I Have Almost Lost Faith With Football

What a soul crushing end to the season.

I’m just so exhausted from the events of the last few weeks, I really am. As a dedicated Arsenal fan I feel the highs and the lows after victory and defeat, but for some reason I just feel like I’ve almost had enough.

Have we ever experienced a rough period like we’ve seen over the last couple of months?

It’s not because of the performances of the team. You see Arsenal give absolutely everything in the games against Chelsea and Liverpool and get nothing but a kick in the teeth in return.

I tried to be balanced in writing the match report after the Liverpool game but the fact is I’m still gutted now. I just couldn’t believe it. Arsenal did fantastically well to score the equaliser with 7 minutes left and then another dodgy decision stole victory from us.

It’s not as if we would have won anything from last nights game, since there’s still a long way to go in the competition but the manner of the defeat is just depressing. I haven’t felt this down since the 1999 FA Cup Semi-Final when Ryan Giggs scored that wonder goal at Villa Park. It took me weeks to get over that one, and isn’t it strange that it involved a Dutchman and a penalty?

You see Arsene Wenger impose his vision for beautiful football and can’t help respect it. Wenger wants to play football in the right way, which is the correct attitude to have.

Football is entertainment and people pay good money to watch it. It should be aspiration of any top side to play beautiful football rather than just win matches. Of course, winning is important but will we end up with teams of robots who just play functional football?

But it seems like everyone hates us for it and people like nothing more than Arsenal to lose football matches. Kick Arsenal about to stop them playing is the attitude here. It’s a massive accomplishment if you can somehow stop Arsenal. Whereas in Spain it’s all about technical ability and playing football. No wonder the English National team is a complete shambles.

Then you have the referees.

They say decisions balance themselves out over the season but where is our luck? Ever since the Eduardo incident I haven’t seen anything go in our favour.

Clichy’s tackle at the end of the Birmingham game was a valid one and he won the ball, Liverpool seem to have some sort of penalty kick hoodoo and other bad decisions have really gone against us in an unreal fashion. If anything I thought the ‘bigger’ sides got preferential treatment when it came to the major incidents. The problem is the damage is done, and we might get 10 dodgy penalty decisions in our favour before the season ends but at this stage they woudn’t mean anything!

And Arsene has always been an advocate of helping referees.

He says that technology should be used to help officials who can make mistakes. That’s not a criticism, but a fact of human nature. Referees will make mistakes. Surely a guy behind a TV screen who has a benefit of a replay can instantly tell the referee on the pitch if it’s a right or wrong call.

And if this was implemented and players knew that every decision was based on replay evidence then they would stop cheating and diving, because they would know they wouldn’t get away with it.

Then you have the media.

How many times does Wenger get slated for not playing Englishmen? Every time the England National side is in the press all the attention focuses on Arsene Wenger. Why is he responsible for the state of the National team?

There does seem to be this anti-Arsenal bias in the media based mainly on things like the England team. Then that spreads to other criticisms.

And then there is the media and the referees.

Football is almost a 24 hour sport now and you need these kind of things to keep people interested. The Newspapers love it, the Sports Channels love it – it’s all part of the game they say. It’s pretty obvious officials won’t get the help needed to make football a fairer game because it would ruin the whole theatre that is football. What would Sky Sports News report about on their 24 hour news channel? What would the experts on Match of the Day talk about? The media have so much power that the use of replays and technology will never happen.

It’s all “part of the game”.

And the really annoying part of all this is all these bad decisions are just brushed under the carpet. The media will paint Wenger as a moaner, which sells newspapers. There’s nothing like a bit of controversy to sell right?

Wengers belief and motivation in his whole philosophy of how the game should be played is probably being tested like it never has been before.

He revolutionised training methods in this country and helped the Premier League reach another level as a whole. When he won the double in his first full season at the club it forced Fergie to improve his team and then he won the treble 12 months later.

Then there’s also the ex-Arsenal players.

Arsenal must have more ex-players in the Premier League than any other side. There’s Kanu, Campbell, Lauren, Diarra, Volz, Aliadiere, Larsson, Muamba, Ljungberg, Ashley Cole, Pennant, Bentley and Stuart Taylor. I’m sure there’s more but I can’t remember right now.

It’s like we’re a feeder club and making other sides stronger.

And what do we get in return? Players like Bentley, Cole and Pennant slagging off Arsene Wenger!

You would probably find it hard to find a man who has contributed more to football in this country and this is how he gets treated.

