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Arsenal 0 – 2 Liverpool: The Aftermath

In Arsenal, Nasri, Preimeri League 2011/12, Uncategorized, Wenger on August 21, 2011 at 8:11 am

Pre-match feelings on Saturday were very much a mixed bag.  Anticipation, trepidation, caution and hope.  When you have hope you enter dangerous world and hope breeds contempt and we all know about that at the moment.  This does stem from the fact there is so much uncertainty at Arsenal at the moment:

Why does Arsene believe that the current crop of fit and non-suspended squad players are capable enough to challenge for the Premiership crown, let alone qualify for the Champions League group stage?

What has happened to Samir Nasri’s supposed and very public move to Manchester City?

How many more games do Arsenal need to lose before fundamental changes are made?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions yet at the moment it would seem that our manager is not close to providing answers himself. 

Yesterdays game was a watershed moment for the club and for the fans in attendance the realisation that this season is going to be a very hard season, this for a club that has very much become accustomed to recent success and flowing football.  Both were obvious by the absence yesterday.

The starting line-up was certainly the best that could be put out in terms of those currently available.

Szezesney

Jenkinson  –  Koscielney  –  Vermaelen  – Sagna

Walcott  –  Ramsey  –  Frimpong  –  Nasri  –  Arshavin

RvP

Whilst the line-up looked very raw and untested in previous games, this deflected from the big talking point as the crowds were taking their seats, what reaction was Samir Nasri going to receive when announced to the crowd?  Inevitably, he received a mixture of boos and mild encouragement but there certainly wasn’t the same warm welcome afforded to the rest of the team.  Unsurprsing though for someone who has either personally or had his agent’s team court a move away from Arsenal.  If he loves the club as much as Arsene claims he does then my has a new contract not been signed yet.

If you compare the two line-ups though, regardless of potential and mental strengthness there was a clear difference in the Premiership experience of the two line-ups and this may have provided a few clues to the final outcome of yesterdays match:

 There were some bright moments to talk about but not enough to ensure a win.  In the opening encounters it was clear that Liverpool were looking to leverage Andy Carroll’s aerial ability but this was well countered by the two centre backs and this summed up their first half.  Not too many chances to talk about and if Arsenal had been stronger with the final ball on the break then they could have gone into the half-time break one up as the Liverpool defence was not at its strongest, or fastest.  A failing on the day from our wide men.  However,  the best two chances came from Nasri and Frimpong who both took runs to set up shots from outside the box that challenged the Liverpool goal.  The former’s run started from outside Arsenal box and ended with the ball zipping just past the post and the latter forcing a fine save from Reina who tipped the ball behind.

Emmanuel Frimpong was extremely lively from the outset and was clearly relishing his starting debut on home turf.  However, if you were look for a surrogate marker within the team for the current climate at Arsenal, Frimmers would be a prime example.  After today’s performance Frimmers was clearly the best player throughout his time on the pitch and within 3 minutes a Liverpool player, Carroll maybe, felt the full force of his hard tackling style.  Shortly after, Frimmers earnt himself his first yellow card for trying to delay a throw in and one that he would go onto to rue when receiving his second yellow for a strong and slightly high challenge on Lucas which any midfielder enforcer should expect to receive every now and then.  This is why you need to protect your yellow card status in matches and earn a card when you deserve them but we now have three midfielders currently under suspension and between them only one deserved yellow card.  Some discipline needs to be instilled across the team as these absences are being felt.  The sending off of Frimpong was a turning point in the game and one from which the young team could not recover from.

In the final quarter of the game the inexperience of the squad was harshly evident and whilst this is not their fault, the team, club and fans continue to suffer as a consequence.  Arsenal lost their shape completely in the second half, the flow of passing was absent and the defence were unable to get the ball up the field.  Both Arshavin and Theo had poor games and if your outlets are ineffective then chances are not going to be created.  Theo was worryingly poor yesterday and seem to be very one tracked in his approach and the Liverpool defence soon learnt and read every intent.  If Ronaldinho opened up a magic and trick shop then Theo should pay him a visit.

