*gging long haired idiot with only 10 Premier League goals to his name. Sorry, what’s that, there’s a lawyer on the phone. I do apologise Mr Carroll, that’s 11 Premier League goals. Still, we have been afforded some hilarity when news broke of Sp*rs’ interest in Phil Neville. Oh, that made me giggle.

But the serious point for gooners everywhere is that – AS OF 2230 – we haven’t signed anyone, AW instead preferring to consider bringing players back from loan spells. And not just that, he’s sent Kyle Bartley off to Rangers, and Gilles Sunu off to Lorient. I hope they both fare well, and return better, hungrier players ready to be involved with the first team. You couldn’t ask for a better place for a young defender to get toughened up than Glasgow. Good things are expected of young Mr Bartley in the future. I’ll let you know how he gets on from time to time.

I’m all for inspiring confidence in the squad that we have, maturing young players, etc etc, but the sad fact is that we really do lack a decent centre half. I’m not just talking about the next 2 games when Squillaci’s injured, but for the forseeable future. We simply don’t know if Vermaelen’s injury woes are over.

Yes, we should be positive, but it may well turn into an Owen Hargreaves or worse, a Ledley King type of situation. And if that happens we need more on the bench than Ignasi Miquel, a player who has never played for the first team. Let’s face it, Djourou is playing very well, but he’s hardly been Mr Reliable Muscles-Tendons in previous seasons.

So I’m disappointed, but not overly surprised. There is some time left, and we all know that the club keeps transfers very close to their chest. I shall update as and when anything happens.

Anyway, lock up your valuables tomorrow evening as we face Everton in a late kick-off. If I had to speculate, I’d say that the no.1 shirt, as it were, will return to the young Pole after Almunia featured in the shop window clash with Huddersfield. Djourscielny will return, as will our regular full backs Clichgna [stop it, Ed]. I also expect returns for Fabregas, Song, Wilshere and v Persie. I’d like the question of who replaces Nasri to be answered in the person of ‘the Bovingdon Bullet’, as we Hemelites like to call Walcott. He lives up the road from here, you know. Arshavin or Bendtner or Chamakh? Pick two of them, I’d say the Russian and the Moroccan.

As for the odds, I have to consider how wrong I’ve been recently, and how Everton haven’t set the league on fire this year. I’m going for 3-0 at 9s with William Hill (and others). It seems to be our favourite scoreline at the moment, the Terriers aside. I like the look of Wilshere as first goalscorer at 16-1 with Coral. The Arsenally finances are a bit stretched – you would have thought my agent would be earning money today of all days but she’s been strangely quiet – so that’s it for me. The more adventurous, and optimistic of you might fancy my long shot – Theo to get a hat-trick at 66/1 with BlueSquare. Oh go on then, a few pennies.

I’ll levae you with the wise words of the ‘holic:

Name me the players who moved, that we would have wanted to buy, at a price that we would have wanted to pay, and who would have wanted to come to us? You can’t, can you?

Quite. The Verminator will be back, won’t he?

Arsenally Yours,

Will

Have just realised that my team prediction includes 12 players. Walcott – v Persie – Chamakh is what I’d like to see. Sorry, it’s late, and I’ve just been screamed at by some psychopathic nutjob who I’m unhappy to report is my new housemate. I shall return with a review tomorrow night, assuming I’m still alive.