Post Match View – Manchester United F.C.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that I’ve been here before. ‘Deja vu’ I think it’s called. I’ve felt too much pain at the hands of Manchetser United. Worse, I’ve seen the same mistakes by the same players enough times to start wondering if they belong at Arsenal.

My gripe today is not with the Gooner who’s had a go at Wenger. It’s not with the match announcer who compared us to Spurs regarding our results against top clubs. It’s not with being forced to watch an unacceptably poor effort undermine our title challenge. I’m not even upset with the guy who thought there was something funny about the team’s display. And nor am I troubled by the guy who is eager to look for excuses for our dismal performance.

The problems I have are as follows:

Almunia and Clichy have shown more often than not that they are not up to it. I’ve said it before. On 7, Clichy allowed Fletcher to cross after an overlapping run that was easy to read. William Gallas got a boot in before the approaching Rooney. A minute later, Nani eased past the left back to cross dangerously. Alex Song cleaned up on that occasion. On 26, Nani beat Clichy again with alarming ease and then later on 29, a Thomas Vermaelen intervention was needed to prevent United’s winger from going in clear from a Carrick through ball.

Clichy’s been found out. He is a weak link in our back line. Any manager or player worth even a small portion of his wages can see it.

Nani persisted. On 33, he split the sad fullback and Nasri far, far too easily. He then dribbled into the penalty area where he was greeted by a late arriving and inept challenge by Denilson. The winger’s lofted ball beat Almunia who’s fingertips helped guide it into the net.

0-1 Man Utd

The pain was just starting. Thank you Gael! Thank you Samir! Thank you Neves! Thank you Manuel!

Clichy has shown that we need to address the left back position with a seriousness that is only outdone by the urgency to finally sign a top quality goalkeeper. After looking rather amateurish on the first United goal, Almunia was always going to be the one who kept us in the game (or not) because we had to commit numbers forward in search of an equalizer. I suppose the score could have been even more lopsided but let’s be clear, United wasted chances on multiple breaks, even at the very end when Rooney could have done better. And when he shot from range on 50, Almunia looked fortunate to avoid embarrassment.

Their second came from a swift counter. Gallas was stuck very high as Rooney passed wide to Nani. He drove down field before playing it back to the on form striker. The rest was predictable. The goal was eerily reminiscent of last season’s Champions League effort.

0-2 Man Utd

Denilson has to ask himself, ‘who can do more damage on this break, Nani from a wide position, or any number of players who could be running into the box BEHIND me’? He never checked to see if the center of the pitch, the most direct path to goal, was vulnerable. Clichy was chasing the ball. Sagna had ventured over to cover. Vermaelen had sprinted back into position. Even with that many red and white shirts back the ball was allowed to make it to an unmarked Wayne Rooney. Denilson was just an observer who fancied a sprint. His contribution to preventing the goal was shockingly subpar.

You may feel it harsh to single out players since nobody in an Arsenal top played especially well. Disagree if you wish. Manuel Almunia and Gael Clichy were criminally at fault for the first goal. Denilson should have been more aware on the second.

The third also came from a United break. Denilson lost the ball in the United half. Maybe he didn’t realize that Gallas had been part of the original attack when he lost it. It looked awfully sloppy and irresponsible. I wonder how he could be so unaware of his surroundings. Carrick collected. He exchanged passes quickly with Rooney and then lofted to the breaking Park. With Clichy the only man back, it was a matter of Park staying poised to make the right decision and Clichy closing him down before he could square to Rooney or Nani. It looked to me as if Almunia had done well enough positionally to prevent the goal as Park entered the area.

Surely Park had held it too long.
Surely Clichy and Almunia would redeem themselves.
Surely we’d prevent them scoring a third goal.

Not to be! Even when Almunia came off his line, positioned so that the only option Park had was to shoot near post, it just wasn’t meant to be. He was not going to stop the third goal. Once again, Almunia has been beaten at the near post.

0-3 Man Utd

And to add icing to the unrisen cake, on 66 while we’re chasing the game for something, for anything, he and Walcott conspire to gift the ball to United deep in our half of the pitch. On 84 he kicked the ball directly to Nani just outside the 18. I couldn’t beg Arsene enough for a goalkeeper who won’t jepoardize our chances of success.

It needs to be said that there were other culprits. My commentary on the keeper and left back doesn’t absolve anyone of a poor performance. Arshavin was wasteful. Cesc failed to make an impact. Nasri and Rosicky were ineffective.

