Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Arsenal 3 - Newcastle 0 (Adebayor 40', Flamini 72', Fabregas 80')

Flamini steals the show

Midfield enforcers are typically the type of working horses who do the dirty work of keeping impending threats from reaching the back four line - and, in the process, reaping skyrocketing foul numbers, yellow cards and the undying ire of the opposing fans.

Well, last night we may have witnessed the true arrival of Flamini as a new type of midfield enforcer. Yes, he still does the grunt work of shutting down the other team's passing channels and giving their midfielders little to no time on the ball. But what Flamini did last night (and will hopefully keep doing the rest of the season) is emerge as the second link-up player, who inspired his linemates, demanded the ball and distributed it with an efficacy matched only by Fabregas. Last night, their partnership was sparkling (Fabregas put in his best performance in quite a while) and - just like that! - their names both appeared on the score sheet. Pure coincidence? Don't think so. Keep in mind that Diaby arguably had one of his best outings as well.

Back on top then - okay, maybe just for a few hours, but you would have to reasonably hope that we will at least make up some ground on goal differential this week.

Finally, the ratings:

Almunia - 7. A fairly easy outing, very alert on a couple of quick Michael Owen incursions behind our back line.
Sagna - 8. Very active offensively, a great performance.
Gallas - 8. The White Hart Lane demons are definitely behind him. Solid, captain-like performance.
Senderos - 7. Awkward as he may be at times (he certainly does not have the elegance of others) he is nowhere near the clumsy defender that pundits make him out to be. More confident with every game.
Clichy - 7. Tireless and linking very well with Diaby throughout the game.
Hleb - 7. Typically sound performance, he seemed to truly enjoy himself last night.
Fabregas - 8. Inspired by his central midfield partner, he was truly electric.
Flamini - 9. Why not 10? I really don't know.
Diaby - 7. One of these days, another one of his cannonballs (see goal 1 in the Sunderland game) will spectacularly hit the net.
Adebayor - 8. The only question remains - can he maintain this run of form for the remainder of the season? He is certainly peaking at the right time.
Eduardo - 6. His confidence still rising, he is much more mobile than he used to be (as opposed to just waiting for service from the midfield) He is certainly starting to "feel" the Gunners' game...

Till Saturday.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Arsenal 3 - Newcastle 0 (Adebayor 51', 83', Butt o.g. 89')

"Move along, everybody, nothing to see here"

Well, well, well... Once again, the rumours of this team's demise have once again been proven to be greatly exaggerated. Although it took us a while to take full control of the game, the outcome was never in doubt. Newcaste huffed and puffed occasionally (most dangerously when Clichy had to clear the ball from the goal mouth) but two goals from Adebayor and an own goal from Nicky Butt settled the matter.

Quick ratings:

Lehmann - 7. Rather untroubled overall, seemed very much in control.
Hoyte - 6. A bit shaky at times.
Gallas - 8. The captain led by example again by putting the sub-par performance in the Carling Cup semifinal behind him.
Senderos - 7. Solid.
Clichy - 7. His incursions in the Newcastle half have wreaked panic over and over again - a shame that his partnership with Diaby is not quite there yet.
Rosicky (Eduardo - 7) Eduardo had another confident performance. His largely unnoticed "block" to help Adebayor penetrate for the second goal was priceless.
Diaby - 5 (Gilberto) Unconvincing, off pace with the rest of the midfield and striking force.
Flamini - 7.
Fabregas - 7. He was back to effectively marshaling the midfield and being the dispatcher of superb, unpredictable passes. His best game in a good while.
Adebayor - 8. Undisputed man of the match.
Walcott - 6 (Hleb) He started very poorly, but gained more confidence as the game progressed. Little chemistry between him and Hoyte - or the strikers, for that matter.

