Pompy Match Ends Up Being A Four One Conclusion

Portsmouth (1) – (4) Arsenal
Eduardo (27′), Nasri (41′), Ramsey (68′), Song (81′)
Fratton Park, Portsmouth

This was potentially a tough game for Arsenal as it was one of those cold and wet away days which could have proved to be a banana skin but in the end it was a four one conclusion.

It was a comfortable game and without Van Persie or Cesc Fabregas the team made it look quite easy, which is a credit to the starting eleven.

You can’t afford to lose points in these kind of games and while Pompy are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League they play decent football. In recent weeks they have managed to scare Chelsea and beat Liverpool, but today Arsenal put in a professional shift.

The back five were the usual suspects, and our captain’s absence meant a midfield of Diaby, Song and Ramsey.

Abou Diaby (who I’ve been critical of in the past) looked good again today (long may it continue) and Song was yet again solid and the defensive rock. I do worry how we’ll replace him now he’s at the ACN. This was his last game for Arsenal before he left and he gave is a nice parting gift with a great performance and a nice headed goal.

Aaron Ramsey was starting his first game in a while and I have to say he was simply excellent. I’m not sure if he models his game on Cesc Fabregas but his movement, passing and eye for goal are all top quality. I know the quality of opposition in the end wasn’t the best but tonight Ramsey was fantastic. He oozes intelligence every time he plays, and against Portsmouth he didn’t disappoint. He took his goal superbly and his all round performance was impressive, mature and composed.

Diaby again performed with purpose and was excellent going forward as well as tracking back. He is a player that we really need to step up with injuries to Denilson and Fabregas, and the absence of Song, but he looks to be finally reaching that level. Let’s pray that his good performances continue and he remains injury-free.

Up front, it was Eduardo, Arshavin and Nasri.

After the Villa game I said that Eduardo needs games under his belt and hopefully his lucky goal will spur him on to better things. His play isn’t quite there yet, and whether that’s down to confidence he needs to find his form. He has a real chance for a long run in the side with the injuries to Van Persie and Bendtner so we need him to keep going.

Arshavin was hit and miss today, and on Sunday I feel that I was a bit harsh on awarding him a 6 for his performance. While today he was a little better, the fact is that he is sacrificing his natural game for the best of the team. His natural position isn’t a central target man but credit to him you can tell he’s giving 110%. The results since he’s been playing in the centre (Liverpool, Villa and Pompy) have been very positive so you can’t complain.

Nasri looks to be improving week by week, and his performance was capped off with a well taken goal and assist for Song’s header.

And there’s nothing else to add really. Arsenal were for the most part cruising, but encouragingly they had the desire to win the game. One of our major problems in recent times is ‘cruising’ performances which lead to draws or defeats.

So going into the new year we are in decent shape – just 4 points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand against Bolton at home, which is on Wednesday 6th January. A tough fixture by all accounts with the sacking of Gary Megson – we know how football teams usually react when they play their first game under new management – so we need to be mentally (and physically) prepared.
Hopefully our form will continue into the new decade as when we left it.

And finally, I’d just like to thank you the visitor for reading my weblog and wish you all the best for the new year. Whether you agree, disagree or leave a completely irrelevant comment it’s all truly appreciated. Whatever you think about my opinions on Arsenal and football we are all united in wanting success and hopefully we can achieve that next year.

See you in 2010!

How Good Is Cesc Fabregas?

Yesterday we saw the impact the little magician can make in a 21 minute cameo.

He scored two beautiful goals, changed the game and made sure Arsenal took away all 3 points, and on top of that put pressure on Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the table.

And this was against an Aston Villa side who were sitting fourth in the table, and had already notched up victories against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United.

So not against a team that that you would say was struggling this season, but the exact opposite in fact – Aston Villa have been flying this year.

But exactly how good is Cesc Fabregas?

I talked about this with my father yesterday (as Cesc was single-handedly ripping Villa apart) and he argued that Fabregas was on the same level as Xavi and Iniesta at Barcelona.

But is he really?

I argued that Cesc Fabregas was in fact under-rated by most people, and that our captain was actually far better than the midfield duo at the Camp Nou.

I know it sounds slightly crazy, but hear me out for a moment.

Statistically this season, Fabregas is far superior to both Xavi and Iniesta. In all competitions, Fabregas has played 20 games, scored 10 goals and has an amazing 15 assists. Xavi has 27 appearances and 3 goals, and Iniesta has 21 games and no goals.