So is it too much to ask to get a fair whack at things?

And look at this weekend’s game with Manchester United. In any other circumstances, people would want the underdog to win so that it would setup an exciting finish as the title race comes to a close. But you get the feeling that everyone would love Arsenal to continue their poor run and get beaten once again rather than the league leaders lose.

People would just love it if we got tanked on Sunday.

I’ve almost had enough of it all. I’m not actually sure if anything I’ve written actually makes sense. I’m just down right now and you’ll have to excuse me. Thanks for reading anyway.

Can I Write A Balanced Piece About Tonight’s Game?

Liverpool (4) – (2) Arsenal
Diaby (13′), Adebayor (83′)
Anfield, Liverpool

So close, yet so far – which sums up our season really.

Arsenal started the game brightly, and dominated the first 30 minutes of the match. With their sharp passing and attacking possession Liverpool were chasing the game. It was a surprise that Benitez started with both Crouch and Torres up front, but it meant Arsenal’s midfield could get at the Liverpool defence and on 13 minutes we got what we deserved.

After some good attacking play, Hleb fed the ball into Diaby who ran from deep and smashed a shot in at the near post.

Advantage Arsenal.

But after that we seemed to take our foot off the pedal and Liverpool were spraying long balls over the top which were causing us problems and from a corner Liverpool equalised.

And it was a gift.

Steven Gerrard always plays in a good ball and to give Sami Hyypia the time and space in the box was criminal. The header bounced in off the post and Fabregas was just too short to get it away.

Unfortunately it was our defensive frailties which would cost us dear later on in the game.

The second half ended 1-1 and it was up for grabs. The second period started at a decent pace but for about 20 minutes both teams seemed to drop the tempo ready for a grandstand finish.

Another defensive error resulted in another Liverpool goal. A long ball wasn’t dealt with and Torres was given time to get the ball onto his right foot. He didn’t need a second invitation and he smashed the ball into the top corner.

The game was finely poised and Arsene went for broke. Walcott and Van Persie came on for Eboue and Diaby, in the pursuit of that vital goal that would put Arsenal into the next round.

And on 83 minutes it came. Liverpool had a corner which bounced to Theo, who waltzed past 5 players in a simply sensational run. He managed to get himself wide on the right where 4 Arsenal players were waiting in the middle for a cut back. Walcott didn’t disappoint and his pass was converted by Emmanuel Adebayor.

The question now was could Arsenal hold on for the remaining 7 minutes?

Unfortunately bad refereeing decisions have cost Arsenal against Liverpool, and the home side were gifted a penalty. Replays showed that there was minimal contact on Babel but it was enough for the referee to blow the whistle.

It’s hard to not feel aggrieved at the decision, especially after Hleb was robbed of a perfectly good penalty at the Emirates. You wonder where Liverpool get this luck from? They get the decisions at the right time. It’s unbelievable and when the penalty was awarded I was stunned.

There was no reason for Kolo to tug down Babel because there were about 6 players back in the Arsenal penalty area and Babel had a hell of a lot to do from the position he was in.

Dutchman and penalties eh?

Once the kick was given all prayers were with Almunia and whether he could pull off a miraculous save to keep Arsenal in the Champions League. He dived the right way but in front of the Kop Gerrard was never going to miss. And with Arsenal playing desperate football in the remaining minutes the very man who won the penalty Ryan Babel scored on the break.

What a rollercoaster.

So why did Arsenal lose over the two games?

Fatigue & Tiredness

Liverpool just looked like the fresher team. Arsenal played well and tried to pass the ball and performed excellently for the first half an hour, but as the game wore on Arsenal looked jaded. Adebayor and Hleb in particular couldn’t get into the game, whether it was down to form or fatigue. The team was over-reliant on Fabregas to make things happen and this kid is burnt out. To his credit, Diaby put in a good performance but Eboue and Hleb’s influence was sporadic at best.

And Adebayor missed a sitter before we finally got the equaliser.

Fans wanted Theo to start tonight and he probably should have looking at his fantastic run to create Arsenal’s equaliser. You really have to feel for Theo Walcott. He puts in a brilliant display against Birmingham and scores 2 goals but that is overshadowed by the horrendous injury to Eduardo. Then he destroyed the Liverpool team with a quite phenomenal run but ends up on the losing side.

Instead of getting the plaudits his magic moments will be forgotten.

And the absence of Bacary Sagna is such a massive loss. Apart from his solid defensive performances he adds something to our attacking game. Maybe it was Sagna not playing which was the reason why Walcott didn’t start the games over Eboue.

