Defending, Nasri and Bendtner | Injury news ahead of Villa | Wenger will strengthen the squad! |

May 14, 2011

“When are they going to learn …” this is what Ray Parlour, our former player, said that after the Stoke defeat and I feel no one but the team can answer this question and only when they play better. In my opinion not learning from our mistakes has cost us this season. I have not watched the last three Arsenal games and I regret only missing the Man United win. However, watching the highlights of the Stoke game has not been easy as once again we demonstrated our naivety in the basics of football.

Much has been already said about the Stoke defeat (it is my first post in two weeks!!) so I won’t discuss the game. Will something be done about the problems this summer? We will find out soon!! However, the thing that disappointed me was what Wenger said after the game. He said:

“We [have] conceded, I think, 21 from set-pieces and only 17 in open play. Less than anybody else in open play [but] we have been caught on set-pieces. Today, [Kenwyne] Jones didn’t even need to jump to head the ball in. That is something we have to correct. It is the easiest thing to correct in the game but you still must understand the flight of the ball and want to be first to the ball. I feel we are sometimes a bit naïve.”

The second goal that we conceded against Stoke was from open play and does anyone here think that it should have been conceded. If Wenger thinks that conceding such a goal is not a problem then I am afraid we are never going to improve. The numbers of goal doesn’t matter, the manner in which they are conceded matters. And what to say of the goals we have conceded on set pieces. Gibbs ducking at the last moment for the Stoke player to deflect the ball in for the first goal says it all. If Wenger is realizing that we have been naïve and need to correct our way of defending at the end of the season, then I am afraid we deserve where we are. Let’s hope, now that he has spotted the weakness, he corrects it for next season.   

Besides the reaction to the Stoke defeat, there has been lots of other news related to Arsenal but I haven’t had time to look at all of them. Mostly it has been speculations, possible transfers and what should be done to right the wrong. Many pundits have the same opinion that we need to buy to strengthen the squad. Yes! buying will help. We need players at certain positions and we need to let go of certain players who haven’t improved in the last three years. But with that we also need to address the attitude of the players. We have the talent, the players and we can beat any team if we want to. The problem is we don’t show up on plenty of occasions, which hurt the most, because we know that this team can perform. The Stoke game is the perfect example where we didn’t show up and there are countless others throughout the season. If we can’t change this, then I am afraid even buying players won’t help us much. Nonetheless, there is only one way to find out if we can improve by buying players and that is if we buy. And this is the only thing we haven’t done. So let’s hope that Wenger does buy quality for a change this summer

Also there were a couple of developments that I wanted to discuss. First was Samir Nasri’s agent comment regarding Nasri’s contract that went something like this:

“There is nothing going on with Juventus or Inter Milan. There are no problems with Arsenal, the opposite rather, as we are negotiating his contract extension.”

I hope this is the case because our first priority should be to improve and that can only be done by keeping our best players. Nasri was nothing short of phenomenal in the first half of the season and it will be a great loss if we don’t get him to sign the contract. That’s what I feel about Cesc Fabregas too. I know this hasn’t been his best season but he still has been one of our better players and we need to keep him at all cost. More on this when the time is right. Coming to Nasri, there was news on Arsenal.com where Wenger has said that he will do anything to keep him.  

“I will do anything possible to make him stay. We will do it at the end of the season.”

I personally feel that Nasri will stay and Wenger will do his best to keep him. However, it would have been so much better had the contract been signed in January. At least we would have avoided so many speculations. With no harm done as yet, we need to settle the contract as early as possible and before Nasri has a change of heart.

The other bit was about Bendtner who is looking forward to a talk with Wenger in the summer.

“I need to have a talk with him [Wenger] because I’m not satisfied with playing on the right wing, which I’ve done more or less all season long. I’m concentrating on getting our Champions League place and then we’ll do the evaluation at the end of the season. It’s certainly not the best thing for me but it’s not up to me and sometimes you have to adapt to what the manager says.”

I am not surprised here. Any one will be frustrated if he wasn’t playing in his favored position. If we want to keep him, Wenger needs to play him in the centre and not on the flanks. I don’t see it happening because of what Arsene has said recently:

“We are not specially buying on the flank. We have Walcott, we have Nasri, Arshavin and Bendtner.”

There you have it! Bendtner has been linked to a couple of clubs so it will be for the better if we let him go because here at Arsenal, Arsene will always play him on the flanks. At least it will create space for a winger and a new striker because right now Bendtner is occupying two places and not playing well at both positions (and sadly all is not his fault). The more thing that can be deduced from the above statement is that Arshavin, Nasri and Bendtner are all going to stay this summer. If this is the case, Wenger will be having a hard time in keeping Bendtner. 

Also Arsene Wenger had his usual pre-match press conference on Friday. The injury news ahead of the Aston Villa game looks positive. I am looking forward to Vermaelen’s return. Fabregas and Nasri may also be involved.

“We have lost Laurent Koscielny with a thigh strain from Sunday against Stoke. It opens the door for Vermaelen. I have not completely decided yet but there is a probability he will start. We have question marks against Fabregas and Nasri. They will be late decisions. During the week we lost Tomas Rosicky with a thigh strain. Diaby will be out but I believe that Clichy will be back.”

Apart from this, Wenger also said that he will look to strengthen the squad in every position.

