Player Ratings: Arsenal 1 – 1 Liverpool

April 17, 2011

Well, the game ended in heartache for me as it would have done for all Gooners around the world. To be winning a game one minute and then to draw it in the fashion it happened is frustrating to the very core of existence. Liverpool returned the favour that we did them two years back, the title is out of our reach now. Didn’t anyone tell Liverpool that Manchester United now is in line to get the 19th title!! If not, someone should have.

To start off with, that penalty to Liverpool was never a penalty. It was a dive by Lucas which conned the referee into giving it. Eboue was at fault not for the penalty but for getting close to Lucas, who took full advantage of it. The ball was going away towards the corner, there was no danger, it was 4 minutes beyond the stoppage time then why the hell would you put yourself in a position where the opposition can take advantage. Lucas played it intelligently and the referee fell for it. It did make one thing clear, ‘LUCAS, YOU ARE A CHEAT!!’

Coming to the free kick conceded in the 98th minutes, that was our own fault. Szczesny had the ball with him and he should have passed it on to his own player, the way he did all game. Only when it was needed most he tossed into the air, the ball came back towards our goal and bam a free kick, which later turned into a penalty. This is where experience comes in. We only needed to defend for a minute and we couldn’t do that. We shouldn’t have relaxed at all after scoring the goal which now has cost us the chance for a title.

However, the penalty and free kick incident shouldn’t have taken place at all if the referee had blown the whistle when the time was over by 98 minutes. Or even if he has given the free kick after 98 minutes, he should have blown the whistle as soon as the ball hit the wall. It was 102 minutes on the clock and the ref is still playing on. THAT WAS PLAIN RIDICULOUS!!

As for the rest of the game, it was all Arsenal with a bit of Liverpool in the second half. Liverpool defended well for major parts. However, I am surprised that with the amount of talent we have we couldn’t open up Liverpool easily who had teenagers in their backline. We were wasteful with our possession and never created anything of worth. Van Persie missed one glorious opportunity which should have been a goal, Koscielny hit the bar once, other than that it was all possession by us with no penetration and only defending by Liverpool.

I would also like to add here that we sure have our problems but most of the points that have been dropped this season have been stolen from us. Bad decisions have cost us too many games. Should I blame the players for always being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the referees, whose job is to make sure the game is played fairly? I will leave it for you to answer.

As it stands, the title is well beyond our hands now but the season is still not finished. Chelsea is right behind us and we need to at least finish second. Heck we may, may, may, win the league only if we win all our games and Man United draw at least two. I know that is too much to ask for!!

Coming to player ratings:

Szczesny (6.5): A good performance returning from injury. Didn’t have much to do but when called upon, he did well. Made a good save on a Suarez shot in the second half. Only one gripe, as I said before he should have passed the ball to our player in the 98th minute as he had done all game and not lobbed it into the air.  Experience matters on such occasions!!

Eboue (6): Well, what can I say?! As always provided good support upfront and had a decent game at the back. He did his usual theatrics which was frustrating to see. I won’t blame him for the penalty as explained above but he should have kept his distance from Lucas. Cost us more than points today.

Djourou and Koscielny (7): Decent game from both the defenders. Had a couple of odd moments but thankfully we weren’t harmed. Other than that cleared whatever danger came their way. Koscielny also hit the bar in the first half.

Clichy (6): Nothing much to do at the back and provided good support up front.

Wilshere (5.5): Moved the ball around well and made a number of good interceptions. Didn’t add much in final third though.

Fabregas (6.5): Didn’t produce the amount of delightful balls as he did against Blackpool. He did drop deep to get the ball and most of our openings were created through him. And of course, it was his run that won us the penalty, unfortunately not the game.

Diaby (6): Made good use of his strength in the middle of the park. Made good interceptions but again on occasions kept the ball with him for too long.

Nasri (6): He has lost his touch in front goal but makes it up with his brilliant runs with the ball. However, he didn’t create much today. Did misplace a few of his passes as well.

