Stunning Comeback From Valiant 10 Man Arsenal

Bolton Wanderers (2) – (3) Arsenal
Gallas (61′), Van Persie (66′), Jlloyd Samuel OG (90′+1)
The Reebok Stadium, Bolton

What a comeback.

I didn’t actually catch the match, but had to watch Sky Sports’ Gillette Soccer Saturday and Bolton led after only 13 minutes with a header from Matthew Taylor. Diaby was then sent off after half an hour for serious foul play – did anyone manage to see what Diaby actually did?

So talk about up against it.

And just to really compound the misery, Taylor snatched another goal just before the break.

As every Arsenal fan knows luck hasn’t exactly been on our side over the last few weeks, and the looking at the half-time score you would think that with 10 men the game as a contest was over.

Try telling the players that.

The game was still 2-0 after an hour and Arsene decided to just go for it. Walcott came on for Senderos and Adebayor replaced Bendtner.

From then on the game was wide open.

Gallas scored just after the changes from a Cesc Fabregas corner, and Van Persie equalised with a penalty 6 minutes later after Alexander Hleb was fouled in the box by Tim Cahill.

At 2-2, the win was up for grabs and both teams seemingly went for the winner. But after managing to get two goals back Arsenal had the momentum and Cesc’s cross managed to creep into the net in injury time after Jlloyd Samuel’s attempt to clear.

Amazing.

On a soggy, wet pitch in Bolton and with 10 men for the vast majority of the match, Arsenal came from 2 goals down and won. Talk about character.

The result is so impressive for a number of reasons.

Arsenal have been written off for the Premier League title by many people (me included) but at the moment they sit 3 points behind Manchester United. Do I think we can still do it? Well if Arsenal can comeback from 2 goals down with only 10 men then this side are capable of doing something. They certainly suprised me anyway.

And currently form has been poor. So after 4 draws and a defeat you wouldn’t have high hopes of a win after trailing 2-0 at half-time. The team and Arsene deserve a hell of a lot of credit for the character shown to dig deep and get the 3 points. Especially against a Bolton side who are tough and know how to defend.

I’m still stunned.

There’s still fight in this Arsenal team yet and the nature of this result can only bode well for the Liverpool Trilogy coming up over the coming weeks.

Edit: You can see the goals online here.

You can see that the second from Taylor was particularly fortunate, taking a big deflection from Senderos and taking the ball away from Almunia. Another positive was that Hleb looked like he has found his form again.

And apologies for saying it was Tim Cahill, I think I was caught up in the drama!

Wenger Must Rest, Rotate And Go For Broke

A few things have become clear over the last few weeks.

I think everyone can agree that while Arsenal have been excellent this season, the squad was just lacking those extra 3 or 4 players who would have helped us push on in the latter part of the season. The squad has been stretched to the absolute limit, and we have just ran out of steam.

We’ve also been incredibly unlucky with injuries, while our rivals have enjoyed better luck. United seem to have world class players in reserve and coasting in the Premier League at the moment, and while you can argue they’ve had millions to spend the fact is they are top of the table. Eduardo and Rosicky would have really helped us over the last few weeks, and the number of games Robin Van Persie has missed hasn’t exactly helped – although to be fair for the majority of his absence we were coping well.

Then there has been some shocking refereeing decisions. They say that teams win the league not when they are firing on all cylinders but when they’re not playing well and still winning, which we haven’t managed to do. And while we haven’t played well in those games, a bit of luck and more efficient officiating could have seen us with a healthier points total.

But we haven’t and we’re out of the title race.

So that is why Arsene has to rest his main players in the Premier League. Go for broke and give everything to the Champions League.

Because while we’re still in it getting past Liverpool, and then possibly Chelsea is one massive task.

This is Liverpool we are talking about here. They are the masters of the Champions League. They might not play stunning football or set the world on fire but they qualify. If it takes a single set-piece to get the job done they will do it.