If you know me any at all, you’ll know that I covet Wayne Rooney. Yes, he is a proper bully at times but the boy can play. On 19, Vermaelen’s clearance went straight up in the air but never left the Arsenal penalty area. Witness how deftly Rooney takes it down with Vermaelen draped over him. It was a moment of top technique. I highlight it only for comparison to Denilson’s terrible touch that opened the door for United’s third. That one really bothered me.

I have no time for Robbie Earle’s gratuitous attacks on the way we play football. The man who loves to criticize our approach used the fact that we scored from a deflected goal to remark, “Arsenal can be a little bit more direct and still get the results they want”. Ok, we’ll keep that in mind.

Nice! A former Wimbledon man telling us how we should do our business. I hope this is the low point of the season.

Reasons to Hate Manchester United

A few years ago, there were many Arsenal fans who were actually openly rooting for Manchester United to overhaul Chelsea for the Premier League crown. The reasoning, I guess, was because they detested Mourinho’s nouveau riche Chelsea. They figured, if we weren’t going to be champions, please don’t let it be Chelsea. A couple of years later, the same dilemma greeted Arsenal fans viewing the Champions League final. Even though Manchester United would have achieved a historic double on the 50th anniversary of Munich, the same type of Arsenal fan rooted for Manchester United. They wanted Arsenal to be the first London based club to win the Champions League.

I am not one of these people. To cut to the chase, I detest Manchester United with every fiber of my being. I hate them. Unless they approach me, you won’t see me say a word to a United fan. Along with Tottenham, they are the club I want to beat the most.

There’s nothing wrong with being a new Arsenal fan. As long as you support the club with your heart, I have no problems with it. But, the attitude towards Chelsea belong solely to the new Arsenal fans. That must be rectified soon.

These are few of the reasons I hate Manchester United:

– Sir Alex Ferguson, the “dustbin man who looks like Taggart”. Personally, I find it highly irritating that Wenger and Ferguson are somewhat cordial now. I’d rather they hated each other’s guts.

– They humiliated us at the Emirates last year in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal.

– Patrice Evra. His comments about our squad being comprised of babies should have been met with a swift slide tackle from behind. The fact that he complained he was targeted by our players (with tackles that weren’t nasty enough for my liking) makes him sound like a baby.

– They clinched the title against us last year, forcing Cesc Fabregas to extend his congratulations to the aforementioned Taggart.

– Ryan Giggs, the Welsh Sheep Shagger. The image of his goal against us in the 1999 FA Cup semifinal will never be forgotten. I don’t care if he’s never played in a World Cup. The woman who was caught on camera giving him the finger while he was taking a corner is a legend. She’s a true Gooner.

– They can potentially win a record-breaking fourth Premier League title in a row while surpassing Liverpool for total triumphs.

– Darren Fletcher. How a player becomes this overrated is a result of British pundits who confuse effort with actual skill. A couple of years ago, United fans didn’t even want to see him in their team. Now, he’s compared with Roy Keane. That comparison makes me laugh and vomit at the same time.

– Their fans are sensitive bullies. Calling a manager a paedophile is something they do with pride; it’s become so routine that it doesn’t even bother us anymore (even if it’s still greatly offensive). During the Carling Cup semifinal second leg, a section of fans at Old Trafford made machine gun gestures at Emmanuel Adebayor. Clearly, I am no fan of Adebayor, but those are pathetic actions by cowards. The same group of cowards who if other groups of fans mention the words “airplane” and “Munich” can’t take the heat.

– Nani. He could have been crippled by Mathieu Flamini after showboating against us during the FA Cup two years ago. Had he connected, Flamini would have been banned for at least eight games. It would have been worth it.

– They snatched Chris Smalling from us. Smalling, who was an Arsenal fan growing up, somehow decided to snub us and join “the biggest club in the world” instead. I now hope he fails and that Aaron Ramsey leads Wales to the World Cup after Ryan Giggs retires.

– Wayne Rooney. He dived to end our 49 match unbeaten streak. The contrast between how Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are judged says everything. A man who would kiss the United badge in front of the same Everton fans who worshipped him is clearly a scumbag.

If those aren’t enough reasons, I’m sure we can think of more. Please feel free to list more in the comments section.

As I sit here typing this, I can’t help but look forward to the match on Sunday.

A true culture of hate for Manchester United must be a requirement for any Arsenal fan. Players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, and Rio Ferdinand hate Arsenal. It’s time to have some of our players show that sort of hatred. I want that to see that type of anger on Sunday.

