0-3

Until Chelsea scored their first goal against Arsenal yesterday, the match was even. 0-0 looked to be the half-time scoreline. Neither team had really threatened. Chelsea had a move that saw Sagna successfully launch a last ditch tackle on Anelka who was bearing down on goal. Meanwhile, Arsenal had a Nasri shot well saved by Cech.

Arsenal were more pressing (as home teams should be) and had the majority of the ball. Chelsea looked solid and organized in defense with midfield players coming back to defend at all times.

The match looked like a stalemate until the 41st minute when John Terry received the ball in the Arsenal half. Denilson tracked him, stood off and allowed Terry to make defense splitting pass to Ashley Cole who was unmarked. Terry’s pass went between Arshavin and Sagna. Both players were marking thin air. Perhaps Sagna was trying to play offside. But he never raised his arm to indicate that he was.

Cole played a low ball in between Gallas and Vermaelen, for Drogba to side volley home. It was a great finish and a very well worked goal by Chelsea. However, Drogba was free. No-one was tight on him. Gallas and Vermaelen were marking thin air. From a defensive point of view, the goal was embarrassing.

Denilson is the first defender. His job is to pressure. He stood off John Terry. Arshavin was in no man’s land. He’s not covering Denilson or marking Cole. Sagna is marking nothing. If Denilson tackles Terry, Chelsea are fucked. Instead, Arsenal get fucked.

1-0 to Chelsea – the team with best defensive record in the Premiership. Straight away this fact enters my mind and with it a realization that Arsenal have an uphill task ahead. No way back. Not against the defense Chelsea has. Then two minutes later Chelsea get their second goal.

Vermaelen own goal.

What a joke this goal was. Ashley Cole swings in another low cross. Gallas misses it. The ball then hits the knee of an unsighted Vermaelen and spins into the top right hand corner. Almunia is nowhere. This time Nasri allows Cole to cross after being caught ball watching when Anelka was being harassed by Song.

Game over.

The difference between Arsenal and Chelsea is:

Anelka/Drogba verses Eduardo or Vela.

To compete against defenders like John Terry you need strength, muscle and height. Carlton Cole or Bendtner are the types of players you need, not an off form Eduardo. Instead, Arsenal’s attack looked small, young and fragile.

Defense.

Every Arsenal cross was easily eaten up by Chelsea. I lost count of the number of hopeless, floated balls into Chelsea’s penalty area for our tiny forwards. Why didn’t we send in some low crosses, just like Ashley Cole did? Arsenal’s defense is obviously using zonal marking but not with great success. Nasri and Arshavin know how to attack but defending is obviously their weak spot.

Question remarks remain over certain Arsenal players.

Almunia is not commanding of his area. The second Chelsea goal showed this. Where was the communication between him and Vermaelen? When he comes to catch a cross he leaves my heart in my mouth. Lehmann didn’t!

Eduardo is off form. Play him against Manchester City on Wednesday night and see if he can change his fortune, because right now he’s below the standards that Arsenal fans are used to from him.

Walcott. You wank over playing for England so much that you fuck your body up in the Euro Under 21 Championships in late June. You then break down in pre-season, come back two months later and then get injured again. What the fuck have you done for Arsenal? I’ll tell you what – two runs against Liverpool at Anfield. The first was two years ago in the Champions League. You ran the whole length of the field and set up that lanky cunt Adebayor. We then lost 4-2. Then last season you did the same thing and set up Arshavin, yet we only drew 4-4. That is piss fucking poor. When Fergie realized that David Belion was all pace and nothing else, he got rid of him. What do you get? A new five year contract. Walcunt needs to step up to the plate.

On a plus note, I thought Traore played well. None of the goals came from his side.

Keep it Arsenal

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Post Match View – Chelsea F.C.

Didier Drogba is like a heavyweight boxer who doesn’t jab well. He’s a boxer who doesn’t have good feet. He’s a boxer who doesn’t box because he doesn’t feel it’s the best way to win so he never bothered to perfect the skills of a boxer. Instead, he learned to punch and to land his punches when and where he needs to.

