Zico Frustrated

After a match we’ve dominated (26 shots on goal to 8), we are rightfully on top of Group H. Olympiacos would have signed up for a point before the game and it looked as though they’d get that point – their keeper, Antonis Nikopolidis, was fantastic. Robin and Andrey Arshavin rescued the points after a memorable display by Nikopolidis. It was very much like what we witnessed at Craven Cottage this past weekend except Vito’s side won.

Olympiacos fans must feel gutted. Imagine how you’d feel if Robin’s shot had bounced off the post instead of beating Schwarzer. Imagine if Andy Johnson and the prolific Bobby Zamora had both netted late goals Saturday. Maybe Wenger wouldn’t have complained about the officials but the feelings of disappointment and deep regret would still hurt today, five days later.

Besides their fans leaving London bitterly disappointed, manager and legendary footballer Zico has expressed his frustration. Quotes attributed to the former Brazil forward seemed to point fingers at UEFA for being insensitive to the fact that Arsenal are a very French club, at least on the pitch anyway.

“We had three French officials with a French coach [Arsène Wenger] on the opposing team and ten French players. Maybe we could have had referees from other countries. I don’t want to talk only about this, but perhaps it should be taken into account. It’s only a comment, but it’s my right to comment.”

I will defend anyone’s right to comment. I might not always agree with the comment but a man should have the right to express himself. Tempe Arizona Pastor Steven Anderson, Harry Redknapp, Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce, William Gallas, Arsene Wenger and anyone who wants to speak has a right to comment.

That Zico has commented on alleged insensitivity by UEFA shouldn’t upset Gooners. If he’s wrong, he’s wrong but it shouldn’t be a stain on him. He has spoken after a very difficult defeat. He has spoken in frustration. He has spoken after seeing Nikopolidis perform heroics yet still lose. Moreover, he has pointed to at least two factors – two major blows to the opposition – that we as Arsenal fans would have found very difficult to accept if we’d been on the receiving end.

I firmly believe that missed penalties we should have had, blatant fouls against us that were not called, offsides goals against us that were not ruled out, etc., balance out over time. So when Zico points to a handball by Alex Song before our second goal vs. Standard, and the off-sides position (cough! cough!) The Little Magician seemed to be in when he received the ball for his cheeky back-heel past Nikopolidis, we have to accept that it is painful for Zico and that he is speaking from emotions that we have felt before and, let’s be clear, will feel again one day.

Surely there’ll be attacks on Zico’s abilities as a manager in response to his comment but he does have some pedigree. He isn’t a Ferguson or a Lippi but he has won Cups and League Titles in various countries. He has steered Japan to an Asian Cup victory. For what it’s worth, he has won before. Let’s not get carried away and over-react to comments he’s made clearly out of extreme frustration.

The three points are ours. Five days without a game will do the boys a world of good. Blackburn Rovers visit The Emirates Sunday. It’s always nice to beat those stnuc.

Undeserved

Undeserved.

That is what nearly every media pundit is calling our result from Saturday.

They claim that it if it wasn’t for Mannone, we would have hardly deserved even a draw, let alone the three points. While that is fundamentally true (I suppose), we do have Mannone. And we have a striker who can convert a crucial chance that tends to decide contests like this.

Make no mistake about it, Fulham were professional and organized. I have gone on and on about how good of a manager Roy Hodgson is. But to call this contest one-sided is largely unrepresentative of the match itself.

Were it not for a pebble on the pitch, Arshavin would have put away a chance in the first half. As much plaudits as Vito is getting, he made the saves that needed to be made. They weren’t necessarily jaw dropping saves. They were a step up from perfunctory, but it wasn’t Seaman-esqe (a la FA Cup final against Sheffield United).

The main point I want to bring up is this. Were Manchester United have done the same thing we did on Saturday, the English press would have called it a result that champions tend to grind out. The fact that we are not champions doesn’t preclude us from earning such praise. Craven Cottage is a tough place to visit, and the match played out to my expectations.

Granted, we weren’t passing well, but I’m happy we have the three points. As Roy Hodgson so pointedly said, “in six months time, the only thing people will remember is that Arsenal got three points from this fixture.” Right you are.

As for today, Olympiacos presents a standard challenge. You can’t overlook them, but when their most dangerous player is Matt Derbyshire (and he isn’t even playing), they’re not the type of team that should give us major problems. That being said, keep an eye out for Diogo, a striker we were purportedly interested in. He’s a decent player.

Olof Mellberg

Anyone who grabs Freddie like Mellberg did back in 2002 is a cunt. He also played for Aston Villa, which makes him an even bigger cunt.