Unusually, the substitutes warmed up at the opposite end to the normal warm up area and for those of us in the bottom left hand cornered we were shown the difference in squad depth with Mai Rodriguez, Mierieles and Suarez ready to come on.  The latter two did come on and Arsenal were unable to adapt to the change in style.  Yes, the first goal was unfortunate and there may have been a suggestion that both were offside but this is football and you have to play in the moment as results have never been changed in retrospect.  There is no point moaning about what could have been, the scoresheet at the end of the game reads a 0-2 defeat for Arsenal.

So what can be taken from the game?  There were a few bright spots but not enough to grind out a point or 3 for the homing home game of the season.  I’ve already touched on Frimmers performance but this was soured by his sending off.  Thomas Vermaelen was very strong in defence and it’s great to see him back.  If anyone knows if thee are an cloning factories out there then can we get a fast-track pass for Vermaelen?  Can you imagine a defence made exclusively of Thomas Vermaelen quadruplets!  

Hats off to the crowd today.  It’s really hard at the moment being an Arsenal fan with all this ongoing uncertainty.  The crowd played their part today, they appreciated Nasri’s contribution through the game, advised a weak referee on what decisions he was missing and made the point that no matter was turmoil the team is going through the club and fanbase are bigger than that and they will give undeterred support.  If you could convert that passion and desire from the stands to the scoreline then the game would have finished 2-2 at least!  There were certainly very audible chants for the manager and board to spend some money but this is because the fans want to see success and not to struggle but the lack of financial investment.

In terms of poor performances, as mentioned our wingers were poor.  Neither Theo or Arshavin were unable to get hold of the ball and take players on.  If this was down to the defensive prowess of the Liverpool fullbacks then fine but there was too many deadend runs and poor ball control to be able to give any credit.  Samir Nasri was bright in moments and his turns and runs were lively but as with the back end of last season Nasri drifted out of the game when needed and if he were every to replace Cesc then this was what was needed.  Another sign that £25M could have been another astute bit of business BUT ONLY if replacements were found.

The potential is certainly there and when you see how Frimpong, Miquel, Jenkinson and Lansbury (for a shorter period) were willing to step up to the challenge then you have optimism for the future.  But not now, not against Liverpool where every point counts.  I know it’s early but at this rate we run the risk of entering September in the Europa League which only 1 point from 9 in the Premiership.

As discussed in Friday’s blog, the concern was going to be how well will this squad acquit themselves against the big spending Liverpool.  Liverpool certainly have a different squad to last years they have strengthened as a unit which is important if success is to be achieved at the end of a long and challenging season.

So there are 10 days left of the transfer window.  How the team will change over that time we cannot predict.  One thing is sure – the next two games, away versus Udinese and Manchester United, will define where this season will end and what the future for the team is.  I’m nervy but still have the faith.  It’s tough this blind faith thing isn’t it!

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Arsenal vs Liverpool Preview

In Arsenal, Campions League, Liverpool, Uncategorized, Wenger on August 19, 2011 at 11:38 pm

The second game of Arsene’s pre-season takes place tomorrow against the scousers at lunchtime. This is where reality hits home and the team get the opportunity to prove that they are ready to handle the gauntlet that Arsene has thrown down. If not, then the temperature inside the Emirates is going to go up a few notches.

So what can we expect? One thing that I was not anticipating is that Nasri might actually make an appearance tomorrow seeing that he is still under contract with Arsenal. As far Arsene is concerned that’s the way it should be :

“Everywhere I have worked in my life I have made sure that until the last second of where I was I did the job properly. He is paid this month by Arsenal Football Club so why should he not play?”

The problem here is that the way Nasri has conducted himself in the public has exactly been appeasing to the fanbase. Even if Nasri does start and performs well it will be interesting to see how the fans respond. I have a feeling that they might give him an initial chance as it would be quite vitriolic to boo from the off but you never know.

Taking this into consideration the start line-up should look something like this:

Szszceny

Sanga – Koscienly – Vermaelen – Jenkinson

Arshavin – Frimpong – Ramsey – Nasri

Walcott – RvP

The bench has been strengthed with the additional of Djourou to the bench. Whilst he may have receovered from his hamsting twinge I am not convinced that he will be risked unless necessary.

