Were Arsenal Lucky Or Do They Just Have That Mental Strength? (w/ Player Ratings)

Arsenal (2) – (2) Barcelona
Walcott (69′), Fabregas (85′)
Champions League Quarter Final (1st Leg)
The Emirates Stadium, London

What a crazy game that was! I’ve only just about recovered..

The first 15 minutes were amazing. In the sense that I have watched Arsenal for over 20 years now and I have never seen a side dominate Arsenal as much as that. Barcelona were that good. Their football was simply outstanding and from a different planet.

You have to take your hat off to them, they were stunningly good. They picked passes at will, created space and completely ran us ragged. They made 5 clear chances but Almunia, who has been under pressure after the Birmingham game, made some superb saves. The Spaniard was on fantastic form in the opening 20 minutes, and if it wasn’t for him then we could have (and maybe should have) been 4-0 down.

In that first period of play when Barcelona dominated, Arsenal looked shell-shocked. We had no answers for their stunning attacking play and we were fortunate to get to half-time without conceding.

The frustration I had at half-time was the inclusion of Cesc Fabregas. With Nasri available, I didn’t see the point of a clearly unfit Fabregas being on the pitch. We had Rosicky and Walcott on the bench, and Fabregas was dead on his feet. He hardly ran and couldn’t influence the game in the way that he usually could. He spent most of the game in and around the centre circle. But his influence towards the end of the game shows how much I know.

William Gallas went off with a re-occurrence of his previous injury just before the break and Alex Song slotted into the back line, with Denilson coming on in midfield.

Unfortunately though, the absence of Gallas proved costly.

For all their beautiful football, it took a simple ball over the top for Barcelona to open the scoring after only 25 seconds into the second half. For all of Song’s and Vermaelen’s strengths, Gallas is the one man who can cope best with through passes and balls over the top because of his recovery pace. Unfortunately, that was lacking and Ibrahimovic beat the offside trap and dinked the ball over a stranded Almunia.

On second viewing, it seemed like Almunia had no good reason to come out so much (given the angle Ibrahimovic had) and it gave the Swede an easy choice as he lofted the ball into the net.

It was a mistake from Almunia, but the defending wasn’t great either. It was a cheap goal and weathering the massive storm in the first half (and the heroic defending at times) it was a frustrating goal to concede.

That setback put Arsenal into the “defensive” mindset yet again and we played with the handbrake on, give Barcelona time and space to inflict damage. And 13 minutes later the same happened again.

Another ball over the top yet again found Ibrahimovic, who found himself in an identical position but this time lashed the ball in at the near post. 2-0 Barcelona and the tie was over. Almunia again didn’t cover himself in glory as he actually went down as the shot was taken, giving himself no chance to make a save. He should have stayed on his feet, but at the same time he was badly exposed again.

But then the turning point of the game.

Theo Walcott was introduced and made an immediate impact. The high-tempo performance from Barcelona (including their energetic full backs who are virtually like wingers) seemed to effect them and Theo’s pace down the right hand side was causing Maxwell all kinds of problems.

A nice run was spotted by Bendtner who played in a nice ball for Walcott, who drove into the box and hit a shot that went under Valdes.

Arsenal had a precious lifeline.

It sprung Arsenal into life and Theo down the right was causing havoc. Every time Arsenal had possession I was screaming for the team to play it to Walcott! Barcelona were petrified of his pace and with all the injury concerns Arsenal have I wouldn’t think twice about starting him at the Camp Nou. With his pace he is ideal for a counter attacking game, considering how high up the pitch Barcelona play.

And with that amazingly Barcelona looked a little tired. We had more possession but couldn’t really find that cutting edge, hardly giving Valdes anything to do.

But with 5 minutes of normal time remaining, a nicely headed assist from Bendtner found Fabregas only a couple of yards from goal. But the Arsenal captain was impeded by Puyol and Arsenal had a penalty!

Can you believe this game?!

So Arsenal amazingly had a chance to equalise, in a game where Barcelona probably should have killed off. Fabregas placed the ball on the spot and smashed the ball right into the net!

Arsenal 2, Barcelona 2. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

In the remaining minutes Arsenal and Barcelona did try to go for a winner but it was evident that both sets of players had given everything and had nothing left in the tank. And that’s hardly a surprise, given the intensity of the game.