Nothing would make me more happy than to start our run towards the Premier League title by destroying them at the Emirates.

Sunday. I. Can’t. Fucking. Wait.

Left-Back Worries Me

It’s a strange world that we live in. We can get a man on the moon but can’t get one on Rosie O’Donnell. Last night, we were told that Vermaelen had broken his leg thus ending his season. Today he’s OK.

It’s a strange world.

So Arsenal drew 0-0 away to Aston Villa. This has caused some Arsenal fans to have heart attacks. Two reasons why: Last night Chelsea won and on Sunday Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup – by playing a bunch of rookie teenagers.

Throw-in Stoke now play away to Man City in the 5th round. They’re out and will now play the rest of the season trying to stay in the Premiership.

If Arsenal were still in the FA Cup then I think yesterday’s 0-0 draw at Villa would have been deemed a decent result. But Arsenal have now gone two games without a win and for some Gooners that’s a crisis. Villa have beaten Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool and drawn with Man City. They’ve only conceded seven goals at home in the Premiership.

With the injury scare to Vermaelen and the disappointment by some Arsenal fans in losing out to Man United in the signature of Chris Smalling, calls have been made for Arsene Wenger to sign someone – anyone.

The striker position is the number one area that Arsenal fans want a signing made – even though Arsenal already score a ton of goals. And what striker should Wenger sign? Eduardo is now injured but while Bendtner is back, expecting him to play twice a week for four months is asking too much.

The other alternatives are Vela and Walcott who seem to do better on the wings and are not yet the answer.

The positions that concern me the most are goalkeeper and left-back. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Almunia will not be replaced this season. I therefore hope that he rediscovers the form that got him the man of the match award against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final 1st leg last season.

The left-back spot is more of a worry. Traore has shown that he is not a left-back. His positioning is poor and his marking is even worse. Clichy had a poor game last night and has not been the same player of two seasons ago. He’s only just got back from injury so maybe with a run of games, he will find his form.

The plus side for the defence is the return of Song and Eboue. Song in particular will provide defensive cover and muscle – something that we lacked against Stoke.

Rio Ferdinand is banned for Sunday’s game for deliberately elbowing a Hull City player in the face. Until the FA had charged him for his cowardly act, nothing was mentioned in the media or by Hull City boss Phil Brown. During that game, Man United scored a goal while a Hull player was down injured. Again, nothing was mentioned of this incident by Phil Brown or the media.

Sky Sports have been banned by Alex Ferguson from attending any post match interviews because of their continual coverage of the Tevez/Gary Neville spat. Ferguson did a similar thing to the BBC. Therein lies your reason behind the silence of Phil Brown and the media towards Manchester United. Ferguson holds too much power.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton 1887

Keep it Arsenal

Good News Bad News

The much anticipated run of big matches has started with a draw at Villa Park. The 0-0 result was not the worst, but it has moved us down to third place. Still, we weren’t supposed to be here. The “experts” can lick a pig’s crack.

All is not lost. We have United Sunday and can jump above them with a victory. As important as the next three league matches are, we won’t be hurt too badly by draws. Obviously, we want three points every time.

There’s good news in that we had to replace our brilliant signing Thomas Vermaelen yet we still ended up with a clean sheet. The bad news is that reports are suggesting he might have a broken leg. Can we trust Sol for the remainder of the season?

Other good news is that we can call on Nicklas Bendtner again. He’s back from the groin injury. Bad news is Eduardo has a hamstring problem. If I were superstitious I’d swear that we’re cursed.

Time Waits For Nobody

The trophy pictured above is from the 03-04 Invincibles triumph. Red and White ribbons haven’t been attached to the trophy since.

In that miraculous season, we had wrapped up the league with four games to spare. At that moment, with the FA Cup and Europe no longer possibilities, the team could have relaxed and taken it easy. To an extent, they did, but they had a bigger target in mind, immortality. Their names would already be in the history books, but here was an opportunity to write an entire chapter of English football, something that will probably never be achieved in England again. With that pursuit in mind, Arsenal pressed on and completed the Invincible season. They defined themselves as legends.

As Wenger’s new experiment is rapidly approaching the maturation date, we currently stand level with Chelsea (albeit with one more game played) and two points behind United (but we have a game on them). We have an opportunity to score a resounding victory for football by wresting the Premier League trophy from the clutches of Manchester United.