Now, it's on to the repeat of the same fixture, only with more serious league title implication. Let's hope for a similar performance - and result. It would do our goal differential a world of good.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A tricky tie but we should prevail

Was this the most trying week of the season for an Arsenal fan? Quite possibly. Not only we were comprehensively defeated at the hands of our North London arch-rivals, but news of the bust-up between Adebayor and Bendtner gave everyone reason to doubt the team's resolve, maturity and cohesion. The last one seems odd, since it is rather obvious (to anyone who bothers to read the body language of our players during the game) that our guys clearly enjoy playing with and for each other.

So it's the newly reborn Newcastle today, in a game that matters much more than it should under normal circumstances. Our players will be under very serious scrutiny from everyone: the fans, the press and, most importantly, the rest of the chasing pack. Is this the day when the team truly implodes under the weight of absences, injuries, and newly found expectation? Or is the team going to put the Spurs loss behind them with a fluid and efficient performance that will easily see them through the 5th round of the FA Cup? We'll have the answer in less than 24 hours - and what an interesting answer this should be. Without question, no other team has given their fans the type of rollercoaster ride that we have enjoyed as Arsenal fans - something to truly cherish.

Arsene Wenger suggested yesterday that we could see the best lineup he has available:
"Now we want to bounce back from the disappointment on Tuesday night and we want to do well on Saturday. When I am in the situation when I have to choose between the FA Cup and the Premier League or the Champions League, I will prioritise the two other competitions aswell. But at the moment the FA Cup is the next game and we want to win it"
The probable lineup, therefore, could look like this:

1 Lehmann

3 Sagna 10 Gallas 6 Senderos 22 Clichy

13 Hleb 4 Fabregas 16 Flamini 7 Rosicky

25 Adebayor 9 Eduardo

At the end of the day, we should be once again victorious. 3 -1 with a brace from Eduardo.

Spurs will knock out Man United and halfway through the second half, things will get really messy between Ferdinand and Tevez... You read it here first!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tottenham 5 - Arsenal 1 (Adebayor 70')

As bad as it gets

Arsenal crashed out of the Carling Cup at the hand of the same man who masterminded their only Champions League defeat of the year in Seville a couple of short months ago.

It was as comprehensive of a defeat as the Gunners have suffered in recent memory - the defense looked lost and constantly outpaced, the midfield showed no creativity, and the attack never received much service.

Despite having half of the first team on the field for most of the match, we were devoid of any cohesion, from the lack of initiative at Jenas' first goal ("Are you going to block? No? Oh, you want me to block?") all the way through the end.

As if the defeat itself was not damaging enough, the incident between Adebayor and Bendtner (which, needless to say, the entire press is running with) is particularly troubling. Not only does it reinforce the idea that this young team is far from reaching the maturity required to prevail over a lengthy campaign, it also creates a disciplinary dilemma for Wenger. Given how thin the squad has suddenly become, he can not suspend either of the two players. They are two of our only three bona fide strikers, after all. With the goal-scoring from midfield all but dried up, he doesn't have much of a choice.

The (very brief) ratings:

Fabianski - 5
Sagna - 6
Gallas - 4
Hoyte - 4
Traore - 5 (Eduardo 6)
Hleb - 5
Denilson (Fabregas 5)
Gilberto - 5
Diaby - 5
Walcott - 4 (Adebayor 7)
Bendtner - 5

Let's hope for a quick rebound against Newcastle to avoid the Black Week we experienced last February... Odds are, the team is rather unsettled right now.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A stronger than usual squad to face Spurs in the Carling Cup rematch

Injuries and the African Cup of Nations (plus the admission on Arsene's side that we might need some of our first-team firepower to get past the Spurs at White Hart Lane) have conjured up a significantly stronger squad than we had lined up two weeks ago.