A great game for the neutrals, and in the end a great game for Arsenal, everything considered.

Unfortunately though, Fabregas got a harsh yellow card after cleanly winning the ball and will miss the second leg at the Camp Nou. I’m not sure if it’s possible to appeal yellow cards in the Champions League but if so then Arsenal should have that looked at. But the way Cesc was hobbling around the pitch in the second half he probably wouldn’t be fit enough anyway.

On the plus side, Pique also got booked so he will miss the second leg as well. And because of Puyol’s late red card, he will also be out of the return game. Without their first choice central defenders, who knows what Arsenal can do next week?

Arsenal Player Ratings

Manuel Almunia: 8/10
Made some quick unbelievable saves in the first 15 minutes, literally keeping Arsenal not just in the game, but in the tie. Barcelona were wreaking havoc in the opening minutes and Almunia made some vital saves from Messi, Ibrahimovic and Xavi. Was slightly at fault for Barcelona’s two goals in the second half but the first half saves were that good he earns an 8.

Bacary Sagna: 7/10
Made a vital clearance off the line in the “Barcelona show” at the start of the game and did okay on the whole. Crossing was poor though when a decent cross would have been useful but full of running yet again.

William Gallas: 7/10
Only lasted 40 minutes before being stretchered off but struggled (like the rest of the team) to cope with Barcelona’s early pressure. Was solid after that though and helped the team go into the break without conceding.

Thomas Vermaelen: 6/10
Made some decent blocks but wasn’t good for Ibrahimovic’s second goal, where he inexplicably strayed forward only for the ball to be clipped over him and for Barcelona to score. Sometimes too eager to win the ball when it’s not even there to be won.

Gael Clichy: 8/10
Excellent performance going forward, making a headed chance for Bendtner who really should have scored. Worked well with Nasri on the left and kept Messi relatively quiet for the majority of the game. Coped with Daniel Alves well too.

Alex Song: 8/10
Apart from losing Ibrahimovic for the goals did excellent at the back when called upon. Did well in midfield as well and made some vital tackles and interceptions.

Abou Diaby: 6/10
Guilty of a lot of misplaced passes and a poor touch from the usually solid and reliable Diaby. Gave possession away needlessly when it was imperative that Arsenal retained it and seemed to be the most effected from Barcelona’s early onslaught in the opening 15 minutes.

Cesc Fabregas: 6/10
Considering he was injured it was a decent shift. The team did struggle though at times with his lack of fitness and at times in the first half it seemed like we were playing with 10 men. But his obvious class came through in the end and proved to be decisive in the last 10 minutes.

Samir Nasri: 7/10
Not as influential as he can be but that’s because he’s more suited to the Fabregas role. Linked up well with Diaby and Clichy and while he couldn’t really influence the game going forward as he would have liked he did track back well.

Andrei Arshavin: 6/10
Came off after only 27 minutes with an injury but was poor before that anyway. Gave the ball away cheaply several times and seemed to continue his poor form of late. I’m not sure this guys head is in the right place.

Nicklas Bendtner: 8/10
Put in a decent performance tonight. Had a glorious chance to score with a header in the second half and had another chance in the first half but failed to stay onside. He might not have scored but created both of Arsenal’s goals for Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas so deserves huge credit for influencing the Arsenal’s most important attacks moments.

Emmanuel Eboue: 7/10 (Replaced Arshavin 27′)
Did well when he came on, keeping possession well and beating players when needed. Offered that cover for Sagna as well and slotted back into the defence once Walcott was introduced in the second half. He adds that extra dimension to our attack and played well with Theo in the final half an hour.

Denilson: 7/10 (Replaced Gallas 45′)
Did okay and kept the game flowing well.

Theo Walcott: 9/10 (Replaced Sagna 66′)
Was fantastic when we came on, and his introduction changed the game. Was a constant threat down the right and his pace caused Maxwell all kinds of problems. Kept a cool head to score his goal and what a massive goal it turned out to be.

One Day On, And I’m Still Livid With Arsenal

What a f*cking shambles.

Arsenal do their best to fight their way back into the championship race, to f*ck it all up against Birmingham.