These next four games will not decide the season, but they very well might define the season. Wenger has placed his faith in these players over and over again, refusing to sign players both out of principle and belief. They are the players who will be responsible for Wenger signing off in a blaze of glory or trailing off like a failed idealist.

In life and in sports, you are sometimes fortunate enough to get a small window where you can either succeed or fail. Of course, it’s somewhat foolish to define things in those terms. There are many players who never get to play in a Champions League game. There are athletes whose careers have been destroyed by injury. There are wonderful players, like George Weah, who have never played in a World Cup. Circumstances decide what situations can be defined as successes and failures.

And in that regard, we can already regard Wenger’s experiment to be a success. They have thrilled neutrals and played with a style that Wenger refuses to abandon. They have proven that a team can compete without being financially irresponsible. Others see it differently. Others see a defiantly stubborn man who has thrown away opportunities to win real trophies, charges that were leveled at Arsene as recently as Sunday when we lost to Stoke in the FA Cup. Wenger has shown the courage to laugh in the face of his critics and believe in this team.

In the next four games, the players at Arsenal FC will be given the choice to be regarded as championship material or pretty pretenders. Make no mistake, this team will challenge for the next few years, but there is no moment like the present. We do not know what will happen in the future. Cesc Fabregas may be swayed by Spanish riches. William Gallas may seek a different challenge. Tomas Rosicky might suffer a career ending injury. Arsene may lose his passion in the game. None of these scenarios are likely, but we cannot predict the future.

Teams and athletes often come to a crossroads. They are greeted with challenges that will define their careers. Great players can break through and become legends, while “just good enough” players enjoy their time being some kid’s fifth favorite player on a team before they ride out their mediocre careers.

As it stands, this Arsenal team of the past few years have given us personal memories that will never be forgotten. What they have not done is write themselves into the history books so that everyone else can remember as well. I believe that Wenger’s experiment will be remembered forever, but I do not want to read an epilogue in a book that tells us that it ultimately failed. The onus is on the players. The chance to play for Arsene Wenger comes but once in life. The difference between immortality and mere greatness is definitive success.

It is time for this team to make a clear statement. That begins against Villa.

Stoke – The Octomom of Football

The first decade of the 21st Century brought us the Bush Administration, the horrific 9/11 attacks, the anthrax scare, Hurricane Katrina, the stock market collapse, and the protracted and painful Iraq and Afghanistan wars – as well as a debilitating two-year recession and high unemployment.

But the first decade of the 21st Century gave us something a lot worse than the above events. It gave EPL fans Stoke City – one of the most disgusting teams to play in the Premiership since the days of Wimbledon.

If Stoke City were a porno, it would star the Octomom giving birth to eight kids and then having sex with a Rory Delap throw-in.

When Stoke City were drawn against Arsenal, they must have punched the air with delight. They love to try and beat a team that plays passing, flowing football with their own style of boots, kicks, flicks, tackles, corners, lofted balls, and headers.

Stoke score goals in the same way that thugs get into a club: by kicking down the back door, rushing through like a pack of animals, and knocking over the bouncer or anyone else who gets in their way.

Who gives a fuck how you get into the club as long as you get in!

Arsenal have never beaten Stoke or even got a draw against them at The Britannia Stadium. On February 27th, Arsenal will need to get three points at Stoke. Every team that wants to be a champion has to play against horrible teams and in horrible weather conditions. Stoke are that team – the new Bolton.

Aston Villa on Wednesday. Not an easy game, especially away. But there is some good news. We will have players back for that game. And by Sunday we should have Diaby, Song, Eboue, and Bendtner back.

What we need is a new goalkeeper. Fabianski is a joke. We now know why Almunia is first choice.

Look at Stoke’s first goal: The ball is thrown in, it arrives in the 6 yard box at chest height, yet Fabianski allows Fuller to beat him to the ball. It was disgusting! I wake up at 5:30 am and drive to Denver to watch a game that kicks-off at 6:30 am. At 6:32 am Arsenal are a goal down and I’m contemplating drinking drain fluid. Fabianski needs to realize how big Arsenal are globally, because I know that there’s a bunch of Gooners in California who watched the game an hour earlier than me.

Wenger needs to sign goalkeeper and fast because we have Laurel and Hardy sharing the No.1 jersey and for a club like Arsenal that’s not a enough. It’s like having the Octomom in charge of health care.