Fuck you Mellberg. I hope you play shit tonight.

Keep it Arsenal

Post Match View – Fulham F.C.

A picture is worth a thousand words.
Every picture tells a story.

The over-used cliches that fit the picture above would fall well short of doing justice to Vito Mannone’s performance against Fulham.

“I believe we will give him 10 out of 10 because everything he did was right…Until the next game he is No. 1. In this job you have to go from game to game.” AW

I won’t cheapen this post with a gratuitous attack on Manuel Almunia; however, it is clear that Wojciech and Vito are improving fast. Arsene has awakened this morning with a good headache – the kind that doesn’t hurt. The goalkeeping position has been a serious issue for me but there seems to be competition now. Hopefully, that will improve our chances of remaining competitve when it matters most.

Rookie keeper Vito Mannone played a game yesterday that my colleague has called “The best Arsenal goalkeeper performance he’s seen in years”. I agree. Vito was the undisputed Man of The Match.

The victory was well earned. Roy Hodgson and his Fulham side are no mugs. Let’s be clear, leaving Craven Cottage with three points was massive. Fulham were up for it. They fought hard and remained disciplined throughout. A lesser Arsenal side would have (and have left) disappointed.

The match was the first for The Little Magician after recovering from injury. He played a bit part however. He was either not up for it or still trying to find his rhythm. I hope that Andrey is not disinterested in playing against the less fashionable sides. We’ve seen big performances from him but there have been matches when he’s not got out of third gear. The chance he missed in the 22nd minute was well defended by a late tackle but we’ve come to expect him to finish from those positions.

The First Half featured a fine save by Vito from an Andy Johnson header on 15. When the rebound fell to Clint Dempsey, Mannone showed excellent reflexes to keep the score level by getting in front of the striker’s effort. A sign of things to come for the frustrated Cottagers. Cesc could have done better with his chance on 18. As mentioned earlier, Arshavin’s miss on 22 was notable. Vito did very well to stop Zoltan Gera’s effort on 36.

All in all it was a fairly even First Half with Fulham perhaps getting the nod on points if we’re speaking in boxing terms.

We had more of the same dogged, physical effort from Fulham in the Second Half. It started to look like the kind of game where we’d be OK settling for minimal damage and a draw. Credit to Fulham. They are a decent side.

And then, on 52, Song intercepts an errant pass just right of the center circle in Arsenal’s half , feeds Diaby who touches to Cesc. Our Captain lofts an inch perfect ball to Robin. His first touch is Robinesque. He finishes with his right foot, beating Schwarzer far post.

Fulham F.C. 0 Arsenal F.C. 1

The score would remain that way thanks to the heroic efforts of Vito Mannone. On 56, he denied Johnson’s fine header. Gallas was guilty of leaving Johnson too much space. Vito to the rescue.

On 67, Gallas helped out with a fine last ditch tackle to prevent Zamora from netting. On 77, Diaby lost possession in his own half, again, to allow Fulham another chance to test the rookie keeper. Mannone was up to the task as he dove well to keep Andy Johnson off the score sheet. Zamora was also denied later before Eboue and Bendtner missed chances to make the game 3 or even 4 nil. It would have been cruel but they really should have done better with their chances.

A good win. No doubt about it.

I just want to make a note in closing that Alex Song’s sweet footwork on 88 to keep possession should be recognized for the excellent piece of skill while under pressure that it was.

Craven Cottage

The last few years at Craven Cottage has not provided kind memories for our squad.

Last year at Craven Cottage, we were definitively beaten even though the final score was only 1-nil. In van Persie’s words, “Fulham played better, wanted it more.” And that is indeed a feeling I haven’t experienced with an Arsenal team in quite some time.

Fulham earned 4 points against us last year, better than nearly every team in the Premier League. Roy Hodgson propelled them into the Europa League, and that tournament may have taken something out of them this year.

I always knew that Hodgson would pan out for them. He’s a bright, elderly football mind who clearly should have been England’s manager at some point in his career. They’re not quite clicking at the moment, but they’re always dangerous at home.

Let’s not forget that three years ago, Alex Song made one of his first appearances for us in the Premiership against Fulham. He was not up to snuff and was subbed at half time. That performance singlehandedly condemned Song to most Arsenal fans for the next two years. I think Alex Song has proven his worth by now, but even he must understand that in this old stomping ground, he’ll have a chance to show that things have come full circle.

Along with the return of The Russian, Theo may well play a part. Once we reach the middle of October, Nasri and Fabianski will return as well.

Now is the time to avoid looking at the league table and just string results together against teams we know we can beat.