Robin van Persie (6.5): His movement was good but didn’t get enough deliveries to find the goal. Did miss a chance that should have won it for us. Scored an excellent penalty but unfortunately it wasn’t a winner.

Walcott (6): As always looked dangerous with the ball. Some of his crosses were excellent but no one met them while on other occasions he was wasteful. Wasn’t released much either.

Subs:

Song (6) looked alright and did his part. Did give away the late free kick though. Arshavin (6) was lively and delivered in a couple of good crosses and even backtracked. Bendtner (5) didn’t add much.


Arsenal vs Liverpool: Preview and Starting Eleven

April 17, 2011

Today we start our final push for the title. We host a resurgent Liverpool at the Emirates and no less than three points is what we require.

This is our title deciding week and I hope the team is ready to deal with it because it won’t be easy at all.

It has been a long time since we drew in the opening game of the season against Liverpool. With Liverpool going through many ups and down since then, with defeats against bottom placed teams to massive wins against top teams, they have been somewhat very unpredictable. However, under Dalglish they have been a changed side and make no mistake today’s game is going to be very difficult if we are to get the three points.

With their spending in the January window, they look more stable and have added two dimensions to their attack. With Andy Carroll, they can play the aerial route football and with Luis Suarez they can play the quick passing game. They will no doubt mix it up and it will be up to our defense to deal with them. With Dirk Kuyt always a threat, our team will have to stay alert at all times. Mistakes at the back will be costly today and I hope the whole team supports the defense when under attack.   

Upfront we will have to be clinical. Fabregas and company will no doubt create openings but it will up to our forward to finish them. Van Persie and Theo Walcott will have to be at the top of their game. The cost of missed chances will be more than a game today.

It isn’t easy to predict such a game as it can be either high scoring or one decided by a single goal. Both teams can win this, so we have to make sure we score the winning goals. Two years back we somewhat ended Liverpool’s title chances by a drawing against them at their home, Arshavin scored four goals back then, so, I hope Liverpool doesn’t return the favour today.

If things aren’t going our way, we will need someone to remind Liverpool that if they win, United will get the 19th title for sure. Now would Liverpool want that? Jokes aside, the title will be over for us if we don’t win any of the remaining games starting from today. Even a draw is fatal. I am gunning for a win and hoping that our team gives it their best shot and even if we lose or draw or end up without the title, we can hold our heads up.  

As far as the lineup is concerned, it will be interesting to see who Arsene opts to start with as many players are returning from injury and we do have three important games in 8 days to play.

Szczesny for me starts in goal after what Wenger said in his pre-match press conference. With no Sagna, Eboue will feature again on the right and the other flank will be taken up by Clichy. If and only if Djourou is hundred percent, I will start with him partnering Koscielny.

In the middle of the park Fabregas is the easy pick. Diaby for me stays in the lineup. I am caught up between Song and Wilshere. Again if Song isn’t hundred percent, I will start with Wilshere.

Upfront van Persie will be flanked by Nasri and Walcott. Arshavin is an asset in big games therefore he can be brought on at any time to change the game. However, I won’t mind if Arshavin starts this game at the expense of Walcott.

Probable Starting Eleven: Szczesny, Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Wilshere, Fabregas, Diaby, Walcott, RVP, Nasri

Before I conclude, below is what Arsene Wenger said about today’s game:

“When you are in the title race it is always like that. When we played the Carling Cup Final, Barcelona away and Manchester United three days later, we were out of three competitions.

Now Tottenham and Chelsea are out of the competitions. When you fight for big prizes in one week it can be gone. It makes Sunday’s game vital of course. If we do not beat Liverpool and Tottenham the season won’t be over but the title will be over for sure.

If we win all the games then yes, we will win the Premier League [as long as Manchester United] can draw somewhere. It’s not 100 per cent even if we win our games but we know what we have to do.”

I hope the players keep that in mind when they are out on the field.

That’s it. Have a good day and enjoy the match. Tonight we deal with the first of our seven remaining obstacles. Keep the faith and your fingers crossed!!