He doesn’t win too many split decisions. He usually wins pretty convincingly. Most of his victories are by knockout. He is not a gifted boxer, but he is efficient and powerful.

In matches against Arsenal, he has knocked us out more times than not. I said a few years ago (before his run of excellence at Chelsea) that he was just a marginal player – how wrong I was. The man knows how to score goals.

We have players who know how to score goals too. We have match winners. Among the healthy, we have Cesc, Eduardo, Nasri, and Arshavin.

Until goalless defeats to Sunderland and Chelsea, we’d been on a record setting pace with goals coming from almost every player on the pitch. Seeing Drogba score reminded me that the difference in big games is not the quality of the play but how players express themselves and when they do. Our match winners did not influence the game sufficiently.

In big games, big players have to make sure that they are effective enough to get the result. Cesc and Arshavin did not express themselves. They are our most influential players now that Robin is out. In matches like today’s Arshavin especially needs to make his genius count.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is a class above everyone on the pitch, but he hasn’t shown it the way we need him to. Our season hinges now on his genius. He must take control of this team.

You might be thinking that it’s Cesc team, this current version. You are right but Arshavin can be the real mastermind. He has to be. Rooney deferred to Ronaldo and United won three titles. Cesc must defer to Arshavin but Wenger has got to buy into it and Arshavin has to embrace it.

In Robin’s absence, it is the best way to get the most out of the team. Chelsea did not outplay us. They outscored us without dominating the match. Arshavin has got to look at that and feel he needed to make a difference. It’s not that he can’t break through Chelsea’s tight defence.

We need him to be at his magical best now more than ever being 11 points behind the leaders.

The Moment Has Come

There has been so much written word circulating about our clash with Chelsea.  That tends to happen when two members of the “Big Four” play each other, but with the majority of the other “Big Four” being duds in terms of football excitement, the media really enjoys covering any match we’re a part of.  That’s not me being partial.  I’m convinced Arsenal v. any of the other three clubs are infinitely more intriguing game, on footballing terms, than any other match up.

So with that, the multitude of information to absorb, including the late breaking news that Robin van Persie is most likely finished for the season, I’m just going to free form the preview with a lot of points instead of a coherent whole.

– Wenger has stated that the “moment has come.”  He has used this type of language before, during the Champions League semi against Manchester United last year.  We know how that one turned out, as a Kieran Gibbs slip negated any chance of us progressing to the final.  He is saying it, because he thoroughly believes it.  We’re a point in the season where we’ve been devastated by injuries, suffered lapses of concentration, and in the process been written off.  Believe me, after today’s news, nobody will be pushing us for the title.  That is when you either take a stand or you shrivel up and die.  Make no mistake, this is at the least a “must not lose game.”  We must, as a team, as fans, refuse to lose.

– Fixtures between relegation candidate teams are usually referred to as “six pointers.”  All matches for Premier League title contenders are six pointers, especially so when facing a direct rival.

– We defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last year with a shock Robin van Persie double, one of the goals being blatantly offside.  What we’ve seem to forgotten is that Chelsea humiliated us at the Emirates in the return fixture.  That match saw us concede the most goals we’ve ever conceded at the Emirates.  I have not forgotten.  Just like I have not forgotten that Nicolas Anelka refused to celebrate his goal against us.

– Which brings us to Nicolas Anelka, one of the few Chelsea players who I do not hate with a passion.  The other player I feel that way is Michael Essien.  Anelka has aged gracefully in all facets.  He’s truly a class player, and he will be a deadly link up outlet in the game.  The reason why the diamond formation has worked at all is not because Frank Lampard is a classic no. 10, it’s because Anelka makes the attack click.

– Michael Essien is the only player I really covet from any other team in the Premier League.

– Didier Drogba has played 10 matches against us.  They have won 8 times and drawn 2 times.  Some of this is down to Philippe Senderos.  Some of it is down to the fact that he’s a big time player, and he fancies playing against us.  Tomorrow will be the first time he plays Thomas Vermaelen.  We will see if Vermaelen is truly a world class defender or a class below that.

– It will also be the first time that Chelsea face us with Alex Song as our lockdown midfield enforcer.