They are so dangerous in this competition.

So Wenger should rest the big guns in the league. Players like Fabregas, Hleb, Adebayor and Clichy have been playing virtually every game now and they are running on empty.

Give them a rest.

What’s the point of making them play on a wet pitch at Bolton?

Rafa does it and look at Liverpool’s record in this competition, and believe you and me, he will be giving everything to get into the next round. Liverpool rotate and do well in the Champions League, and do rubbish in the Premiership.

But the Premier League race is over now so it’s time to forget about it and go for the trophy Wenger’s been craving for.

Every team does it apart from us.

Before big European matches the Italian teams do it, the Spanish teams do it, and Liverpool do it. Rotation is something Wenger’s never really done much though and to be honest I don’t think he will do here.

Which is a shame because I fear the league games could cost us in Europe.

The Day Arsenal’s Title Challenge Ended

Was it against Manchester United in the 5th Round of the FA Cup?

Nope.

Was it against Chelsea in the league yesterday?

Nope.

It was on Saturday 23rd February 2008, when Arsenal visited Birmingham City at St Andrews in the Premier League.

Before the game even kicked off we were sitting 5 points clear of Manchester United. If Eduardo doesn’t suffer that horrific injury at the hands of Martin Taylor we would have won that game easily. In the second half Arsenal played some excellent football and were for the most part crusing so you can’t say that the Manchester United game a week before halted our momentum. Unlike Alan Hansen and other so called “experts” I just don’t buy into that. Unfortunately the players didn’t perform in the first half (which under the circumstances is completely understandable) by which time we were trailing 1-0.

Conceding that last minute penalty (along with the events that preceded it) was the most devastating moment in our season. No game has hurt Arsenal as much as that one.

If that tackle doesn’t happen, we wouldn’t be 6 points behind the leaders right now.

Because the fact is we haven’t recovered since that game.

The belief just wasn’t there any more.

And the team as a whole just hasn’t performed since. You have the strong-minded players like Bacary Sagna, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy who have been solid and playing well but others have not.

Emmanuel Adebayor

He hasn’t been firing since. Look at the two Premier League games before the Birmingham City one. We played Manchester City away and Adebayor was on fire. Make no mistake about it, he was sensational that day. And more importantly his new partnership with Eduardo looked like it was finally coming together, and proof was the stunning goal Eduardo scored from Adebayors header. And just before the Birmingham game, we played Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates. Senderos opened the scoring and Adebayor scored another late on.

But since then he hasn’t scored in the league, and only once in the last 8 matches.

The main problem is that since then he has been basically playing upfront by himself which is one of the hardest jobs in football. If he plays as the lone striker he needs service and he hasn’t been getting it. Hleb, one of our best creative players has been misfiring and we don’t have Rosicky in the side. At least Eduardo would give him support in attack but obviously now that’s not possible.

The match report I wrote after the Manchester City game basically gave Adebayor the highest praise possible. I hailed it as pretty much the complete performance and it was. And I refuse to believe that he has become this terrible player overnight. I will be the first to admit that I have been very critical of him in recent weeks, but in hindsight I think those comments were very unfair. I mean where is the service? How many crosses did you see from wide positions against Chelsea yesterday?

And when you see him play it looks like his confidence is shot. He keeps passing the ball square or backwards instead of taking on players or passing it forward. It’s like he’s afraid of trying anything because it might not come off. And unfortunately his slump has come at the wrong time.

Alexander Hleb

Is another one who has suffered a similar dip in form.

I’m not sure how I can explain his below-par performances of late really. He obviously looked distressed after Eduardo’s horrific injury and we all know Hleb’s game is ball retention and possession, so he is more likely than most to suffer a bad tackle than the rest.

Is that playing on his mind? Who knows.

The problem is that Hleb is supposed to be one of our main creative forces, along with Cesc Fabregas, who in comparison has been carrying the team. And especially with the absence of Rosicky, Hleb should be stepping up and improving his performances not the other way round.

