Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Van Persie!

Chelsea (1) – (2) Arsenal
Van Persie (60′, 62′)
Stamford Bridge, London

Well where the hell did that come from?

Once again, like the Manchester United game – Arsenal were underdogs going into the game, and the match was billed as a big test of character. And once again we came out 2-1 winners.

And yet again there was a double-goal hero, this time that accolade going to Robin Van Persie.

In a simply stunning couple of minutes, Van Persie literally exploded – his first goal was a rocket into the top corner with his weaker foot and his second was a beautifully-taken precise snap shot into the bottom corner.

Van Persie is an impact player, and given the chance today he didn’t disappoint.

The first half was a bit hot and cold, and while Chelsea had most of the possession it was Arsenal who created the most chances. And it was William Gallas who had the best chance to score the opener after he just failed to meet a Cech save from a Fabregas shot.

The full time whistle amazingly saw the home side only having one shot on target in the entire 94 minutes.

While Arsenal managed 11 attempts on goal, with 7 of those on target.

But despite all the statistics, it was Chelsea who scored first – and it came completely gift wrapped.

A Chelsea corner was well caught by Almunia, who decided to quickly throw it out to Nasri on the left. Unfortunately, the throw was too long and it was intercepted by Bosingwa, who played the ball inside to Lampard, who passed it to Anelka who then gave it back to Bosingwa out wide. His low cross was then deflected into the net by Djourou.

Talk about making it hard for ourselves.

It was a wicked cross from Bosingwa and Djourou was put in the horrible position of having to deal with it, and his outstretched boot only succeeded in giving the home side the lead. But you have to say Almunia made a howler with his throw out.

But through adversity comes great strength.

And in the second half it was all down to Van Persie’s killer instinct.

Surprisingly, after Arsenal took the lead Chelsea’s expected onslaught never really came. Arsenal comfortably saw the game out and defended well as a unit. And despite my concerns of Song in the starting line-up, he actually did well at times.

And Cesc Fabregas won another game as the leader of Arsenal. Yes, he’s only got two games under his belt as captain but a win over Chelsea is a very impressive achievement, especially when you consider it was Patrick Vieira who was the last man to lead Arsenal to victory at Stamford Bridge.

But Arsenal need to make this victory matter.

They beat Manchester United impressively but followed that up with consecutive defeats to Aston Villa and Manchester City. And with very poor performances as well.

This current Arsenal side need to make sure they’re not just up for the big games, and need to take this confidence and belief into the next few months – no matter who the opposition are.

And if anyone can get the side motivated for the rest of the season that man is Cesc Fabregas.

Didn’t You Just Know That Arsenal Would Win Today? (w/ Player Ratings)

Arsenal (2) – (1) Manchester United
Nasri (22′, 48′)
The Emirates Stadium, London

I haven’t really been taking in much Arsenal news really. There’s always going to be a lot of hype about who will play, what injuries we have and all the boring talk from the players about how much this game means. We know what it means, we’ve all been watching these massive games for years now.

So I thought the only way to enjoy the game (and not get caught up in the negativity during the build up) was to just avoid the press and just sit down and watch the match.

And what a match.

The news before kick off was that Adebayor and Van Persie were injured, so Bendtner would be starting with Abou Diaby playing in behind. Adebayor’s touch can sometimes be hit and miss, so I was more than happy for the Dane to play against United – his touch is far better and he always looks to play in other team-mates. And we know that on his day Diaby has excellent ball retention.

Arsenal started very sloppily and a pass back from Silvestre in the opening 30 seconds was short and Almunia had to pick up the ball in his own area, giving United an indirect freekick inside the box. Luckily they couldn’t take advantage and after that Arsenal really upped their game.

The game was wide open, with both sides trying to score the opener.

But it was the little Frenchman Samir Nasri that made the first real impact on the game.

A freekick from Fabregas on the right hand side was headed away by Berbatov, and the ball came out to Nasri on the edge of the box. He controlled the ball well with his first touch and lashed a left-footed effort towards the crowded United goal and into the net. Replays showed it took a nick off Gary Neville but it was a well-taken shot and if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the lottery.

The frenetic pace continued throughout the first half, with Nicklas Bendtner missing two excellent chances from fantastic crosses by Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri.

United had their chances too, with Rooney blasting over from a Ronaldo lay off and Berbatov was just offside from a Rooney shot which Almunia saved. Ji-Sung Park also had a left-footed chance saved well by Almunia who looked more confident after the criticism during the last couple of weeks.

There was also a penalty claim from United when the ball appeared to hit Clichy’s arm from a Rooney cross, but in all honesty I thought that would have been harsh to give. The clumsy challenge on Berbatov by Denilson was more of a penalty in my opinion.

You just felt that with the nature of the game Arsenal needed that second goal just before the break to calm things down but the Nasri did the next best thing.

Continuing the high tempo from the first half, we came out of the blocks in the second period and some excellent build up play from Fabregas saw Nasri through on goal who then emphatically smashed the ball passed Edwin Van Der Sar.

Arsenal were 2-0 up!