In the last 12 games of the season, the only thing that mattered was the results. I’ve said since this run started that we needed to win every single one to stand a chance to lifting the Premier League trophy come May. And amazingly Arsenal have been sublime against Sunderland, Stoke, Burnley, Hull and West Ham but threw away a massive two points yesterday.

You need luck, fight and desire to win the league and yesterday Arsenal were severely lacking.

People will talk missing Gallas to injury and Vermaelen to suspension, and the dreadful tackling from Birmingham but all of that was deemed completely meaningless when Nasri scored that superb goal to put Arsenal in the lead.

Arsenal had the 3 points in the bag, only to literally throw them away.

Almunia’s whole role in Birmingham’s equaliser still makes me livid. I haven’t been in such a bad mood in a long time when it comes to Arsenal but what the hell was he doing?

The fact is, with a top class goalkeeper we would win the league this season. A world class keeper like Reina or Van Der Sar would make a huge difference, and we would be around 6/7 points better off. Instead we have Basil Fawlty in goal who at times makes fantastic saves but at others, and far too regularly, makes a howler. He is not good enough for a team that is going to win the Premier League.

I think the infuriating thing is we’ve seen this all before. I know a lot of Arsenal fans are divided by this, but I blame him for the goals we conceded in that Champions League final. And I remember going to Old Trafford to watch the young guns in the Carling Cup, only for Almunia to concede one of the worst goals I’ve ever seen in the first 20 seconds. Arsenal lost that game 1-0. He’s had to many terrible games in the past and he is not good enough. My patience has just run out.

To add to my anger, Arshavin missed a sitter, completely mis-hitting the ball in the 6 yard box. I’ve seen him miss about 5 or 6 open goals now, most of them flying well over the cross bar from inside the penalty area. What the hell is wrong with Arshavin recently? Is this guy even concentrating? You don’t see these kind of blunders in Sunday League Football. It’s fine to f*ck up when you beat Porto 5-0 or Nicklas Bendtner steals a last minute winner against Hull, but when it actually matters then it stops being funny.

And to top things off, Nasri had a golden chance to kill off the game in injury time but somehow tried to play it square when all he had to do slot it passed the keeper. The decision to pass is even more puzzling when the man in support was Arshavin. Surely anyone paying attention would realise that Arshavin can’t score open goals or chances from only several yards out.

It’s just so annoying when Arsenal literally drag themselves from the dead, put themselves into a fantastic position and then throw it all away with a combination of idiotic goalkeeping and stupid profligacy.

People will talk about how winning 6 games from 7 is still a great run but it’s not good enough.

The chances of winning the title were slim even if we kept winning, as Manchester United and Chelsea had their destiny in their own hands. We had to rely on both of them dropping points, and although they play each other before the season is out, surely the victor of that game would be odds on favourite to lift the Premier League trophy.

Arsenal are running out of games and are now 4 points off the top. United and Chelsea both need to simultaneously collapse for Arsenal to win it, and considering they battered Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers without Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney, you can consider the title challenge over for another season.

Same old Arsenal, flattering to deceive.

If Arsenal did somehow manage to get back into the title race again this season I will happily eat my words. But unfortunately, with 7 games left and a 4 point gap, the challenge is over.

Chin up though, we’ve got Barcelona and Messi in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Can Arsenal Exorcise The Demons Of St Andrew’s?

Birmingham City (St Andrew’s, Birmingham)
Premier League Fixture – Matchday 32
Saturday 27th March 2010
Kick Off: 3pm

The last time Arsenal visited St Andrew’s was on Saturday 23rd February 2008. It was a lunch time kick off, and only 3 minutes into the match Martin Taylor inflicted that horrendous injury to Eduardo.

Birmingham City took advantage of Arsenal’s collective grief just before half-time, scoring a freekick through James McFadden. After the break though, Arsenal managed to regain their composure and Theo Walcott scored two great goals to give Arsenal a well-deserved lead.

But in time added on, we experienced the moment that would change our season.

Instead of just clearing the ball up-field, Gael Clichy inexplicably held onto the ball inside his own penalty area, only for Stuart Parnaby to nick the ball from him. Clichy recovered well, just about getting a touch to the ball but the damage had been done. Mike Dean awarded Birmingham City a penalty, captain William Gallas went completely insane and James McFadden scored the spot kick.