In complete contrast to Arsenal, Liverpool have been flashing the cash on players who are well known to the Premiership. Not that it means they have suddenly into a super fantastic world beating team overnight but they have certainly strengthed since last year. Of the players in their team that have the potential to cause us problems it’s likely to be the two upfront, Suarez and Carroll. Let’s hope that the back four continue their current run of form and keep another clean sheet.

This then leaves us to consider the likely outcome for Saturday’s match and given the current public goings on at the clubs the bookies are still making Arsenal the very slight favourites:

Paddy Power: Home Win – 6/4; Away Win – 15/8

William Hill: Home Win – 13/8; Away Win – 7/4

Ladbrokes: Home Win – 11/8; Away Win – 2/1

These odds are taking into consideration current squads and potential starting XI’s but it’s worth considering more previous clashes and determining the likehood of teams scoring from past performance. Castrol football has a great prediction tool that encompasses all these factors and they suggest a greater likelihood of an Arsenal victory. I’ll take that any day and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be pleasantly suprised with Saturday’s performance:

Arsenal Win 59%; Draw 22% and Liverpool Win19%

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In other news, Wenger has been charged by UEFA for his attempts to remain in managerial control during the first leg of the CL qualifier against Udinese. Another case of the footballing authorities of being over zealous in the interpretation of their own rules and it’s not as if he tried to smuggle himself into in dressing room by hiding in the linen basket. It’s unlikely he’ll escape further punishment but to what extent we are yet to see.

Also, there has been confirmation that Joel Campbell’s move to Arsenal has been confirmed. His shirt number is yet to be confirmed as is a work permit, but you would like to hope that the work permit department at Arsenal have completed their homework this time and the application will be agreed first time around.

Roll on Saturday’s match and in a voyeuristic sense that the reaction between the fans and the team/manager will be interesting to say the least. Let’s hope that all the talking is left to the pitch and here’s to an Arsenal win.

Come on you reds!

GG

Arsenal vs Newcastle: The Pantomime Villan Strikes Again

In Arsenal, Barton, Uncategorized, Wenger on August 14, 2011 at 12:17 am

Here we go again, another August, another new season complete with new levels of expectations.  Unfortunately for Arsenal fans the expectations aren’t as high as they should be and when you talk to fellow Gooners there certainly a great deal of apprehension in the air as to how high the team will finish come May next year.

The new opening fixture of the 2011/12 season was a tricky trip up to St. James park where the demons of one of the Premierships greatest ever giveaways need to be put to rest from last year.  Last years capitulation could be put down to the team being reduced down to 10 men following a petulant reaction by Abu Diaby to Joey Barton and you would like to think that it was impossible for lightening to strike twice(!).

The build up to today’s game had not been ideal, the pre-season outings had mixed fortunes with reasonably uninspiring performance against mediocre opposition, turbulent transfer speculation regarding the teams two most talented players as well as injuries to key players.  For a team of Arsenal’s calibre it can be perceived as being negligent to not be able to field a midfield with Nasri, Fabragas and Wilshire when only one of the three was legitimately injured.

In his pre-match interview with the ESPN dolly he admitted that he was nervy for the start of the season.  So are most of the fans!

The starting line up was as follows:

Szczesny,

 Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs,

Ramsey, Song, Rosicky,

Arshavin, Gervinho, Van Persie

In fact, ESPN had the line-up as 4-3-3 but it most probably due to their technical inefficiency for displaying anything other than 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.  The line-up was more 4-5-1 with Arshavin and Gervinho acting as rotating wide men attacking from the midfield areas.

Whilst the starting line-up looked reasonable given the current situation, what will have concerned many fans was the lack of depth from the bench.   

Fabianski, Chamakh, Djourou, Frimpong, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott

 There is very little strength across all the potential replacements who sat on the bench with 3 players potentially making their Premiership debuts if chosen.  If this truly the sign of a squad that has the intent of winning the Premiership and if not, who else other than Nasri and Fabreagas is willing to forego their season career for the development of younger team members to try to demonstrate their potential and “mental strength”?