– John Terry has been walking around with his chest out, feeling as though the team is back to their Mourinho days.  Well, the first year Chelsea won under Mourinho, they conceded only 15 goals.  They’re halfway there already.  They lost to Wigan Athletic, and no offense to Wigan, close call aside, Mourinho’s sides did not lose to sides like that.  But that’s fine by my book, I like arrogance as much as the next professional.  They’ve done nothing to merit their status as front runners, others have merely faltered.

– On good and bad luck, Chelsea were outplayed, fairly comprehensively in my eyes, by Manchester United and still got the three points.  We outplayed Manchester United and they snuck out with three points at Old Trafford.  That’s football.  Name another sport where you can dominate a match and lose.  There is none.

– A couple of weeks ago, I spoke about how Chelsea were having injury problems.  Well, Drogba and Lampard recovered and we lost van Persie and Gibbs.  I guess it’s my fault for tempting the gods.

– Carlo Ancelotti was not a good league manager in Italy.  He won a title, but his main accomplishments are in Europe.  From what I can tell, his European touch has rubbed off on their side.  We’ve yet to see if he’s carried over his league form, but methinks the funeral parlor man will have real tests in the upcoming months, starting with the next two weeks.

– The African Cup of Nations will not affect Chelsea while their players are away.  Look at their cream puff schedule.  They can easily handle those teams without the African quartet.  However, it will affect their side when they return.  Players have a difficult time coming back from that tournament, just look at Kolo and his malaria.  But likewise, we’ll be losing Song and Eboue when we actually need them and they’ll return fatigued.  Clearly, it’s worse for us than it is for them.

– Chelsea’s transfer ban will do nothing to the club, as Wenger categorically stated. All it did was bring attention to a young player who may or may not have been worth the fuss. With rumors that Chelsea will be signing Kun Aguero for 50 million pounds, just what was the point of the ban? Aguero, on his day, is a super player. Not sure that he’ll make it here, but at least his progeny will have super genes.

– William Gallas is a warrior.  And unless his eye is completely shut off, he will play tomorrow.  He relishes the big games, and he will want to play against Chelsea.  Kolo’s pot shot at him was both disrespectful and unnecessary.  How many ex-Arsenal players have to go down that route?  And where are all the pundits who were writing that Arsenal was wrong to sell him now?  Eating that nasty bird.  That’s where.

– Armand Traore struck me as being a useful player last week against Sunderland.  Despite words to the contrary, I felt as though he could be a decent understudy to Clichy.  That being said, Gibbs seemingly helped neutralize the left side of Standard Liege, so his loss will also be felt.  But let’s not forget that Armand Traore is a devoted professional and was once and still is a highly rated prospect.

– The diamond formation for Chelsea is far less effective when Frank Lampard holds the keys.  In that respect, maybe it is better that he has recovered.  Deco and Joe Cole can operate on the tip of the diamond, but Lampard is struggling with it.  That does not mean we can discount his work rate and his affinity for shooting missiles from middle range.

– Then again, clashes between the Big Four rarely come down to offensive brilliance.  They come down to the small moments.  I find it somewhat laughable that Manuel Almunia is talking about ensuring that “we” don’t make any small mistakes.  His rash throw 18 months ago during a match against Chelsea started an attack which led directly to a goal.  If he doesn’t make a mistake against United, we could have walked to victory.  He has been okay since he’s come back from his chest infection/family bereavement.  I suggest that he is the one who should not make a mistake.

– As much as I’d like not to see Cesc associate himself with Gerrard, I can’t help but think his statements about our club are 100% genuine.  Let’s never think about his future while his present is so thoroughly with Arsenal.

– Theo, I’m looking at you.

– A few months ago, we were deprived of having Gallas (through injury) and Arshavin (through ineligibility) in the Champions League semi.  Now, it looks as though Robin will miss out.  When will the stars align for us?  These injuries are taking a toll.