Player Ratings: Arsenal 0 – 0 Blackburn

April 3, 2011

Well, our season is going from worse to oblivion. It seems a distant memory when we were in four competitions and now it is more than certain that we will end this season without a trophy. Has the Carling Cup final defeat really caused more damage than it seems? It has all gone wrong since then. Every performance since then can be summed up by one word, pathetic! Only one win and that too against lower league outfit. Unbelievable!

Anyhow what’s done is done. Where we stand now is all up to our own mistakes and negligence of the basics of football. You can never win a football match by not scoring goals, by not showing urgency or desire and by not fighting for the win. And with the amount of talent we have, I am still at a loss as to how we couldn’t find one goal against a team that is just two points from relegation zone.  

Realistically it is over for us because I don’t see Man United dropping points even if we win all our games. And even if they do, I cannot honestly say that we will win rest of our games. If we can’t get a result against 10 men Blackburn, when Man United got a result by being down to 10 men themselves, says it all where the title is going this season. And here I will add that I will be glad to rue my own words if somehow we do win the title. Results matter in football, good play and off the pitch talk doesn’t. We can all come up with words that we have grown up and moved on but as long as we don’t perform, we will always be chasing shadows.

Yesterday’s game was the best example of what our season has been. We started positively, the opening 10 to 15 minutes, but then we all went into our nutshells. After which we never really tested the keeper, never showed any desire, or any urgency. Movement and passing was not incisive and it seemed we were waiting for Blackburn to score an own goal. Almunia tried his best to give all the three points to Blackburn but thankfully we escaped another embarrassment. The final 10 minutes were somewhat better but you cannot win a match by playing for only 20 minutes. You have to give your best for the whole 90 minutes. Whatever happened, we are ourselves to blame and no one else.

Coming to the player ratings:

Almunia (3): What can I say about him? Tried his best to do what he does best. Enough said

Sagna (5): One of his worst games. His positioning was not good and didn’t defend well at all. Upfront his crosses were either too long or too short and never once it went to our player in the danger area.

Squillaci and Koscielny (6): Had a better than normal game as there were no noteworthy mistakes. Koscielny made his usual interceptions and clearance and did get a header on target.

Clichy (6.5): He was better than Sagna in defense as well as attack on the left. Looked lively and tried to create things. It wasn’t enough in the end.

Wilshere (5.5): Was really disappointed when he missed a sitter and on another occasion went for a pass when he should have buried the ball into the back of the net. Was decent in middle of the park but needs to improve his game in front of goal.

Song (5.5): Showed good work rate but not yet back to his best as he failed to make his presence felt in the middle of the park.

Nasri (6.5): Made a couple of very good runs and showed great creativity. Went missing on a few occasions as well. I don’t know how much the knock to his head had played a part in it.

Walcott (6.5): Looked dangerous whenever he had the ball and in the first half was one of our better players. Also went anonymous in the second half before he was substituted.

RVP (5.5): Didn’t get the support required as he had to come back to get the ball. Had a couple of shots on goal, one near the end when his header went over the bar, but never really threatened the Blackburn goal.

Arshavin (7): He was our best player out there. Created most of the chances and looked dangerous whenever he had the ball. Even backtracked and helped in defense. Was astonished to see him get substituted but I think it was more down to him getting tired.

Subs:

Fabregas (5.5) failed to make much impact as he looked rusty. Bendtner (5.5) and Chamakh (5.5) did their part and both of them went close to scoring but not close enough.


West Brom vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

March 19, 2011

I had taken some time off from football after what happened last Saturday. The negativity, however, that has followed ever since Arsenal’s exit from three competitions has been immense and highly uncalled for. No doubt the departures have been frustrating and disappointing but to completely overlook what the team has achieved this season on the basis of two weeks result is not logical. No doubt we have our liabilities and I do agree with some of the points that have been raised but the way people have gone about it is not right. And also now isn’t the time to be discussing the weaknesses of the team. When the season is over, there will be plenty to talk about. What we need to do right now is to get behind the team because the media will always find reasons to ridicule us. No doubt, everyone is entitled to their own views but we as fans would do better if we stick to supporting the team.