Maybe his mind is elsewhere, probably on the ice cream business he and some Italian friend look like starting up this summer.

William Gallas

Did his strop at the end of the Birmingham game signal the end of his leadership? Did he lose respect in the dressing room? Because our defending has been suspect since and littered sloppy goals being conceded.

There’s no doubt that Gallas is a winner, and you can understand his frustrations at the end of an emotional football match but is that the right way to react after the game? It was hard to see if he was upset with Gael Clichy for making that mistake just before conceding the penalty or the fact the referee gave it.

He hasn’t looked the same since, but you wonder if that has to do with the return of Kolo Toure as well. It has been noted that Gallas and Toure can’t work together, and the fact is that Gallas and Senderos had been playing excellently together and as a partnership, have 7 clean sheets in 11 games – which is exceptional.

The Team In General

Well obviously losing Eduardo for the rest of the season is a massive blow, and looking in the position we are now we know who significant his absence really is.

He settled into the team from January and been scoring vital goals at vital times. There was the double at Goodison Park when we were trailing against an inform Everton side. Then there was the opener against West Ham United at home. Scoring early is so important in these tight games (especially as the season closes) and he was the man who would be most likely to break the deadlock. As it stands, in the last few league games our goals have come from Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner (who are both hardly regulars), Kolo Toure, Philippe Senderos and Bacary Sagna.

He offered that extra threat we needed. Now the opposition know that all they have to do is concentrate on Adebayor alone and keep him out of the game.

With our midfield and Adebayor drawing blanks Eduardo would have made the difference.

Arsenal’s Title Hopes Officially End At Stamford Bridge (w/ Player Ratings)

Chelsea (2) – (1) Arsenal
Sagna (58′)
Stamford Bridge, London

Well the Premier League challenge has officially ended.

Depressed, devastated, gutted – I’m all of those and more.

I wrote three weeks ago suggesting Arsenal could be in freefall, and last week I wondered if Arsenal had ran out of steam.

Looking at our shattered title hopes unfortunately I was right.

If you fail to win any of your last 5 domestic games then the writing is on the wall. March is when you’re supposed to be hitting form, winning games and at your strongest as the season closes but for so many reasons we have been at our worst.

At Stamford Bridge, Arsenal started the game well. Both sides made some half chances and the first half ended goalless, after a lot of huffing and puffing in both penalty areas. It must be noted that Almunia was the busier goalkeeper in the first half though, making some decent saves.

But it was Arsenal that made the break-through.

After 58 minutes, Arsenal won a corner after Van Persie hit the ball against Essien on the left side. Fabregas sent in a superb cross and the ball was headed in at the near post Bacary Sagna.

What a massive goal in the Premier League season.

But after that things went horribly, horribly wrong.

Like the Eduardo incident at Birmingham, like the penalty conceded at the end of that game, like the disallowed goal against Middlesbrough, like the sh*te pitch at Wigan – Arsenal’s luck was non-existent.

Sagna – one of our best performers on the day – had to be taken off with a nasty ankle injury. The obvious thought going through Arsenal fans’ minds was that Eboue would have to fill in at right-back.

And after that Arsenal collapsed.

By hook or by crook, Arsenal had been defending well and keeping Chelsea out but as soon as Sagna was substituted things fell apart.

And luck really had truly turned against us.

Drogba scored the equaliser after disarray in the Arsenal penalty area, and to compound Sagna’s enforced absence the original ball forward from Chelsea was clearly offside.

After that the tide was with Chelsea, and it was that man again Drogba who had been causing our defence all kinds of problems all afternoon who scored the decisive winner. It was another mess in our penalty area which resulted in a scuffed shot from striker which managed to beat Almunia and nestle in the net.

A must-win game in the title race ended in the worse way possible.

So what happened?

Well quite frankly not enough players had good enough performances.