– With Robin van Persie’s devastating injury news, an alternate formation may need to be developed over the next few weeks.  I can’t say something like that for sure, but now, more than ever, somebody needs to step into that breach.  That player has to be Andrey Arshavin.  There have been numerous reports about his depression following Russia’s exit from the World Cup.  I sympathize.  But this is the moment where he proves that he can be one of the all time greats.  I believe he has that potential, and he must prove me right for our season to stay on track.

– I love this club, and I will support it until the day I die.  

Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Alex Song or Cesc Fabregas?

Everyone knows the qualities of Cesc Fabregas. Every week, the man is linked with a move back to Barcelona. Fair play to the man, that he always states he is not interested in a move back to Spain. He says that he is happy at Arsenal and wants to stay.

Alex Song is never asked about his future, perhaps because he wasn’t signed from a fashionable club.

I first saw Song play in the Carling Cup quarter-final away to Doncaster Rovers back in December 2005. Arsenal were poor that day but won an exciting game on penalties after Gilberto Silva had scored a last minute equalizer in extra time to make the game 2-2. Arsenal eventually won the tie on penalties to book a place in the semi-final against Wigan Athletic. Eboue’s run and cross for Arsenal’s equalizer was forgotten by many Gooners. Instead, the Negatives moaned about the performance of Alex Song, who was making one of his very few starts for Arsenal aged just 17. The two Doncaster goals were the fault of Senderos, but not many Gooners mentioned this at the time.

Cesc made his Carling Cup debut at 16 and his Premiership debut at 17. Song was not far behind the Spaniard making his Arsenal debut at 17 but had already played 34 times for Bastia as a 16 year old.

If Wenger gives a 17 year old first team appearances, then that player has to be something special. Henry at Monaco, Anelka, Fabregas, Walcott, Ramsey and Song at Arsenal.

The difference between the two is where Wenger signed them from and their roles in the team. Cesc was poached from Barcelona. Song was bought from Sporting Club de Bastia for one million pounds after an initial loan deal. Bastia play in the island of Corsica in the French Ligue Two. In 1978, they reached the UEFA Cup final losing to PSV Eindhoven. In 1981, they won the French Cup and in 1997 they won the much maligned Intertoto Cup.

Bastia are not a big club in France. Their English equivalent is Coventry City.

Barcelona are the current Champions League holders. They have won La Liga 19 times and 25 Spanish cups.

Alex Song plays for Cameroon. Cesc Fabregas plays for Spain.

One player has a fashionable football CV. The other, not so much.

Some people might think that Song’s real job is to dominate the midfield, to break opponents hearts and minds, by denying them possession of the ball and blocking the route forward. However, there is more to Song’s game than just protect and support. The man has dribbling skills and is very dangerous going forward. Darren Fletcher he’s not. Lothar Matthaus is a better description.

In November 2006, Song was booed by Arsenal fans after a 2-1 loss to Fulham – the Cottagers first win against Arsenal for 40 years. At half-time, Song was replaced by Cesc Fabregas and was eventually loaned out to Charlton Athletic later that season, making 12 appearances.

Many Arsenal fans at the start of this season said that Song was not good enough for Arsenal. Some even suggested that Wenger should buy a Phil Neville type of ‘holding’ midfielder.

These fans should be sent to prison.

Unfortunately, Song is being sent to play for Cameroon in the African Cup of Nations in January. If Cesc was going, I would be concerned. But in the case of Song, I am bothered.

The man is irreplaceable.

Keep it Arsenal

Great View, Terrible View

The problem with sitting very close to the pitch at matches is that although you get a terrific view for taking pictures, you don’t get to see the match as well as you could. I was close enough to shout “ALEX” and not only did he hear me but he looked up and waved.

Top boy that Song! A diplomat in the making.

The match has an entirely different meaning for me when I cannot watch from a proper angle to see what’s going on. Sure, I saw the players from very close and sometimes heard them shouting but I couldn’t see what happened when the Belgian No. 9 hit the bar. There was a wall of bodies in my way and then suddenly the ball smashes off the bar.

Liege were of a very poor standard to be honest. Please pardon the pun. It’s fair to say though that had that ball gone in, we might have struggled a bit.