Coming on to today’s game, it is against West Brom at their home and after what happened the last time we faced them, this won’t be a  walk in the park. The game had plenty of goals the last time and if I am not wrong, Almunia didn’t have a good day. Ironically he is making his return in the League against the same oppositions and after his brilliant display against Barcelona and Manchester United, I am gunning for another good performance.

Today I also feel there won’t be many goals. One reason is that West Brom are under Hodgson and the second because we will also approach the game a bit more cautiously. And with plenty of our regular starters missing, we will have difficulty in the opening them up, as we witnessed the last time.

We will have to be disciplined in the middle of the park and move the ball around with precision and pace and only then we will be able to open them up. Much will depend on how our regulars play. No doubt to win the whole team will have to perform but Nasri and company will have to produce some magical moments that will lead to goals.

At the back too, Squillaci and Koscielny will have to stay alert. These two have had their weaknesses exploited when playing besides each other and with Almunia also not playing regularly with them, the problems can be compounded. Communication among them will be key and the midfield will have to do their job if we are not to concede. And please Arsenal no half hearted attempts in defense and middle of the park, like we witnessed against Manchester United last Saturday. Fight for every ball and close down opposition players early so that they don’t create goal scoring opportunities.

Upfront, we will have to ensure that we don’t waste chances. I don’t want another opposing keeper getting the man of the match.

For the starting eleven, we don’t have many good options as there are a few injuries in important positions. Arsene Wenger again will have to make some bold decisions.

In goal it has been confirmed that Almunia will start. The back line picks it up itself with Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy and Sagna.

In the middle, Wilshere and Nasri are the easy picks. However, with no Song and Diaby, we have Ramsey and Denilson to choose from for the third spot. To be honest, the more I wish for not seeing Denilson in the starting lineup, the more likely it is that he will start. As it will be today because Ramsey I fear isn’t yet ready to start a game.

Upfront too Van Persie and Arshavin are easy picks. On the right we have the options to start with Rosicky, Bendtner and Eboue. Eboue doesn’t add much while Bendtner also doesn’t impress when he starts on wings. And although Rosicky has also been poor, I will start with him on the right because he will help us keep the ball better (if he plays well).

Probable starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy, Wilshere, Nasri, Denilson, Rosicky, RVP, Arshavin

If everything goes according to plan we will be level on points with Manu by five o clock and hopefully top of the table (if Manu lose their game). We have only the league to focus on and after a weeks break I want to see a good display from our team. Please Arsenal give your best, show that you want the title by winning today and rest of the remaining games. We all are behind you or else it will be hard not only for you but also for us to keep believing in you. 

Keep your fingers crossed and enjoy the game where ever you are. Tonight we start the final lap of the season which hopefully will end with the League title in May (after which we can start sorting out the weaknesses of the team).


Arsene Wenger on the game and Johan Djourou’s injury

March 13, 2011

Last night Arsenal were dumped out of the FA Cup by Manchester United after Fabio and Rooney scored the vital goals.

Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger explained how they couldn’t score goals after controlling the game and how United got their goal by being clinical which made it easier for them to play on the counter and how subconsciously he believes that Tuesday’s defeat had a part to play with the team suffering from low confidence.

The manager admitted they weren’t dominated but lost to a side that was clinically better and added that things aren’t going Arsenal’s way at the moment as he didn’t blame the effort put in by the players.

With the premier league the only trophy left for Arsenal to win, Arsene Wenger was positive that they can win the title as he said that it is now a test of the metal strengths of the team.

Johan Djourou also got injured during the game after Sagna collided with him. Arsene Wenger confirmed that he has a dislocated shoulder that will see him ruled out for the rest of the season.

After the game, Arsene said:

“We had good control of the game. Manchester United had very few chances, they scored with almost their first attempt on goal. After that, we put them in a position they like to be [in] – on the counter attack. They are strong and they are clinical in front of goal. In the second half we had a good opportunity to come back to 1-1 and two minutes later it was 2-0. As long as you cannot come back to 2-1, they are comfortable. In the end, I cannot fault our effort.