Fabregas played well in the middle, finding his passing range and making some good defensive tackles. Flamini also had an excellent game, showing passion and determination – it was a shame his endeavour and desire wasn’t shared with some of his team-mates.

Sagna was solid as usual, and along with Clichy showed some excellent running and movement to support the attack. Gallas stuggled all game with the threat of Drogba, and ultimately that proved to become costly in the end. Toure showed good energy and made some good interceptions but made a bad mistake for Drogba’s second goal.

And Almunia pulled off some excellent saves. He was badly exposed for the two goals and you couldn’t really blame him for either one.

But that was it.

Hleb, Adebayor, Eboue and Van Persie were shocking. They really were.

Obviously you can excuse Van Persie because he’s been out for so long, but the others haven’t been playing well for a long time now. I might be more sympathetic towards Hleb if he wasn’t f*cking around and talking to Inter Milan behind our backs.

And Adebayor is just not at the races at all. He talks a good game, and goes on and on about his friendship with Thierry Henry but when it comes to his responsibilities on the pitch he is nowhere to be seen. Besides a tap in at AC Milan he hasn’t scored for 9 games. That is not good enough for a striker playing for Arsenal Football Club. I don’t expect goals in every game but I do expect a performance now and then. Unfortunately he’s been lacking in both the performance and goalscoring charts.

That is just not acceptable for a team like Arsenal who always make chances.

Nicklas Bendtner should have been given a start, to mix things up at least and give Adebayor a rest which he obviously needs.

And why on earth does Arsene persist in starting Emmanuel Eboue in Arsenal’s biggest games? Theo Walcott surely deserves a start doesn’t he? And the youngster is one of the very few players who has actually been scoring recently in the Premier League! I don’t think Eboue would have ever scored twice at Birmingham City like Walcott did.

A lot of questions, but we just didn’t have the answers.

Player Ratings:

Manuel Almunia: 8/10
Overall had an excellent game. Was called upon to make some vital saves and didn’t disappoint. Was badly exposed at the back for both of Drogba’s goals and almost saved the second. Denied Drogba his hattrick with another fantatic stop.

Bacary Sagna: 8/10
Another excellent and solid performance, and probably one of the players of the season. Took his goal brilliantly and defended well. His absence had an impact on the outcome of the game and very unfortunate to injure his ankle.

Kolo Toure: 7/10
Defended well on the whole but made a bad mistake for Drogba’s second goal.

William Gallas: 6/10
Struggled all afternoon with Didier Drogba. Looked very weak in the air which was very strange – even against Anelka when he came on. Not his best game.

Gael Clichy: 8/10
Excellent energy levels and ran up and down the flank all game. Kept Joe Cole quiet and supported the attack well as usual.

Emmanuel Eboue: 5/10
What can I say? Picked up a stupid booking for blocking a freekick and lost the ball on several occasions. Passing was poor and only succeeded in getting caught up in petty squabbles all over the pitch instead of playing football.

Mathieu Flamini: 9/10
Desire, passion and full of running. Rallied the team throughout the game and couldn’t ask any more of him. A true warrior who we don’t want to lose in the summer.

Cesc Fabregas: 8/10
Good in the middle but limited because of the lack of movement from his fellow players. Hleb, Eboue and Adebayor failed to make any decent runs for the Spaniard to pick out. Good delivery for Sagna’s goal and made some good recovering tackles in defence.

Robin Van Persie: 7/10
Asked to play on the left side and had a couple of openings at the start of the game. Faded after that but in all fairness didn’t get the ball enough. Helped out Clichy on the left and made some good tackles.

Alexander Hleb: 6/10
Usually excellent at ball retention and taking on players but wasn’t at it today. Couldn’t make an impact on the game and his decision-making when in possession was very poor.

Emmanuel Adebayor: 5/10
Stuggled upfront and could take lessons from Didier Drogba. Rarely got in the box when the ball was wide which was mind-boggling. Kept passing the ball backwards instead of taking on a defender or trying to play a team-mate through. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence, or could be that he’s not good enough.