Then the real tension began. Would Arsenal collapse like they did against Spurs? Would they have the bottle and kill the game off?

Well the early signs weren’t great.

United had nothing to lose and really piled on the pressure. And Gael Clichy’s wild challenge on Ronaldo minutes after Nasri’s second goal was worrying. And Denilson’s inability to hold onto the ball gifted United possession time and time again.

And for about 15 minutes Arsenal were really under the cosh.

Ronaldo somehow beat about 4 men and ran into the heart of the penalty area, but luckily could only shoot straight at Almunia from the byline. Rooney also had a header which went down the keepers throat. And from a United corner, Almunia sustained a head injury from a Michael Carrick swipe which saw him come off a few minutes later, replaced by Fabianski.

With about 20 minutes left, Ryan Giggs came on for Anderson, and Alex Song replaced Theo Walcott.

And from a excellent Arsenal break, Samir Nasri was hauled down by Nemanja Vidic for a clear penalty. Replays showed that referee Howard Webb didn’t have the best angle to see it and if anyone should have awarded it, it should have been the linesman. But it was the same official that didn’t give one to United so I guess he evened things out.

The last few minutes were madness in all honesty, with either side capable of scoring the next goal. Tactics, formations and positions seemed to be irrelevant as United chased a goal that could get them back into the game.

To his credit, Fabianski was aggressive and came out at every opportunity to make his presence felt.

With 5 minutes left, Arsene made his last substitution which was Kolo Toure for Diaby. I thought the best change would have been to take off Denilson since Diaby was always a threat going forward.

Then it happened again. We conceded a goal in the final minute of the game.

Arsenal seemed to be coping (although my heart wasn’t) with United and seeing the game out, but a fantastic left-footed volley by Rafael went just inside the far post.

And the fourth official indicated 6 minutes of injury time.

From then on it was just a daze.

Bendtner had a chance to kill off the game, as Arsenal broke on the counter attack in a mad finally few minutes, but Arsenal held out and defeated the Premier League Champions.

I’ve only just recovered from that game – it has to be one of the best games this season. Both sides deserve a lot of credit for going for it and entertainment-wise it was fantastic. Not sure I can cope with many more games like this this season though!

And didn’t you just know Arsenal would win today?

Every time we get written off Arsenal step up and rarely let us down. And this result is even more impressive with the fact that players like Adebayor, Van Persie, Eduardo and Rosicky weren’t even involved.

Player Ratings

Manuel Almunia: 8/10
Looked much better today. He was positive from defensive positions and his bravery from the United corner summed up his performance.

Bacary Sagna: 8/10
You’ve heard it a million times, but he was solid yet again. Up and down the touchline throughout the match and kept Ji-Sung Park quite for large periods. Almost did two jobs with the below-par performance of Theo Walcott.

William Gallas: 9/10
Made some really vital interceptions at key moments and couldn’t have played much better. Kept Berbatov quiet and an all-round excellent performance.

Mikael Silvestre: 8/10
Played well alongside Gallas, and obviously upped his game against his old club.

Gael Clichy: 7/10
Linked up well with Samir Nasri and defended well in the most part against Ronaldo. Switched off when Ronaldo had a big chance at the far post, but was up and down the pitch as usual.

Theo Walcott: 6/10
Couldn’t get into the pace of the game, and was sporadic throughout. Always a tough game to play in and Evra didn’t give the young lad much space to play.

Denilson: 7/10
Defended well at times but almost seemed too complacent on the ball when playing out of defence. Not his style to punt the ball away but sometimes his short passes from the back gifted United possession and put the pressure back onto Arsenal.

Cesc Fabregas: 8/10
Ran the team again and had a massive hand in both of Arsenal’s goals. Seemed to tire near the end but that’s expected when he covered as much ground as he did. Looks much better with a haircut too.

Samir Nasri: 9/10
Brilliant performance. Dangerous, fearless and never afraid to shoot. For all our possession, we needed someone to hit the net and Nasri obliged. Great goals and finished both excellently. First game against Manchester United and he didn’t disappoint – superb temperament and to play like that against the Premier League Champions is sensational. Well done son.

Abou Diaby: 8/10
Linked up well with Cesc, Denilson and Nasri throughout and played with confidence.

Nicklas Bendtner: 7/10
Did well at times but squandered several chances to score at important times of the game. Made some well timed runs and caused Ferdinand and Vidic problems. Tired near the end of the second half but ran for the team throughout the 90 minutes.

Alexandre Song: 6/10 (Replaced Walcott on 77′)
Alarm bells started ringing when he came on (a la Spurs) but to his credit got stuck in and made some decent tackles.

Lukasz Fabianski: 7/10 (Replaced Almunia on 78′)
Played the best part of 20 minutes and did well. Came out for everything and relieved the United pressure.

Kolo Toure: 6/10 (Replaced Diaby on 85′)
Played on the right wing and didn’t really have a chance to influence things.

So Where Did It All Go Wrong For Arsenal?

Well the Stoke defeat leaves more questions than answers, and gives Arsenal their 3rd loss of the season. We only lost 3 games in the whole of last years campaign and didn’t win the league, so only a miracle will see us lift the trophy come May.