Cesc not only has a far superior record than those players, but also has a record most top class strikers would envy.

And if you compare the two sides these players play for, you could argue that Cesc has the upper hand there as well. If we’re honest, this current Barcelona team are arguably not just the best club side in the world, but possibly one of the greatest club sides in footballing history.

After winning the treble last season, they followed that success by winning the Spanish Super Cup, the European Super Cup and then the World Club Cup. Pepe Guardiola has won everything he could possibly win with Barcelona in less than 2 seasons in charge, a feat that surely won’t be achieved again any time soon.

So it would be fair to say that Cesc is out-performing the Barcelona boys in an arguably weaker side (and obviously I mean than in the nicest possible way). The fact is Xavi and Iniesta are playing alongside some of the greatest players in the world, such as Messi and Ibrahimovic.

And let’s be honest, if someone like Ronaldo, Kaka, Ronaldihno, Messi or Ibrahimovic had done what Cesc did yesterday then the world would be praising them as the greatest player in world football. Everyone would be going crazy over the whole thing!

Cesc Fabregas has to be one of the best players not just in England but in the world.

That Was Absolutely Fabregas! (w/ Player Ratings)

Arsenal (3) – (0) Aston Villa
Fabregas (65′, 81′), Diaby (92′)
The Emirates Stadium, London

Cesc Fabregas is fucking genius.

In a game Arsenal needed to win, he played a 21 minute cameo and what happened?

He completely changed the game, scoring two goals. The first was an exquisite freekick, and the second was a fantastic finish after busting a gut over a good 60 yards before latching onto a nice Theo Walcott pass.

This boy is special, and on a completely different level to anyone else at Arsenal. You just can’t describe how good he was today, and the difference he made.

With the results Chelsea and Manchester United have been having recently, it was vital that Arsenal took all 3 points today to send out a message and keep in the Premier League title race. Chelsea and United are having a slight wobble at the moment, so you need to take advantage of these situations when they happen.

And before the game, all I was hoping for was 3 points. I didn’t care how they came, the fact was a victory would be massive for our season.

In a strange series of events, ever since Chelsea beat Arsenal at The Emirates in November we have beaten Stoke, Liverpool, Hull and Aston Villa, and drawn against Burnley. But Chelsea on the other hand, have lost against Manchester City and drawn against Everton, West Ham and Birmingham. Maybe we just played them at the wrong time.

But back to today and before the game Aston Villa had a formidable record against the Top Four. They had already beaten Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea this season so Arsenal would have a real test on their hands.

As it turned out, we started brightly and Eduardo had a guilt-edged chance after only 3 minutes to put Arsenal ahead but rolled his shot straight at Friedel. After that, Arsenal struggled to break down Villa and they looked dangerous in the first 20 minutes and our defending was a bit shaky. Fortunately though, they didn’t really test Almunia and we managed to deny Villa of any real clear chances.

We had a lot of possession on the first half but no real purpose. Too many times moves would break down in the final third, with Arshavin and Eduardo particularly guilty of losing the ball. Arshavin just wasn’t in the game today, and Eduardo was just poor. I don’t know whether it’s confidence or match fitness, but Eduardo just isn’t on top form right now and nothing he tries is coming off. He had a few half chances but never looked like scoring, and 1 goal in 11 suggests he’s just lacking in confidence.

The second half was a little better, but Arsenal still looked lethargic and were missing that leadership to push them on and give them the motivation to go on and win the game.

So on 56 minutes, Arsene Wenger brought on Fabregas.

Almost instantly, the whole complexion of the game changed. Suddenly Arsenal had the impetus to drive forward and make things happen. The effect the introduction of Fabregas had was simply amazing, and excited the crowd and the players. We were making chances and putting Aston Villa under pressure time and time again.

And after 10 minutes of being on, he weaved his way passed a couple of Villa players but was hacked down by Richard Dunne. From the resulting freekick, he stepped up, and coolly curled the freekick into the top corner.

What a little genius!

At this point whatever superlatives you had for our captain were just not good enough, his impact on the game was outstanding. Arsenal looked like a completely different team.

And once Arsenal had that first goal, it was only a matter of time before they got their second and Fabregas bagged another goal after a sweeping Arsenal break. Armand Traore won the ball deep in the Arsenal half, and released Theo Walcott with a diagonal ball. Theo played in Fabregas and the little magician smashed the ball into the back of the net.