Keep It Arsenal

Post Match View – Stoke City F.C. (FA Cup Fourth Round)

Much of the talk leading up to this match had been about how Stoke would pose a physical challenge to Arsenal. They didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, certain Arsenal players did. Not in how we dealt with the kicking and pushing and all that but in our end product, positioning, and concentration.

Stoke was the first in a series of six matches that could ultimately define not just the season but an entire era for Arsenal Football Club. Arsene himself admitted back in August that this season would be the defining moment for the youth development vs. buying experienced players policy. The approach has taken a serious toll on many Gooners. It has been controversial to say the least. The F.A. Cup would have helped appease the disgruntled.

Match number one of the six has been a disaster but all is not lost. We have the league and Champions League to concentrate on. They were always the main priorities anyway.

Due to injuries and a run of crucial matches in the next few weeks, the manager’s selection choices were limited. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas made his first start. Francis Coquelin, and Craig Eastmond started as well. The bench looked potent with Arshavin, Eduardo, and Ramsey to choose from.

We started as badly as you possibly could – in less than two minutes, a Rory Delap throw-in was headed in by Ricardo Fuller. Stoke using Route 1 strategies is nothing new. Stoke being super physical is nothing new. Stoke playing us like it’s their last match ever is nothing new, especially considering it was a cup match. Us allowing them to score so early was not in the script and was worse than unforgivable.

Ideally, you’d want either Sol or Mickey marking Fuller on set pieces. Not this time! Mistake number one.

Delap got his towel, cleaned the ball, and then did what he does best. Fuller was allowed to run freely into the box. Mistake number two.

My biggest issue with the first goal is not how we weren’t prepared but how Fabianski stood on his heels waiting for the ball to reach him. I’m sure he never saw Fuller coming but instead of going to meet it, he waited for the ball. Mistake number three.

1-0 Stoke

We won a free kick on 41 just outside the Stoke 18. Cesc squared to the unmarked Denilson. His low shot might have been deflected but it was enough to find its way past Sorensen. Game on!

1-1

Stoke continued pumping long balls that Sol dealt with quite well. Silvestre was steady. The out of position Coquelin was as solid as could be expected for a youngster playing out of position. Traore on the other hand was appalling. A few weeks ago, he looked to be improving. His last three performances have been scary. Add a shaky Fabianski and there were the weakest links.

I imagined that Wenger would release the hounds on or about minute 65 if we were still down a goal. In the 68th minute, he used all three subs – Walcott, Coquelin, and Emmanuel-Thomas made way for Eduardo, Arshavin, and Ramsey. The expected effect was not to be. Instead, we were caught on a counter-attack ten minutes later.

Traore stayed upfield. Denilson showed that he has no pace as the big Sidibe ran by him to deliver an inch perfect cross for Fuller to head past Fabianski. Could Sol have done better? I’m not sure. Could Denilson have done better? Certainly not from the standpoint of keeping pace but sometimes (even in the era of automatic booking for a professional foul) you have to foul, you have to make a decision. He did nothing.

2-1 Stoke

We did little to suggest a comeback was imminent. And with more important fixtures just around the corner, at that point I could forgive Gooners for not being too down about the impending result. Stoke’s third came in a manner much like their first two. Woeful marking by Arsenal! I pleaded with Traore to get goal side of Wheatbread after Eastmond lost the ball. Not to be. His positioning was shocking. Etherington crossed for an easy goal from close.

3-1 Stoke.

Losing in the manner that we have and to whom we’ve lost bother me more than being out of the FA Cup. I will support all players who wear Arsenal colors but I don’t have to do it blindly. I’ve seen enough from Fabianski to feel that he is no better than Almunia. He may do certain things better but he is not any more reliable. Would that change with a run in the team? It might do him some good to know that he’s first choice, which begs the question of why he has been so poor when given a game. There were moments today when he looked like he could have used one of Delap’s towels to dry his hands.

Traore has done himself no favors these past few weeks. I was convinced he was on an upward path to improvement, to challenging Clichy and Gibbs. He’s gone back several steps in that regard.

Theo Walcott is young. He has time. Does that sound familiar? Bare with me. I might have to use it a few more times this season. What else can I say? I wouldn’t be surprised if even the most fanatical believer is starting to wonder a little about whether we’ll ever see any significant improvement from the player once thought to be the “next Thierry Henry”.

Let’s shake this one off and move on. Villa Wednesday. Important, era-defining matches are fast approaching. Plus, we get Stoke again next month. I’ll be looking not just for a convincing victory but also for someone to clean Robert Huth’s clock.