Reality Check: United & Chelsea Are Hitting Form

Every team in the Premier League has now played 30 games.

And last night, with their game in hand, Manchester United easily cruised to a 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford. Even before the game kicked off, Bolton were huge outsiders at an amazing 16-1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen odds so high before!

I watched the game hoping for some sort of miracle but it never came. United went 2-0 up after 20 minutes and effectively ended the match as a contest. And after only conceding 5 goals at home all season, you wouldn’t put money on Bolton getting 3 in the remaining 70 minutes. As is played out, Bolton managed to fashion a few half chances from long distance, but Manchester United never got out of second gear and if Bolton did score then the home side would have just got a couple more in reply.

The worrying thing was United played with about 7 or 8 reserve team players and still won easily. Ronaldo is on fire and knows were the net is. And they have Rooney, Tevez, Nani and others from midfield who pose a goal threat.

Who in the Arsenal side even look like scoring in the last part of the season?

In the last few domestic games we’ve had to rely on Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner and Kolo Toure to get our goals.

Bendtner and Theo don’t even start!

So United are 3 points clear with 8 games remaining. You would think United would drop a few points before the end of the season so it’s not a complete disaster – but you have to think that to stand any chance of pipping them we would need to win at Old Trafford.

The big problem as Myles has said is we have no momentum whatsoever.

Since the defeat against United we’ve been shocking. We’ve drawn all 4 domestic games since and only won 1 from the last 6 games in all competitions.

Can Arsenal break this slump in form?

In the other game yesterday Chelsea led 3 times before being pegged back by Spurs, drawing an amazing game 4-4. Before the matches even kicked off I was disappointed that the Spurs/Chelsea game wasn’t shown instead of the non-contest at Old Trafford, and so it proved to be the more interesting encounter.

And amazingly Berbatov had a golden chance to win the game, with Cudicini pulling off a wonder save with only minutes remaining.

The interesting thing to note from the highlights was that 3 of the goals Chelsea conceded were from set-pieces, and even the final goal from Robbie Keane came from a long ball. That would be something most teams would take advantage of but our threat in the air isn’t exactly the best in the league. Maybe Adebayor or Kolo can do something from set-pieces but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

And the thing is Chelsea have momentum.

Despite drawing yesterday, they can take a lot of positives from the game.

They scored 4 goals away from home. Their strikers are scoring, as well as their midfield. They pose a real threat every time they attack. They’re simply playing better football than we are.

And that is so hard to admit.

They also have fight. Of course, the Chelsea players were being complete arseholes to the referee and contesting every single decision that didn’t go their way, but they showed fight on the pitch. Most of the aggression was way over the top (and Cuntface should have been sent off), but as much as I hate them it’s crystal clear they want to win. Badly. I just haven’t seen that kind of passion from the Arsenal players recently.

From their last 11 games, they have won 8 of them and drawn the other 3.

This is the time of the season you should be hitting form and going from strength to strength – and while United and Chelsea are doing so we’re seemingly going out with a wimper as the season closes.

So Sunday is a must win game, at a ground were they haven’t lost since we defeated them 4 seasons ago. We also have to overcome a side who are bang in form.

Talk about a massive ask.

And talk about a massive game. This game is simply the biggest game of the Premier League campaign so far. If Arsenal want any chance whatsoever of winning the title then they have to win on Sunday. If Arsenal lose and United win (they always beat the Scousers) then a 6 point gap with only 7 games left is – for me – a bridge too far. And if that happens, in terms of momentum, Arsenal and United would be a million miles apart.

From Liverpool’s point of view, beating United would be good news for them. Apart from the obvious glory of beating their North West rivals they would give Arsenal hope in the league. It’s in their best interests for Arsenal to be fighting for the title, especially when it comes down to the Champions League encounters.

On the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me if United battered them 4-0.