Game, set and match.

Unfortunately though, it appeared that Cesc picked up a little niggle in scoring the second goal and he was soon replaced by Aaron Ramsey on 83 minutes.

But the damage had been done, and mercurial Fabregas had stamped his authority on the game, and on the title race.

Arsenal were then in cruise control in the final 10 minutes, and Abou Diaby scored a well-taken third for Arsenal which on his performance was richly deserved.

3 goals, 3 points and 4 points behind the league leaders with a game in hand. And that’s against Bolton on the 6th January.

Player Ratings

Manuel Almunia: 8/10
Pretty solid today, and won most of the corners and crosses with ease. Seemed a lot more confident than in recent weeks, and make a couple of smart saves from the in-from Agbonlahor.

Bacary Sagna: 8/10
Made some excellent tackles and as usual, always right up the pitch supporting the right side. Full of running, and kept Ashley Young very quiet.

William Gallas: 8/10
Did well alongside Vermaelen and minimised the impact of Emile Heskey.

Thomas Vermaelen: 8/10
Like Gallas, defended well and kept the threat of Villa relatively quiet. Almunia didn’t really have a big save to make throughout the entire game, which is credit to the two centre backs.

Armand Traore: 8/10
Excellent today. Coped well with Agbonlahor and also did well to support the attack. Great vision to pick out Walcott to setup the second goal.

Alex Song: 8/10
Impressive today, and will be a big miss once he leaves for the ACN. Really does add some steel to the defence and it will be hard to see how Arsene will replace him on January.

Denilson: 7/10
Kept the game flowing but struggled to make things happen in the final third.

Abou Diaby: 8/10
Always willing to take on players and involved in some good attacking play throughout the match. Much improved recently and deserved his goal in injury time.

Samir Nasri: 7/10
Not his best game and couldn’t really create much.

Andrei Arshavin: 6/10
Probably as poor as I’ve seen the little Russian play in an Arsenal shirt. Maybe we expect too much from him, but his touch today was extremely bad. We’re talking Adebayor bad.

Eduardo: 6/10
Didn’t click with the rest of the team and missed a sitter in the opening minutes. Had a few other half chances but couldn’t get his game going and was replaced on the hour.

Cesc Fabregas: 10/10 (Replaced Denilson 56′)
Despite only playing less than a quarter of the game, he was the Man of the Match for me. Totally changed a lethargic Arsenal side by simply being on the pitch. Scored a wonderful freekick to break the deadlock and showed immense desire and determination to score the second. His influence today on so many levels was absolutely huge.

Theo Walcott: 6/10 (Replaced Eduardo 64′)
Showed a poor touch when he came on but did play in Fabregas for his goal.

Aaron Ramsey: 6/10 (Replaced Cesc Fabregas 84′)
Not enough time to really make an impact.

Doesn’t Anyone Want To Win The Premier League?

What a strange, strange season.

For a long time, it seems as if all of the Top Four teams are weaker than ever before. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are losing a ridiculously high number of games this year, and as a result teams like Aston Villa, Spurs, Manchester City and even Birmingham aren’t a million miles away.

Last season, the Champions lost 4 games and runners up lost 2. The year before, the title-winners lost 5 games and second place lost 3, and it was exactly the same the season before that.

But this year, Chelsea have lost 3 (and should have lost today at West Ham), United have lost 5 and Arsenal have lost 4 games. And Liverpool, have amassed an amazing 7 defeats.

And we haven’t even reached the halfway point of the season yet.

The fact is that for whatever reason, the Premier League is there for the taking this season and no-one is taking advantage. Chelsea’s excellent start has stuttered slightly, and the ageing squad seems to be feeling the effects of the campaign, United have struggled with the absence of Ronaldo and have significant injuries, and Arsenal haven’t played well since Van Persie got injured. And the size of Liverpool’s problems are surprising even to me.

The infuriating thing is that Arsenal are just about still in the hunt and you feel that if Arsene addressed our problems then we’d be top of the table and be taking advantage of the rest of the leagues collective problems. I firmly believe that if Van Persie was still fit then we’d be a good 6 points better off this season.

But that’s just one of the problems this season. Despite his match defining penalty save yesterday, Almunia is simply not good enough. Lehmann had his critics but the bottom line was that he was a damn fine goalkeeper, and his performances in the 49 game unbeaten run were magnificent. You can’t argue with that. The problem with Almunia is that he just doesn’t have that consistency that our previous goalkeepers had.