Defensive Frailties

Arsenal probably deserved to progress in Champions League over the two legs if you looked at their attacking play, but you could say that about many games this season. The fact is that for all our possession and incisive passing we lost 4-2 tonight. Yes, the penalty call was so difficult to take, especially after working so hard to equalise, but you can’t expect to win football matches if you concede 4 goals.

The fact is you can put all of Liverpool’s goals down to poor defending.

I still can’t get over the first goal. The defending was a complete shambles and if you’re going to give a top side a free header only 6 yards out then you’re going to be punished.

The second goal was no better, after we failed to deal with a long ball. The situation was still retrievable but we stood off Torres and let him shot with his right foot which was criminal. He is a top quality striker and to do that was asking for trouble.

Then the penalty and goal from the break are self-explanatory really.

Just Plain Bad Luck

It really does seem everything has been going against Arsenal since the injury to Eduardo, and the Liverpool ties followed the same vain.

People will say that you can’t change what’s happened and that we should get over it but there’s no about that element of luck has vanished over the two games. There was the Hleb penalty fiasco in the first leg and Ryan Babel was fortunate to get his in the second. It probably would have been fairer if we had a penalty each over the two legs but it didn’t pan out like that.

Final Thoughts?

Well it was a fantastic game of football tonight and give credit to Liverpool, they played more expansively that I thought they would. We all know how dangerous Liverpool are in Europe and now they have beaten us they will feel like they can win it. It’s a shame how the draw panned out really as well. Chelsea and United got favourable draws and we got the team no-one else wanted.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still hurting over the 2 major penalty incidents in each of the ties because I think it would have made a difference to the outcome of the games. Such games are won and lost on the little things and even the most dedicated Liverpool supporter couldn’t say that certain things didn’t go in their favour.

But Liverpool have qualified and all you can say is congratulations to them and good luck in the next round.

The game in a way summed up our season. We were strong early on but in the end we were hanging on.

I suppose now our focus will be on how we can add that extra strength we need for next season. The game on Sunday will be even tougher now after tonight so let’s see what the boys are made of.

We Are Not Far Away From Being At The Top…

After Manchester United’s draw with Middlesbrough yesterday, you just wonder if Arsenal are cursed. Because if we won against Liverpool on Saturday (which was possible with Hleb’s sitter at the end) we would only be 4 points behind the leaders instead of 6.

We just get the wrong results at the wrong times.

The problem is Arsene is playing a balancing game with his thin squad, but at the moment is getting it wrong.

Having to prioritise things because of squad limitations is tough and just look how the season has panned out.

Portsmouth, Cardiff, Barnsley and West Brom were the semi-finalists in this years FA Cup. If we concentrated on that and progressed that would have been one of the best opportunities of winning that competition in years.

United dropped vital points at the weekend, and we only drew against Liverpool because our focus was on the Champions League fixture. And only a couple of weeks before that we lost a precious lead at Stamford Bridge. If we held on and beat Chelsea, and managed to overcome Liverpool we – despite the shocking form since the Birmingham game – would be amazingly only one point behind Manchester United.

And we still had to visit them at Old Trafford as well.

All we needed was a couple of experienced players to get us through those tough times in the season. We are not a million miles away from being where we should be.

But we’ve been unlucky as well.

Van Persie, Rosicky and Eduardo really could of helped us push on over the last few weeks if they weren’t out injured. Sagna is also missing for a few weeks, and you can’t help think that we could of defended better against Chelsea and twice against Liverpool with his solid influence on the game.

I mean, how would United be without Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez for big parts of the season? And Chelsea without Drogba, Cole and Terry?

So will Arsene buy in the summer?

I don’t think so, unless he gets rid of some players first. His arguement will be that with a fully-fit squad he has enough talent at his disposal. I would tend to agree with that if Rosicky and Van Persie were fit but the fact is Eduardo is out for much longer.

I woudn’t be surprised if Eboue was off-loaded this summer, but in all honesty who would buy him? The only place I could see him moving too would be Pompy with their influx of ex-Arsenal players and a strong African contingent.

The two areas in particular we are weak though is in the full-back positions. If Clichy or Sagna are out for any length of time we will struggle big time. Traore and Hoyte are too inexperienced, although I suppose they need games to get that.

Same Old Arsenal, Always Drawing…

Arsenal (1) – (1) Liverpool
Bendtner (54′)
The Emirates Stadium, London

Would you put money on yet another 1-1 draw at Anfield on Tuesday?