Liverpool

According to documents released by investment banks Rothschild and Merrill Lynch, Liverpool will only have 20 million pounds each summer, until 2014, to spend on renewing contracts and transfers. In other words, they will have to sell players before they can buy players.

Liverpool are currently $471 million in debt.

Their owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have been looking to sell their shares in the club for the past two seasons. They desperately need new finance.

One thing is certain, Liverpool will not be moving to a new state of the art stadium for at least another 10 years. Financially, Liverpool are in grave danger of falling behind Europe’s top clubs, with Manchester City most likely to take their position in the hierarchy of English football.

Gerrard, 29, will not leave Liverpool. He was very close to joining Chelsea in the summer of 2005 for 32 million pounds, but he’s recently signed a new contract and will end his career at Liverpool. However, if Torres leaves, it will confirm Liverpool’s financial demise and cause outcry from their fans.

The sale of Alonso to Real Madrid confirmed Liverpool’s new status as a selling club. Mascherano will probably be next to leave. He was close to joining Barcelona this summer and was bitterly disappointed that the transfer didn’t go through.

Arsenal fans deep down realize that Cesc Fabregas will move back to Spain at some point in his career. The question is not if but when he will leave. I think Wenger will let Fabregas leave once he finds a suitable replacement. The progress of Jack Wilshire will be interesting.

Arsenal are in debt as well. Wenger has been operating on a shoe string budget – compared to Europe’s top clubs – for years. Arsenal’s debt is due to the building of The Emirates stadium. In less than five years, the debt will be gone. Profits will be up.

The only problem Arsenal have is the struggle for power at boardroom level. However, both Kroenke and Usmanov have not borrowed money to buy their shares, unlike the owners of Liverpool or Manchester United.

This puts Arsenal on stable footing.

In other news, Phil Brown’s job at Hull City looks unstable. Hull have only won one game out of seven this season. Last night they were thrashed 4-0 at home to Everton. Their next game is away to Liverpool. I don’t think that Mr. Brown will be in charge of Hull when they play Arsenal at The Emirates on December 19th. That’s a real shame for Arsenal fans who were looking forward to giving the scumbag top quality abuse.

Sol Campbell left the Arsenal dressing room at half-time during a game against West Ham at Highbury in 2006. Arsenal were losing 2-0 at the time due to mistakes made by Campbell. His actions that night were mainly due to personal problems. Campbell later failed a paternity test after having a fling with an unnamed woman. His walkout on Notts County after just one game comes as no surprise, even if Campbell was earning $70,000 a week. Arsenal lost 3-2 against West Ham the night Campbell fucked off at half-time. The defeat seriously dented Arsenal’s chances of making the top four. Campbell’s actions left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Gooners.

Never walk out on Arsenal.

Keep it Arsenal.

Lula, meet Kanu

Circa 2004, there was a Brazilian U-17 youth international named Lula who looked as good as any player I have seen at his age. I remember how amazing Nwanko Kanu was when I saw him play for Nigeria in the 1993 U-17 FIFA Youth World Cup – phenomenal!

Lula had a similar effect on me.

He played as an attacking midfielder and ran through defences like the proverbial hot knife cutting butter. He was full of flair, speed, strength, imagination, determination, vision, and all the other attributes that made me feel that the kid was the real deal. Of course there could be thousands more Lulas in Brazil at any given point in time – some make it some don’t. I’ve lost track of Lula. I suppose he would have made headlines by now if he had made it as a senior pro.

Such is the uncertainty of youth.

Kanu has had a marvelous career. He’s won the following titles/medals at least once:

o Nigerian Premier League
o FIFA U-17 World Cup
o Olympic Gold
o Dutch Eredivisie
o UEFA Cup
o UEFA Champions League
o UEFA Super Cup
o Intercontinental Cup
o FA Cup
o English Premier League

A heart valve defect slowed but did not stop his career. There aren’t too many players (dead or alive) who can match Kanu’s list of accomplishments. And he wasn’t just a passenger on those teams. He was a superb footballer.

The 2009 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Alexandria, Egypt. In previous tournaments, we’ve seen stars like Maradona and van Basten emerge. I can forgive you for not having noticed that the tournament is already upon us. The groups are as follows:

Group A: Egypt, Italy, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago
Group B: Nigeria, Spain, Tahiti, Venezuela
Group C: Cameroon, Germany, South Korea, United States
Group D: England, Ghana, Uruguay, Uzbekistan
Group E: Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Czech Republic
Group F: Honduras, Hungary, South Africa, United Arab Emirates

Will the star players of the next generation emerge? Will there be any Kanus or Messis? Will there be any Lulas?