And so onto the game……….oh yes, that!  All the build and my word neither of these teams were willing to take a strangle on the game.  In fact, the first half was a game of stereotypes with Arsenal having the lions share of the procession and Newcastle happy just to play a chasing game, sit back and absorb the pressure.  In fact, isn’t that the tactics most teams employ against us and hope to frustrate for 60 minutes and then hit on the break, score and then tried an defend for the remaining half hour?  Arsenal pretty much dominated most of the intial play and after 35 minutes that stats were showing that Arsenal has completed 201 passes versus just 69 for Newcastle.

In order to summarise the first half then half chances would be the best phrase.  Gervinho started comparatively brighter than anyone else on the pitch with some neat footwork and mazy runs but no end product.  On at least 3 occasions Gervinho managed to get past his nearest defender, attack the goal line but was unable to provide the final ball for that much-needed goal.  Whilst we may have a player who may actually be able to beyond the defensive line of the opposition the next killer ball/pass needs to be there in order to deliver the results that the teams play deserves.

So the first half passed with minor incidents with a lot of niggly play of which Song was booked for an alleged series of fouls culminating in Demba Ba diving and twisting like Tom Daley when hardly touched. 

Just prior to half-time, Arshavin could have done better with a poor pass to Gervinho that was intercepted by Colocinni when we had a 2 on 1 situation.  Just before half-time the little Russian maestro was nearly rewarded for a little bit a magic when he scooped the ball over the Newcastle defence into the path of RvP who was hustled off the ball by Stephen Taylor.

And it was in the second half that the game got a little more tasty. 

Despite a slow start that was similar to the first half things picked up following the first of two incident involving the pantomime villan, Joey Barton.  This time he played the part of the innocent victim of a rather cynical stamp from Alex Song.  In fact, Song does have a tendency for doing some silly things and he was extremely fortunate to remain on the pitch after stamping on Bartons achilles after play had stopped.  Song should be thankful that Theo was preparing to come on as a substitute as replays indicate that the stamp could not be seen directly by the referee and the fourth official was otherwise occupied by the number board in preparation for the imminent substitution. 

What was of interest was Barton’s response.  A precursor for things to come perhaps, where he initially went to the referee to try to force a decision that wasn’t seen by the official and then to the touch line to complain to someone who was playing away with buttons and numbers.  If it had been seen then Song would have been off and if there is nothing in the referees report then the incident is likely to be subject to review by the F.A. on Monday and in a likely act of having to look forceful at the beginning of the season a ban should be expected by Song.  Stupid considering our current plight.

However, it was the second incident involving Barton that will hit the headlines in the morning.  Gervinho attacked the Newcastle penalty box from the far left touchline and was clipped on the foot by one of their defenders.  As any experienced striker would do, Gervinho went down.  The referee didn’t take the bait and the game went on.  However, in his own intelligent way, Barton felt the need to haul Gervinho off the ground via the neck of his shirt and snarl his opinion of Gervinho’s actions.  Obviously, the expectations of the masses are that any grown man should just stand there and be shouted at and shaken by a small-minded fool and Gervinho, who most probably hadn’t been briefed on J. Barton upon arrival to the UK, reacted.

What has been interesting to see is that both Sir Alan of Shearer and Robbie Savage (who both love to play devils advocate against Arsenal) thought that the challenge on Gervinho was worthy of a penalty.  I do wonder what Kevin Keegan was watching at the time as he always seemed to site on the fence on ESPN and could not commit beyond “probably” to hint that Gervinho put his leg in the way to earn the foul.  How ridiculous as the foot that was caught was his standing foot!

However, the problem is that the reaction was actually quite trivial, handbags at five paces, a little argy bargie between players and a mild slap to the side of the head for Barton.  What was hysterical was the reaction.  The reaction was exaggerated beyond belief and if you watch the replay of the incident and keep an eye on the clock in the corner you’ll see that nearly as much as a full second passes between impact and reaction.  In the technical world this is known as Temporal Contiguity which was followed up by Ballistic Continuity (see link for more definition on how to spot a dive).

In terms of the referees action, for the first time in a while I have to agree with Arsene:

If he’s seen the incident, then why were there not two red cards?