The probable starting line up:

21 Fabianski

3 Sagna 31 Hoyte 10 Gallas 30 Traore

13 Hleb 15 Denilson 19 Gilberto 2 Diaby

32 Walcott 26 Bendtner

More encouraging, however, is the bench, which includes Fabregas, Flamini, Adebayor, and Eduardo. Depending on how the game pendulum swings, we could see any combination of the three coming in at some point in the second half (or, if I may boldly predict, extra time)

Massive game for the team - a tremendous confidence booster if we go through, and just as significant of a blow if we don't. I feel strangely confident about this one - don't ask me why. Go Gunners!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fulham 0 - Arsenal 3 (Adebayor 20', 39', Rosicky 82')

The game of zero saves

On an afternoon when neither goalkeeper recorded any saves, we won comfortably, as a result of two Adebayor headers and a superbly constructed counter-attack which showcased Eduardo's speed and crossing ability, and Rosicky's smart in-the-box placement.

The fluency of our passing game was definitely there, even though a 4-5-1 Fulham tried to make it difficult for us to find space in the midfield. We linked very well and we were able to find ample space on the wings - with Fulham posing virtually no threat on the counterattack, both Clichy and Sagna made countless overlapping runs. This allowed Hleb and Rosicky to penetrate inside (where they seem to be most comfortable anyway) and cause all kinds of coverage problems to a very shaky Fulham defense.

Now, on to the ratings...

Almunia - 7. "Zero saves" says it all; he was largely untroubled - and therefore unnoticed - throughout the entire game
Sagna - 8. His vastly improved crossing skills have been fully on display. Without a doubt, he had one of his top games in an Arsenal uniform, tirelessly running the right channel in support of Hleb and Rosicky
Gallas - 7. Solid at the back, he led the defense to 9th clean sheet of the season
Senderos - 7. His partnership with Gallas looks more solid with every outing
Clichy - 9. Tirelessly working the left wing, he put in quite possibly his best game of the season. His cross for Adebayor's first goal was inch-perfect.
Hleb - 6. Another mediocre showing. The lack of creativity he has shown lately continues to be rather troubling.
Fabregas - 6. See Hleb
Flamini - 7. Continued the trend of becoming not only the midfield "enforcer", but also the main link between defense and midfield
Rosicky - 7. On the left in the first half, on the right in the second - and drifting towards the middle the entire game.
Eduardo - 7. In the second half, with the game in absolute control, Arsene Wenger moved Eduardo on the left wing and brought Hleb behind Adebayor in a striker-supporting role. Here is what I am wondering: provided he is disciplined enought to assume the defensive responsibilities that this role would entail, can Eduardo become our "new Pires"? I think he possesses the prerequisite abilities (good speed and ball control, complemented by an unquestionable knack for being in the right spot at the right time) We'll wait and see.
Adebayor - 9. Very refreshing to see how potent of an aerial threat our target man has become. When coming outside the box, his first touch has been absolutely impeccable.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fulham - Arsenal preview

The end of (quite possibly) the most painfully uneventful week of the season is here. We are at Craven Cottage, which we must leave with three points. Anything less should be in the realm of the inconceivable.

By the end of this Fulham game, we will know quite a bit more about the resolve and belief that truly powers this team. The ability to rebound from poor results and performances is the trademark of champions - let's hope this ability will be fully on display tomorrow. The result is important, but so is the quality of the overall performance. At the end of the game, we must look once again as credible title contenders.

Here is to victory!

The likely formation:
24 Almunia

3 Sagna 10 Gallas 6 Senderos 22 Clichy

13 Hleb 4 Fabregas 16 Flamini 7 Rosicky

25 Adebayor 9 Eduardo

Prediction: Arsenal 3 - Fulham 1 (Adebayor, Eduardo, Fabregas)
Wishful/hopeful thinking prediction: Reading 1 - Man Utd 1

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Van Persie and Djourou out for 'a few weeks' as the squad gets thinner by the day

More injury news that we could do without - both van Persie and Djourou will be out for a few weeks, according to Arsene Wenger, whose squad is getting thinner by the day.

In less than two weeks, we have lost Toure, Eboue and Song to the African Cup of Nations, Diarra to our 'senior squad' (aka Portsmouth), and van Persie and Djourou to injury.