Today saw a lot of similarities from the first encounter apart from the final scoreline, including the fact that for all our play it was a set-piece and header which gave us our goal.

Cesc, Kolo and Gallas looked tired which isn’t surprising and Liverpool (with 7/8 changes from midweek) looked and performed like the fresher side. They were the better team in the first half an hour and just when Arsenal looked like they might do something Liverpool opened the scoring with a well-taken Peter Crouch goal.

He caused us all kinds of problems this afternoon and if Liverpool want to beat us next week all they have to do is play Crouch. Luckily Benitez will stick with his favoured Gerrard-Torres combination with the two Dutchman out wide which is, I think, a less of a threat than Peter Crouch is.

Arsenal did step up their game in the second half (sound familiar?) and got an equaliser ten minutes into the second period. Fabregas floated in a great freekick and Bendtner made an excellent run and headed the ball home from 5 yards out.

Seriously, we need to cross the ball more against this team!

And just to make the game like a carbon-copy of last weeks encounter we were denied a decent penalty shout when the game was at 1-1. To be honest, I didn’t think it was a penalty when watching the game but afterwards Graeme Souness who was talking to Sky said it was a stone wall penalty.

Maybe we’ll finally get one on Tuesday?

Liverpool are a compact side, who make things difficult and have that abilty to shut out teams. But there is no doubt that they suffer from set-pieces because of their zonal defending. Arsenal need to take advantage of this fact and score goals in the air in the upcoming Champions League game.

Whether Arsene will do this though is another matter.

I’d like to see Bendtner and Adebayor start on Tuesday but we know that won’t happen.

Our team selection is predictable.

Last week I predicted the team selection over 24 hours before the kick off, and it’s pretty obvious what the starting eleven will be next week.

GK: Manuel Almunia
RB: Kolo Toure
CB: William Gallas (captain)
CB: Philippe Senderos
LB: Gael Clichy
RM: Emmanuel Eboue
CM: Mathieu Flamini
CM: Cesc Fabregas
LM: Abou Diaby
FW: Alexander Hleb
CF: Emmanuel Adebayor

Walcott will not start because I just don’t think Wenger believes he’s ready for the big games just yet. I can see Theo making an appearance though in the second half depending how the match is playing out, probably coming on after 75 minutes. Nicklas Bendtner won’t start either because Arsene will put Hleb in the hole were he can link up with his mates Cesc and Flamini in the middle, which to be honest makes a lot of sense.

And with Rosicky out then there’s no choice but to start Diaby and Eboue. Diaby to be fair had a good game in Milan, but Eboue is someone who worries me. Because Kolo isn’t a proper right-back he needs decent defensive cover but Eboue just doesn’t provide it. Then there’s the fact he always loses the ball, makes reckless challenges and is prone to get stupid bookings.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets sent off.

So Bacary Sagna aside, it will be the team that did so well against AC Milan at the San Siro. The theory is with those 2 wide players we will be tough to break down and try to spring with pace on the break.

I guess we will see on Tuesday night.

What A F*cking Disgrace! (w/ Player Ratings)

Arsenal (1) – (1) Liverpool
Adebayor (23′)
The Emirates Stadium, London

It’s hard not to feel frustrated after that game. Where do I even start?

We knew Liverpool would sit back, and catch us on the break. And even though Liverpool were well organised they were very, very lucky to end up drawing tonight.

Almost everything seemed to go against Arsenal.

We started the game well and got the opening goal when Robin Van Persie whiped in a great cross onto the head Adebayor, who couldn’t miss from that position.

But after being in control of the game we pressed the self-destruct button.

Only 3 minutes later, Liverpool equalised. I have to point this out right now – Emmanuel Eboue is a massive liability. Shocking, he really is. I have defended him in the past but tonight he was a complete disgrace. He made no effort to push on down the right wing and gave the ball away so many times. And the more I watch the Liverpool goal the more p*ssed off I get.

Flamini loses the ball to Gerrard on the right, and Eboue is just strolling back. He gets sucked into the middle where the central defenders are and leaves Flamini to track Gerrard. Eboue is just a coward. He doesn’t get involved in the game and in that passage of play he just left Gerrard – who was running down the left side – to Toure and then Flamini! People say by playing Theo you lose out defensively but Eboue offered nothing to the Arsenal rearguard.

Watch Eboue in the move Liverpool scored from. It’s a disgrace.