As I’ve already alluded to, the referee was actually happy to let the initial incident pass but due to Barton’s intervention and Stephen Taylors blatant exaggeration of the truth the result was a red card for Gervinho.  There is slight confusion as to whether this was a straight red or two yellows (one for the dive, which would be odd, and the other for the altercation) but a ban is to be expected and if it’s for three full games then that covers Liverpool, Man Utd and Swansea. 

As I was mentioning the other day, Arsenal actually have a very important start to this season and to potentially lose Gervinho and Song along with Nasri, Cesc and Wilshire the heart of the squad has been completely ripped out.  It’s no wonder that the Arsenal fans told Arsene what they thought of the current situation.  To be honest this hasn’t changed since the final game of last season but we’re now 3 months on and nothing has changed.

After this, the game pretty much fizzled out to a stalemate conclusion with a final chance toward the end falling to RvP but he was too far out and too hasty with his shot for it to be meaningful.

So…………what can we tell from our first game of the season?  One things for sure, without any new signing or adequate replacement for obvious absentees it would seem that Arsene thinks that we are still in pre-season mode and we can coast to some early victories with the current squad.  Yes, the transfer window closes at the end of the month but before we reach that milestone we will have played two of our Premiership contenders having only bagged 1 point out of 3 to date.  Something need to happen desperately, some injection of enthusiasm and encouragement need to occur not within the fan base but also across the team and the club.  It was starkly evident that the current first XI were not quite ready yet and need something to help them click, it was as if the trauma of this week had rubbed off on their playing style and this need early correction.

What was confusing at the end was how the Arsenal players seemed to thing that it was appropriate for laughing and hug with Barton after the final whistle.  If I was Gervinho how would that make me feel?  Yes, these are all professional individuals playing a game week in and week out plying their trade.  But what has happened to team solidarity and fighting for the cause regardless of who the perpetrator might be.  That was disappointing to see.

Welcome back the first day of the Premier League.  It’s contentious, passionate and even entertaining despite a dull game.  This is why we love it, this is why we support our teams.  There’s a long way to go and stay tuned throughout!

GG

Fab Times Were Had With Cesc

In Arsenal, Arshavin, Transfers, Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Whilst the deal has not been rubber stamped it looks like the inevitable is going to happen as it seems to be confirmed by certain players at Barcelona that Cesc’s departure is/has occurred.  They must be so proud of the ambassadorial role they play for their club with fellow European teams.

Cesc final gets his chance to return to his boyhood club and given their success over recent time as “the best team on the planet” then there’s bound to be the chance to be successful (especially in a two team league).  And there maybe that leaves open a unopen question, despite his mercurial talents did Cesc achieve what he could have done whilst at Arsenal.  Yes, he has an FA Cup winners medal to his name (alongside Euro and World Cup medals) there is a small part of me that will still think, if only……….and that most probably isn’t Cesc’s fault – effected by injuries at crucial times in recent seasons as well as a lack of depth and experience in the current squad that befits Cesc’s quality.  We all hear about the potential within the Arsenal first team but Cesc (and a fit RvP) has already realised that potential and the rest of the team seemed to be played catch-up.

Cesc’s times at Arsenal bought pleasure and delight on regular occasion.  His work ethic on the pitch was staggering and he had the unique ability to turn in game to his advantage in an instance.  I recall at a home game a couple of seasons ago (it may have been Sunderland or Stoke) where the first half was a dour affair and the travelling fans where hopefully that their team could sneak a cheeky away win.  That was until Cesc came on as a half-time substitute and completely changed the game on it head – the Emirates crowd witnessed a Cesc masterclass and pass the home fans and the away team had their breath taken away.

Similarly, when Aaron Ramsay had his leg broken against Stoke you could see Cesc (and the team) responded in the best way a player can and put the opposing team to the sword through persistence and pure brilliance.

And not only was Cesc know for his uncanny knack as being heralded as the master being creator for his teammates but he was also finisher of some amazing goals, some through ability and others through significance. Three that stuck for me were:

1. The goal against AC Milan was the icing on the cake of an enthralling performance at the San Siro in the Champions League

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