However, I did see the after effects of Gallas’s head injury. He wobbled around (literally) for most of the First Half. I thought he was concussed. And in the Second Half when Eboue and then Song after him went close with what would have been very special goals, I saw the anguish on Eboue’s face and the disappointment on Song’s.

The best yet worst view was of Kieran Gibbs being hacked by a Standard player near the end of the match. The tackle took place as Gibbs made contact with the ball. It was similar to Robin’s case for Holland. Gibbs attempted to play on but he was clearly unable to. This morning it has been confirmed that he will miss up to three months with a fractured foot.

You didn’t expect us to go injury-free this season did you?

Nonetheless a good result has given us some breathing room. Players can be rested vs. Olympiakos in the CL next month . Others can get games when they normally wouldn’t even make the bench.

As I said immediately after the Sunderland match, the next game is the most important. Chelsea is huge. HUGE!

I don’t see it as season ending if we lose, but a draw is obviously the minimum result required. The players know this is one of the matches that the five-year plan hinges on. It is one of the games in which they need to step up and ‘repay’ Wenger for his faith.

Sharkshavin must raise his game Sunday. A performance a la Anfield last season would work. I’m going to shoot some more pictures now.

Peace!

It’s the Shorts

The superstitious side of me wants to think that it’s the white shorts that cost us three points on Saturday. I don’t really know how the decision to wear white shorts came about, considering that we’ve worn blue shorts with our blue kits, but it struck me as odd about ten minutes into the match. I wondered what the point of it was. Is it because Sunderland wear dark shorts? It reminded me of that ghastly kit Liverpool wore when Robbie Keane scored a goal against us last year.

The logical side of me thinks that we never got out of first gear and it was a tremendously disappointing performance. Yes, Chelsea did what they were supposed to do. They also had Wolves at home, and they now have Gael Kukata claiming that the Premier League seems easier than the Reserves. We went to the Stadium of Light against a team ready to prove themselves, directly after the international break.

Other than the shot on goal by Rosicky, the one-two between Song and Eduardo, and the blatant penalty on Vela that was turned down, we didn’t do very much. Ramsey for all his plaudits has yet to deliver a definitive Arsenal performance. For a creative player, I don’t know how many assists or key chances he’s created for Arsenal. Eduardo’s movement was subpar and his finishing has been far from clinical lately, but he’s finding his way back into things. You know it’s bad when Alex Song was the primary playmaker during the second half, a product of Cana harassing Cesc the entire game.

We were sluggish though, and we never got out of first gear.

As my fellow colleague said, champions win games like this. With points dropped against West Ham and this result against Sunderland, our momentum has been stopped dead in the tracks.

That’s why the game against Liege is of great importance.

We need to reassert our dominant self on weaker opposition. If we win tomorrow, we’ll be guaranteed the top slot in the group and be able to field the reserves in the last Champions League group game.

But more importantly, it’ll build some real momentum heading into the weekend. Chelsea awaits. We must deliver.

Why Clubs Need Great Office Staff

The following is from Roy Keane’s autobiography. He explains his transfer from Nottingham Forest to Manchester United in the summer of 1993. It’s interesting for two reasons:

1) Why a club needs excellent administrative staff to be successful;
2) The ruthlessness and cunnigness of Alex Ferguson:

I’d heard that Alan Shearer was on 500,000 pounds a year (at Blackburn), so that’s what I demanded. After some bargaining, I accepted Blackburn’s offer of 400,000 pounds a year. A deal was agreed late on Friday afternoon.

Terms agreed, I was ready to sign the contract. But when Kenny Dalglish (Blackburn boss) phoned Ewood Park, the office staff had left for the weekend. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you can sign the forms on Monday.” We shook hands.

I went home to Cork for the weekend. On Saturday news of my transfer to Blackburn made the newspapers. The fee set a new British transfer record. I hit the town on Saturday night to celebrate my move.

On Sunday, I woke up with a hangover. I was due back in Blackburn the following day to sign forms. After that I was looking forward to a holiday.

At lunch time the phone rang. It was Alex Ferguson. My family were Manchester United daft.

“Roy it’s Alex Ferguson here. Have you signed any forms?”
“No, but I shook hands on the deal, and I’m due to sign the forms tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you have a chat with me before you do anything?”