Yes, we will still field as solid of a starting XI as we can assemble at Craven Cottage, but the truth is, we can hardly afford any further injuries, particularly in central defense and at the holding midfield position (oh, Diarra, we may soon be missing you... well, not you exactly, but someone with the ability to play that position as well as you do, but more mature, less selfish and with better judgment)

Since the starting lineup writes itself, it is the bench that's worth guessing - I am thinking Lehmann, Gilberto, Diaby, Bendtner, Walcott.

Until Saturday.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Diarra heads for Portsmouth - new deal for Flamini close?

It looks like the inevitable departure of Lassana Diarra is finally taking place - the holding midfielder is joining neither Manchester City, nor Tottenham. He is supposedly instead joining Portsmouth, who have gladly met the asking price of £5.5m and will be paying him around £60,000 a week.

Even though we are to pocket a decent profit of £3.5m, I feel we are being left a bit light at the holding midfield position. Diarra could have provided the perfect cover for Flamini (whether injured or departed altogether) and, if needed, a decent alternative on the right side of the midfield - although he has not played in the wing since his Chelsea days. Gilberto has been struggling to regain form and pace when assigned in the spot and, for obvious (but different) reasons, Denilson and Diaby are ill-suited to the position.

I am hoping this can only mean that Flamini is close to signing a new deal - interestingly enough, the Arsenal website has just posted Arsene Wenger's brief statement on the "ongoing"talks with Mathieu's agents. This would be the best way to put this rotten week behind us...

Saturday can't come soon enough...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Poor timing for a poor result

...And rather poor timing for the launch of a blog that is supposed to celebrate the brand of pure football that has become the trademark of this club under Arsene Wenger's watch.

So far, this season has been markedly different that the three that preceded it - against all well-publicized pre-season odds, the team started by winning convincingly while playing exhilarating football. Most importantly however, in a few key games (such as Chelsea at the Emirates and Everton at Goodison Park) the team produced results at a time when their football wasn't at its absolute most fluent.

Fast forward to the second League game of the year. What could have (and should have) been one of the easier home wins of the season turned into the kind of slip that leaves you pondering over the validity of the "winning with kids" adage... Devoid of ideas, and, on this occasion, the desire and focus to overcome surprisingly worthy adversaries, our well-rested first-teamers relied more on the mystique of the Emirates ground than on their own ability and sharpness to garner the requisite three points. A few short days earlier, we had escaped with an improbable and wholly undeserved draw in the Carling Cup semifinal against the Spurs. On this occasion, the Emirates magic was just not there.

There is never a good time for this kind of result - however, one can argue that the timing for this one could have not been worse.


First off, the proverbial "confidence blow". After an uninspired performance against the Spurs by the "second string" squad, the first team was supposed to restore much-needed confidence ahead of the second leg at White Hart Lane - all they needed was a solid performance against an opponent of (arguably) lesser quality.

Secondly, the result comes at a time when pundits are already pondering over how much the absence of the African Cup of Nations players is going to affect our league title bid.

Finally, for the first time since mid-November, there is no mid-week game to provide any kind of a "bounce back effect" and help put this ugly week behind all of us. Every day between now and Saturday, we are left wondering
how the team will respond to slipping to second place at a time when the pundits du jour are running out of praise for United's resilience and strength...

...It's going to be one long week, that's for sure...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Arsenal 1 - Birmingham City 1 (Adebayor 22')

A Tale of Two Halves (Yet Again)

During the first half, our game had a fluency and rhythm that I haven't seen since the first half of the Villa Park game. The goal was all but inevitable - and it should have not been the first either.

However, once we conceded early in the second half, we lost every bit of composure (somewhat uncharacteristically, particularly at the Emirates) All the staples of a poor performance were there in full display - poor, unnecessarily rushed passing (particularly in the final third) and rash decision-making.

All in all, a rather youthful performance on a day when we could have used some well-aged clearheadedness.

...Finally, the player ratings:

Almunia 7
Clichy 7
Senderos 7
Gallas 6
Sagna 6 (Diaby 5)
Hleb 5
Flamini 6
Fabregas 5
Walcott 5 (Bendtner 6)
Eduardo 6
Adebayor 6