The fact of the matter is though that deep inside, I think every Arsenal fan knew we were never going to win the league this season. Last year was our big chance to break the Manchester United/Chelsea hold on the title but a cruel twist of fate at Birmingham ended our hopes of winning it. I maintain that without the horrific tackle on Eduardo we would have lifted the Premier League trophy. Obviously, there was still football to play that season but without Eduardo breaking his leg in such a shocking fashion we would have beaten Birmingham that day and continued our excellent run of form.

But as you know after that match Gallas had his public strop, the team lost their way, we failed to win games afterwards and the rest is history.

And unfortunately our Premier League season has ended with 27 games remaining.

So where have Arsenal gone wrong?

The biggest problem Arsene Wenger will have is that over the last 3 seasons this new squad he has been building has progressively got better. The invincibles side has well and truly departed (apart from Toure) and last year we finished in 3rd with a massive 83 points. The season before we finished 4th with 68 points and the season before that you’ll remember we pipped Spurs to 4th with 67 points – and that was with an arduous Champions League Campaign throughout the season.

And last year it seemed like we had turned the corner.

We only finished 4 points away from eventual Champions Manchester United, and effectively a win at Old Trafford near the end of the season instead of a defeat would have been enough to win the league.

But this season we have got worse.

And I hate to say it, but the departures of experienced players like Alexander Hleb, Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini have been major factors.

Hleb played over 130 times for Arsenal, Flamini racked up 153 appearances and Gilberto had 237 games under his belt. But apart from the experience of playing with Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, it was clear that Hleb and Flamini were very good friends with Cesc (as well as Rosicky) off the pitch as well as on it. The chemistry they had when playing together was evident and is it just a co-incidence that Fabregas isn’t playing at his best this season? Of course, Cesc hasn’t had a rest from his summer exploits with Spain but seeing your closest team-mates leave for clubs like Barcelona and AC Milan probably doesn’t help.

The last thing you want to do if you haven’t had a pre-season with your club is to have to learn how to play with a new midfield line-up.

The big question is are the replacements good enough?

Obviously Nasri is a quality player, but as with all new signings they need at least 6 months to really settle in. Theo Walcott has come into the side and really made the right sided position his own, and Eboue has shown this season that he is good enough to step up his performances from last season.

But what about in the middle? Are Denilson and Song really good enough to play alongside Cesc Fabregas?

And the captain situation has just compounded the problems.

You need a leader on the pitch if you want the best from the team but the appointment of William Gallas yet again this season either means he doesn’t think Cesc is old enough yet or he actually thinks Gallas is the best choice.

Granted, Gallas captained the team to their best Premier League points total since our title-winning season in 2004, but surely the complete display of immaturity at Birmingham last year (as well as the antics this season) would be enough for Arsene to pick someone else to lead the side.

It seems like faith in the moody Frenchman has hit an all-time low and the lack of fight or determination on the pitch – especially shown against Spurs – is just non-existent. It was clear that in the final minutes of that game the young team just didn’t care. At 4-2 up and with only minutes remaining you should be keeping the ball and not trying to score another goal. So when Spurs score to make it 4-3 Gallas should be heeding the warnings and rallying the troops, but what happens? We capitulate and give our nearest rivals a moral boosting point. And now look what Spurs did against Liverpool.

Giving away stupid points away this season has come from immaturity and complacency. Against Fulham it was just a general all round poor performance, but points dropped against Hull City and Spurs were from a lack of mental strength. Where is the ability to kill a game off? Where is the maturity to know that if you’re a goal ahead and can’t get another then keep hold of what you’ve got?

There are no excuses, especially when last season we had no problem winning games by closing out the game. Giving away two goals in the last few minutes of the match would have been unthinkable last year.

And questions have been raised about Manuel Almunia.

It’s fair to say that while he didn’t have the best games against Spurs and Stoke, but I have to say that over the last couple of seasons I have been really impressed with the Spaniard.

While I thought Lehmann was world class (I will always remember THAT save at Old Trafford and the one from Raul at Highbury) he had 6 years on Almunia who has still to improve. His temperament is excellent and he has shown in certain games he is capable of making simply fantastic saves. And of course, he doesn’t cause major problems by punching opponents when we defend corner kicks.

I guess the big question is are we actually in such a bad state, or are we still in the race?

After all, we’re only six points off the top spot and there’s a lot of football yet to be played.

I think the big problem is that watching Arsenal this season, there are worrying signs of weakness which you just don’t see in previous title-winning campaigns. Could you see the Arsenal teams of old with Vieira and Adams in the side capitulate like we did against Spurs? When you see your side literally throw away points then you can only fear the worst.

And the performances have been too inconsistent.

We smash teams like Fenerbahce, then lose to Fulham. And a typical sight we’ve seen this season are performances like the one at Sunderland and Stoke, where the team just don’t seem up for it. Maybe we’d be okay if we didn’t have to play teams that started with the letter ‘S’.

Our saving grace could be in the cup competitions, which could been a more realistic target this season.