From then on, Arsenal collapsed in the league.

Leading up to the Birmingham game, Arsenal were on fire.

Eduardo and Adebayor were starting to form one of the best striking partnerships in the league – scoring a combined 14 goals in the previous 10 Premier League games. Their last defeat in the league was at Middlesbrough on the 9th December and since then Arsenal had won 8 games and drawn 2. They were hitting form at exactly the right time and were cruising at the top of the league, 6 points clear of Manchester United.

But the dramatic events at St Andrew’s were just more than the dropping of 2 points. Arsenal had lost one of their most dangerous attacking threats, our confidence had been shattered and the horrific nature of the injury took time to recover from. It would take Arsenal over a month to win again in the league, and in the process they had drawn 3 and lost 1, dropped a massive 9 points, and worst of all conceding the top spot in the Premier League to Manchester United.

Our consistent form in the league disappeared, and our March, April and May results were erratic. We ended up finishing in third, 4 points behind eventual Champions Manchester United. Birmingham City would get relegated by a single point, but that was scant consolation to a disappointing end to the season.

And now, we do it all again.

We revisit St Andrew’s under similar circumstances, chasing the Premier League title and needing nothing short of a victory.

The positive news for Arsenal is that they sit on top of the form table, with 6 wins from their last 6 games. Birmingham City however, despite their unbeaten run earlier in the season are 14th, with 3 defeats, 2 wins and a draw. Unfortunately though, they haven’t lost in their last 6 home league games.

Last 6 Games:

Arsenal: WWWWWW
Birmingham: LWWDLL

Arsenal’s Away Form/Birmingham’s Home Form:

Arsenal Away: WWDLWW
Birmingham Home: DDDWWD

So it could be anyone’s game.

But saying that, it should be mentioned that Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham have all failed to win at St Andrew’s this season, and they haven’t lost at home in the league since Bolton beat them way back in September.

So if Arsenal can manage to win at Birmingham then it wouldn’t just be a massive 3 points, but a real message of intent to the rest of the Premier League.

The biggest worry for Arsenal is who will play in central defence. 

Vermaelen is suspended, William Gallas is still out with, I’m not sure what, so our only fit centrebacks are Sol Campbell and *shudder* Mikael Silvestre.

Personally, with the fantastic performance of Campbell and Song at the heart of the defence against West Ham last weekend, I would be inclined to start those two at the back. Denilson looks like to have improved his form and he can partner Abou Diaby in a Cesc Fabregas spearheaded midfield. You of course have Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky would can play a little deeper and help the midfield.

The other concern was whether Nicklas Bendtner would be fit to start, but Arsene has confirmed that “he should be okay” for Saturday so that’s positive news. The Big Dane is hitting form at the right time, and his all round play is vital to opening up the opposition. Plus, he has prior experience of the Birmingham City set-up so that might just give him the edge he needs to give us an advantage.

Let’s hope Arsenal can keep this remarkable run going and take all 3 points.

Yet another cup tie, where only the result matters.

Arsenal v West Ham United: Complete Match Report

Arsenal (2) – (0) West Ham United
Denilson (5′), Fabregas (82′)
The Emirates Stadium, London

After 5 minutes, some smart interplay between Denilson and Bendtner resulted in the little Brazilian scoring a neatly taken goal, slotting the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Then Arsenal were cruising.

Just before half-time, Arsenal conceded a penalty and Vermaelen was sent off.

Was it harsh? On first viewing I thought the referee had no choice but to give it. It’s one of those incidents where one little touch is going to bring down the striker and if he goes down and the defender doesn’t cleanly get the ball the referee is going to award a penalty. Unsurprisingly, it was Guile Franco who once again who fell easily and won a penalty that could have really changed our season.

But fortunately, like the Champions League semi-final against Villarreal, our goalkeeper saved the resulting penalty and we went into the break 1-0 up.

After that Song dropped into the back line, and as a team we defended excellently.

Cesc clipped the ball up onto Upson’s arm in the 82nd minute, and scored the resulting penalty.

Arsenal had won another cup tie, so that’s 5 down and 7 to go.

And that’s all I care about, and that’s all you need to know. For one day at least, Arsenal would be top of the league.

Well done boys.