Alex Ferguson has gone on record saying that once Peter Schmeichel moved away from Manchester United they struggled to find a proper replacement until Edwin Van Der Sar joined in 2005. Arsenal seem to have a similar problem.

I hate to bring up Van Persie again, but his injury for the rest of the season is just massive. Firstly, his goalscoring and assist contribution is priceless – the goal and assist ratio he had before he was injured was sensational. Another, and equally important asset he had was his desire as well as the impact his presence had on the team. He is such a motivated player and you can see how much winning means to the guy – every time he scored a goal he’d celebrate by going crazy. And you can tell his passion rubbed off the on others – since he’s been out we’ve been lethargic and sloppy and there just isn’t that desire to win. Against Sunderland, Chelsea, Liverpool and Burnley the effort was woeful. There just isn’t that urgency anymore.

At Anfield, it took a stupid own goal and a piece of magic from the Russian to take home all 3 points. We can’t rely on Arshavin again and again to save the day.

And yesterday against Hull, it was another slow and sluggish performance, and not enough players were up for it.

But amazingly despite our failings, we currently sit in 3rd spot in the league, 6 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand. In any other season, we’d be trailing by a much larger margin and would be completely out of the race.

So Arsene needs to sort it out, because the league is there for the taking.

When you think back to the 2007-2008 season when we had Flamini, Hleb, Fabregas, Rosicky, Adebayor (and later Eduardo) in top gear, it’s obvious that team would have cruised to the title this year.

We’ve thrown points away against Burnley and Sunderland in the last month, so we need to get our act together and play as if we want to win the league.

If that means bollockings by Wenger every week then so be it.

Because Chelsea and Manchester United aren’t going to be slipping up every week until May.

A Warning To Arsenal Fans Travelling To Greece

Before you all jump on your high horse, this is simply a warning to all Arsenal fans travelling to Athens to see Olympiacos in Greece.

A friend of mine who is an Evertonian went to Athens only this week, to see AEK Athens play Everton in the Europa League. Unfortunately for him and his travelling friends his experience went from fantastic to shocking in only a matter of hours.

After enjoying the local attractions, soaking in some culture and even playing football in the streets, they made their way to the Olympic Stadium in Athens. That’s when things took a turn for the worse, and while on the train wallets got stolen, with money, cards and tickets inside. So after cancelling their cards and sorting out new tickets, they finally walked to the ground.

The out of nowhere, they were attacked by 10 people and mugged.

Here’s a transcript from my friend when I asked what happened:

“What didnt happen more like. Stu’s dad had has wallet robbed on the train with the tickets in. One of the other lads also got done and lost about 200 quid. Once we’d sorted out new tickets for them and cancelled all of the cards we walked upto the ground.

“The next minute some [people] just come flying at me from nowhere. Half punched me in the face – the next minute everyone just got battered and split up and there’s about 10 of them coming at everyone. Stu had his phone robbed and Alty got battered. Saw 10 minutes of the game on a TV in the medical room in the stadium before I went with Alty in an ambulance. Everyone’s ok though. I got lucky – out of 11 of us, me and another lad were the only ones who didnt lose anything or get battered. Fuckin sick.”

And a further transcript here:

“Just never slag the hospitals or police off in this country again.

“I ran to all the police thinking they would help but they were fuckin shit.

“They steal to survive and they don’t care at all about anyone else. We later found out they all had knives etc so it could have been much worse.

“All it would have taken is someone to have a real go back and knock one of them out and we would have probably had stabbings and worse.”

Now the people he was referring to weren’t the locals, but obviously I’m not going to mention the particular race of the attackers as I would be accused of being racist so I’m just warning you that if you are going over, be extremely careful and look after yourself.

I can tell you for a fact that my friend is extremely shaken up by the whole thing and has never encountered such a frightening experience when travelling abroad to watch his team, and he asked me to warn Arsenal fans who would be making exactly the same trip next week.

He told me:

Aren’t your lads out there next week? Do you still have that Arsenal blog? If so you couldn’t put something on there to warn people? Id hate more of your lads to get done like we did. I’ve never got in to any trouble in going out anywhere or watching us in Europe but in the space of 45 minutes my 2 mates got pick pocketed and we got attacked. Id really appreciate it.

And that is the whole point of this post.

If you know anyone who is travelling to see the Champions League game next week, just forward this warning to them. It might just help.