Wow. Manchester United. The Premier League champions.

“Yes, but I have agreed the deal,” I tell Ferguson.
“You’ve signed nothing. Come over for a chat.”

From that moment I was never going to sign for any other club. In my heart of hearts I knew I could never refuse to sign for the world’s most famous football club.

The next morning – after a hectic night on the town – I flew to Manchester. Alex Ferguson met me at the airport. We drove to his home close by. Brian Kidd was there. After a meal and some general chat, Ferguson suggested we have a game of snooker. He was a useful player.

I liked him straight away. For a man managing Manchester United, who’d just won the Premier League, he was unaffected, funny and reassuringly human. He was also clearly hungry for more trophies.

“Roy, Manchester United are going to dominate the domestic game with or without you. With you we can win in Europe,” he asserted.

It was a persuasive argument. However, there were a few obstacles to overcome before a deal to join United could be done. Ferguson asked who was representing me. I told him the PFA. He suggested that we would not discuss terms right now. “Leave that to me,” he urged. We agreed that I would tell Dalglish our deal was off. After that, I would have to sit tight while United dealt with Nottingham Forest. It wouldn’t be easy, Ferguson pointed out, but, he assured me, he would secure what both of us wanted in the end.

I phoned Kenny Dalglish to tell him that I’d changed my mind about joining Blackburn Rovers. He went crazy.

“What the fuck do you mean?”

I told him I’d talked to Alex Ferguson.

“We shook hands on a deal. You can’t back out now,” he screamed.
“Look, I’m sorry, I really am,” I told him, “but I’ve got my future to think about, I’m entitled to that.”
“You’re entitled to nothing except the commitment you made to me on Friday.”
“I’m sorry, if you’d had the forms ready, I would have signed on Friday.”
“Nobody does this to me, nobody does this to Kenny Dalglish. You’re a wee bastard and you won’t get away with this.”

Here was Kenny Dalglish insisting that I honor a deal I hadn’t signed. The same Kenny Dalglish who’d spent several months tapping me up behind Brian Clough’s back. The more he swore at me the less my conscience bothered me.

The next call I received was from Frank Clark (the then new Nottingham Forest manager). I confirmed that after talking to Alex Ferguson I had changed my mind. Clark had also received a call from Ferguson. Unlike Blackburn, who going to pay 4 million, Manchester United would pay just over 3 million. That was unacceptable to Forest, Clark declared. He made it clear that there would be no sale to United unless they matched Blackburn’s fee. I insisted that United was the club I wanted to join. Stalemate.

I was going on holiday to Cyprus and spoke to Alex Ferguson again. He assured me that the choice was mine. It was up to me which club I joined. If I kept my nerve, everything would work out in the end. Keeping my nerve might mean starting the following season as a Forest player. I resolved to do as Ferguson suggested. Go on holiday and don’t worry.

The next day the phone rang at 6:30 am. It was Kenny Dalglish.
“You won’t get away with this,” he began. “Blackburn Rovers will sue you for every penny you’ve got.” He and Alex Ferguson had never got on and this more than anything appeared to be bugging him. He called me names. He repeated that nobody “fucked with Kenny Dalglish and got away with it.”

When I returned to Forest for pre-season training, I was forced to train with the reserves. It was made clear that I would be punished for the crime of rejecting Blackburn by being ostracized in every conceivable way. Ferguson told me to keep my composure. This was a game of poker between United and Forest. United’s latest offer of 3.5 million fell 500,000 short of Blackburn’s bid. If I kept my head, Forest were faced with a choice: 3.5 million or an asset worth nothing, training with the reserve team.

Two weeks into pre-season training, Forest blinked. Manchester United’s bid of 3.75 million was accepted. Now I had to negotiate my own deal with United. Their offer of 250,000 pounds a year was 150,000 short of Blackburn’s.

Eventually, with the help of property lawyer Michael Kennedy, United offered 350,000 a year, 50,000 less than Blackburn. I was happy to sign. A thousand pounds a week was a small price to pay to be a Manchester United player.

Keep it Arsenal