And with that Liverpool scored the massive away goal which they wanted. Talk about gifting them a massive boost.

And early in the second half, Almunia was called upon to make an excellent save from Kuyt, but it all stemmed from Eboue’s idiocy!

Liverpool had a freekick on the right side which was hit towards the back post by captain Steven Gerrard. Martin Skrtel won the header and knocked it inside but instead of challenging for the header Eboue decided to dive and give the defender a free header in the 6 yard box!

Luckily Almunia made an excellent save.

But seriously, it’s like playing with 10 men.

Arsenal basically dominated the second half, and we played some excellent football but were let down at the wrong moments. Adebayor still seems to have a terrible touch (does he train?) and Hleb looked like he was dead on his feet. Theo looked lively when he came on but the attacking threat was basically left to Fabregas, Flamini, Toure and Clichy running from deep.

Then two moments which should have given Arsenal what they deserved.

In a congested Liverpool half, Hleb managed to wriggle through and was pulled down by Kuyt and amazingly a penalty wasn’t awarded. When I saw the move in real-time I thought it was a stone wall penalty and the replays have confirmed that. He was in on goal and Kuyt pulls him down. I defy anyone to say that was not a penalty kick.

And then later on in the half, Nicklas Bendtner blocked a goal-bound effort from Cesc Fabregas. Ironically Bendtner added something to the Arsenal attack when he came on (maybe because he can actually control the ball and hold it up) and was really unlucky to get in the way of the shot.

Seriously, can our luck get any worse?

The penalty decision in particular though really baffles me. Would the foul be given if it was at Anfield, Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge? Of course it would. It’s not as if it was a debatable decision, and being the home side you would think things would go our way – not the complete opposite!

And when you see Chelsea’s goal against Fenerbahce you wonder why we can’t get that kind of luck!

People will say tonights result could have been a lot worse, but the fact is our play deserved much more. In a perverse way though a 1-1 scoreline might put Arsenal in a better mindset going into the Anfield clash, since we have to look to score and if we do it will really put the pressure on Liverpool. If we go into the game 2-1 up we wouldn’t be sure whether to stick or twist and let’s be honest, our defending isn’t exactly the best.

Player Ratings

Manuel Almunia: 7/10
Made a vital, vital save early in the second half to deny Liverpool another away goal. Could he have done better for the first goal? Maybe if he doesn’t come out it gives Gerrard a decision to make when crossing the ball to Kuyt.

Kolo Toure: 7/10
Ran up and down the right side all night and looked shattered towards the end of the match. Almost had to play in two positions with Eboue ‘playing’ ahead of him.

William Gallas: 7/10
Tried to rally the troups by pushing forward in the second half and defended well.

Philippe Senderos: 7/10
Torres caused a few problems but didn’t really have a clear chance at the Arsenal goal. All in all kept him quiet and restricted his threat.

Gael Clichy: 8/10
Up and down the pitch again. One of the few players who gives 110% week in and week out. Like Toure, was almost down the flank by himself. Everyone seemed to be playing the ball to Clichy on the left side in the second half.

Emmanuel Eboue: 4/10
Not sure why he plays. Had a chance to score but the ball was probably just behind him. Almost gifted Liverpool a second goal and offered no sort of offensive threat.

Mathieu Flamini: 8/10
Ran everywhere in the midfield and made some excellent tackles. Showed passion and desire and wouldn’t stop closing down. Excellent engine.

Cesc Fabregas: 8/10
Found it hard going against a congested Liverpool midfield but made some vital openings and almost scored himself. Was left to run the midfield by himself as the wide players were non-existant.

Alexander Hleb: 6/10
In and out of the game. Struggled to make an impact and hasn’t been playing well for a while now. The problem is without any other options Hleb knows he’ll be playing every week and it looks like he is getting complacent.

Robin Van Persie: 6/10
Come off at half time with a thigh problem. Great delivery for the opening goal, and as ever one of only a few players willing to shoot and test the goalkeeper.

Emmanuel Adebayor: 6/10
Found it tough against the Liverpool defence but did come into the game more in the second half. Took the goal well but still struggling with his first touch.

Theo Walcott: 7/10
Replaced Van Persie at half time and looked lively. He was hampered though when Bendtner came on as he was forced to switch sides and play on the right, and with Arsenal’s persistance to play down the left saw less and less of the ball as the second half progressed.

Nicklas Bendtner: 7/10
Showned some good touches and added something to the attack. Not sure if he was trying to grab the glory with Fabregas’ chance or was just unlucky.