Things do not go our way at the moment. We have to keep going, support each other and come back strong. It was a strange game, we put a lot of effort in. At the moment, every goalkeeper against us is Man of the Match. I still believe, subconsciously, the disappointment of Tuesday night has played a part today. You could see something has gone, not in our effort or our attitude, but confidence wise.

We were not outplayed today but we were punished by a team who were more clinical than us.

I believe that we can do it. It is a good test for us now, to show that we can regroup, show our mental strength and respond quickly. We have a week without a midweek game, that is the first time for a long time. Unfortunately, we lost Johan Djourou for the rest of the season. [He has a] dislocated shoulder. His season is over.”


Player Ratings: Manchester United 2 – 0 Arsenal

March 13, 2011

When I wrote the preview of this game, I said that after tonight we will get a clear picture of what’s left of this season. Well we have the picture and it is not looking good at all.

Two weeks, out of three competitions, injuries in important positions, fringe players performing crap, the League is still to play for with 10 games to go and the big question remains that will we be able to finish the season with a trophy? The season for us has gone from bad to worse in a jiffy in the last week and I don’t know what to expect next. As things are shaping up, I have prepared myself for the worst. However, to remain positive I have hope that we will win the League but as I said in my preview, we will need to show massive character, not what I saw today.

As far as today’s game is concerned, it was typical. Manu flooded the defense and midfield, they stayed deep, invited us to attack them, which we did. We had plenty of chances and plenty of possession, we failed to score. United played on the counter and got their goals on the rebound. Denislon had his usual evening jog, Gibbs had a nice time watching Denilson, Almunia saved our blushes, Sagna collided with Djourou, who is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder (coumpounding our misery) as Manu got through and we return home with another disappointment and our season going down the drain.

After watching today’s game, I am still at a loss as to what we learned from the Barcelona win because frankly speaking some of the players today looked like they had no belief, they showed no tenacity, no hunger and looked lost. What’s more frustrating is that these players talk big off the field but when it comes to performing, they always end up short. It hurts every time I see the same player’s underperforming and I don’t know for how long I can take it.

Coming to player ratings:

Almunia (7): Made some good saves to keep the score respectable. Cannot be faulted for the goals. Nothing much to do as mostly we had the ball.

Sagna (6): Upfront had a good game as he delivered in some excellent crosses which our forwards failed to utilize and we suffered in the end. Defensively did  enough.

Djourou (7): Played well for most parts. Too bad he is out for the season.

Koscielny (6.5): He was solid at the back but should have done better on the first goal. The thing I have noticed from the last two games is that he is very capable of moving forward and is good with the ball at his feet. His passing is accurate and today he created a good opening. Van der Saar saved his shot though.

Gibbs (3): Many people were saying that Gibbs is Clichy’s replacement. Today he showed us that he isn’t and it is not for the first time. He can be a wing player who can cross but not a fullback. His positioning, game reading and decision making is poor to say the least and he was awful at the back today. Look at the buildup of how we conceded the second goal and the countless other opportunities that Manu created from his side. Unbelievable!!

Wilshere (6.5): Another decent game from our best player so far in the past couple of weeks. He plays every game with passion, only if the players around him would show 50 percent of that, we will not be disappointed after every game.  

Diaby (4): I don’t know what has gotten into him. How many more games does he want??

Denilson (3): My patience is over with him. He isn’t good enough wasn’t good enough and never will be good enough. Wenger please stop playing him. He is a liability and nothing else. Look at how he is jogging alongside Valencia and not closing him down before we concede the second goal. Unbelievable again!!

Nasri (6.5): Nasri to me looks frustrated because game in game out he is trying hard but his team mates around him aren’t. Had two good shots on goal but Van der Saar produced  saves on both occasions. However, I still expect more from him.

RVP (6): Didn’t get enough support and clear chances. Tested Van der Saar with a few shots. Other than that couldn’t influence the game much. I was expecting much from him too only to be disappointed.

Arshavin (5.5): Got in and out of game. Misplaced a few passes. Didn’t make much impact as he was substituted.

Subs:

I was delighted to see Chamakh (5.5) when he came on, only because Denilson was taken off though. Added nothing much as he had a shot saved by Van Der Saar. Rosicky (5) missed a sitter in stoppage time, as he also didn’t add much when he came on. Was good to see ramsey (no ratings) come on. Moved around well and I hope he gets the go ahead of Diaby and Denilson in the coming weeks.

As has been the case with the games in the past couple of weeks, we have to move on from this one too. We have found it difficult but the League is now our only opportunity to get some silver ware and we cannot make mistakes.  If we can’t win it, this season will go down as a failure and nothing else. No doubt this season we have certainly improved but no one will remember it if we don’t win something. We are in with a good chance and it’s time now for the players to forget what happened in the last two weeks and deliver the EPL.

It starts for us again in a week’s time, keep your fingers crossed!!


[Guest Post] Match Preview: Manchester United vs Arsenal

March 12, 2011

Note: This guest post is written by Hamza, a friend of mine, who is a Manchester United fan through and through. Here is how he sees today’s FA Cup game against us.

 

It’s that time of the year again where the best of English football comes into action. Within the span of three weeks, Manchester United finds themselves against another top rival. The last two encounters have certainly not gone according to the plan resulting in media blackout. So definitely, the Red Devils would be eager to end their losing streak after a breathtaking start to the season.

Today promises to be a fighting encounter as the FA Cup is at stake here. With Chelsea and Liverpool out already, today’s winner would be heavy favorites to lift the cup (though Man City might be favoring their chances as well).  Going by the records, Man United have still won their last eight games at home and have not lost to Arsenal at Old Trafford since 2006. The last encounter between the sides saw Manchester United prevail 1-0 at home courtesy Ji-Sung Park strike.

Coming into the match, Manchester United would surely be a little low but the gunners aren’t well off either. Although they have played quite an attractive football of any season, their recent blows in Carling Cup and Champions League states that they have failed to come to terms in the off-league games. Arsenal’s captain (Cesc Fabregas) is out which means Rob Van Persie would lead the side. Arsenal would also be without its first choice of keeper, Szczesny, leaving Almunia to wear the gloves. He has not had much of a game practice this season, playing hardly 10 games altogether. Theo Walcott and Alex Song are also on the injured list. Not that I am much concerned about them, but its (rival worries) always an added advantage one should keep in mind.

Manchester United comes into this match following an unconvincing 1-0 win over Crawley Town.  It was another forgettable encounter with the Red Devils failing to show their dominance over a non-league side. Injuries further add to the agony of the team with Nani tearing a tendon on his left leg in the game versus Liverpool. Ji-Sung Park still remains on the bench but on the positive side Antonio Valencia is back in the side after almost 6 months and is likely to get a nod today. Captain Nemanja Vidic would also be back after the suspension period, Darren Fletcher is expected to return to the side and Rio Ferdinand is also on the comeback trail, though it might still be too early to play him against Gunners. All these rejoining would be a huge boost to Sir Alex Ferguson, who might play it a little cautious considering the upcoming second leg against Marseille in Champion League, having settled for a nil-nil draw previously.  So don’t be surprised if some unexpected members get a go today.

Following the injuries, Manchester united are likely to come up with a different set of formation and if Antonio Valencia is kept back for later stages of the game, we might find Darren Fletcher playing the role of right-hand side midfielder. As Arsenal is keen to play on the wings, John’O Shea and Patrick Evra would most likely be retained at the back. The central midfield would probably be occupied by Michael Carrick and Darren Gibson as Anderson’s inclusion remains a question mark following a knee injury. Upfront we might see Javier Hernandez in place of Rooney after scoring the only United goal against Liverpool.

The game is also being viewed as a curtain raiser to the Premier League title race with both teams marginally separated. Hopefully for Man United, this is a glorious chance to shrug off their poor form and overturn the plunge. Along with the home advantage and decent record we are surely the favorites to nail this one. And if we play as per the start of the season, take our chances and make the most of Arsenal’s negligence, then there is no doubt we’d emerge victorious. Good luck Reds, here is hoping you bring the trophy home.