“It is down to availability and quality. We don’t rule out any position and we don’t target any special position before the transfer market. We look to strengthen every year of course. But first we look not to weaken because we want to keep all our players, and then we try to strengthen. It’s not about the number [of players], it’s the quality. I don’t want to give out a number [we’ll go for]. I promise you that if we sign a player we will inform you and when we sell a player we will inform you as well. I would like to keep out of all the other speculation before that.”

I know it sounds more like ‘I won’t be buying’ but let’s hope this isn’t the case and we do get the players we need.

Tomorrow we play against Aston Villa.  Where we want to finish this season depends on how we play against them. We need at least four points from the last two games to finish above City and in third spot. Seeing the last three games, I don’t know what to expect from the team. Anything is possible. Maybe seeing Vermaelen return will put some extra energy into the players. And it won’t do any harm in finishing the season with a couple of wins.

The team that I expect to start is: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, RVP, Arshavin

I hope we get a good game to witness and we win. And as I was writing this, Man United have won the EPL title by drawing at Blackburn. Good for them and well done!!

That is all for now.


Bolton vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

April 24, 2011

Are we still in the title race? Mathematically, yes! But considering the way we have played and failed to bolster our position in the last few games, we shouldn’t even be talking about the title. The objective now should be to finish the season on a high by winning all our remaining games and see where it ends for us. For me, right now the best way to approach games is to forget about the title and the past few weeks, forget what Manu and Chelsea are doing, forget that we have won only one game in the last six and forget what the media is saying. Arsenal! Play like you have nothing to lose and hopefully the wins will come, starting from today against Bolton.

With the negativity surrounding Arsenal at the moment, it is hard to concentrate. I have kept myself busy and away from football after the Tottenham draw. Most likely, I won’t be able to even watch today’s game due to work (I will try though). The best way to reply to all the negativity and questions being raised is as I mentioned above, play like there is nothing to lose.

Bolton are playing at their home today. They were battered in the FA Cup semifinal but it doesn’t justify the way they have played this season. Sitting at eighth position in the table they will offer more than a good resistance. They will play their game and won’t hesitate to attack. They can be physical too. It will be a difficult game but I believe we have enough quality to get the three points.

I don’t have much to say on our game. The problem in the last few games has been two fold. First of all we don’t seem to find goals but if we do, we concede the same amount in the process as well. How do you get over such a problem? By buying? By selling? By sacking the manager? No! This doesn’t mean we don’t need to buy in the summers. There are some players that need to be offloaded and we do need a few reinforcements. However, buying or selling won’t be the solution to the problem. We can only solve our problem by doing the basics of football right, which we seem to have forgotten lately. Keep things simple, keep the focus for the full 90 minutes and not switch off like we did against Tottenham and we will win games.

As far as the team is concerned, it will be straight forward to pick.

Except Diaby there are no injury concerns. To replace him Wilshere will come back into the middle alongside Song and Fabregas.

As far as the defense and forward line is concerned, it is going to remain the same as it was against Spurs.

Probable starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Wilshere, Nasri, RVP, Walcott

To conclude, Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference comments regarding summer spendings have come under lots of scrutiny already. I will discuss that more in detail in later posts. However, I would like Wenger to stop explaining the world the mental strength of our team every time he talks to the media. It is doing us no good! Only performance on the field is going to help us.

That is all. Enjoy the game and have a good day!!


Tottenham vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

April 20, 2011

Manchester United has given us another lifeline after their stalemate against Newcastle. With us drawing against Liverpool on Sunday, it looked as if it was all over for us. However, the title race is back on and we have a slight hope. Even so, our hopes will be over soon if we fail to get the three points against the Spuds tonight. Even our top four spot will be in jeopardy if we fail to win the game.

After the Liverpool match, I said that it was very unlikely that Manchester will draw two games then lose to us before we take the title ourselves, by winning rest of our games. After last night, Manu have drawn one game and hopefully there will be more. The question still remains; will we win the rest our matches? (we will find out tonight) Man United have given us countless opportunities by slipping up on many occasions. Only that we haven’t been able to capitalize on them. We again have a chance now and I hope the team gives it their all tonight against Tottenham.

Coming to the game, Tottenham are playing at home and they will approach the game as if it is a Champions League final, they wouldn’t know the feeling though, what it is to be a in a CL final. Nonetheless, they will do their all to take the three points and they surely have a few players that can make things difficult for us. Their approach will be straight forward, deliver in as many crosses as they can and hope for Crouch to head in. With RVD Vaart and Modric they can also mix things up. So our backline will have to be alert and on their toes at all times. We have already made too many mistakes and it is time now that we deliver.

As for us, we will need to play our game and never slack-off, even for a second and even if we are winning by two goals. Chances will come to us and we will need to capitalize on them. Their keeper is prone to mistakes but at times he produces excellent saves and I don’t want their keeper to be the man of the match.

Upfront, the combination of Fabregas, Walcott and Van Persie will be the key. In the middle, Song and Diaby will have to play a massive game. We can’t afford to make any mistakes today and we can’t afford any more slip ups. And please Arsenal! don’t make things complicated. Keep possession, keep it simple and shoot whenever the opportunity arise and we will get the three points.

As for the starting lineup, Sagna will join the backline in place of Eboue as he has recovered form his injury. The rest of the defense will remain the same as it was against Liverpool.

Alex Song has also fully recovered from his injury, so I expect him to start alongside Fabregas and I will also keep Diaby for his strength and height. Wilshere for me will be on bench because he has already played a lot and Wenger hinted of rotation.

Up front. the trio will remain the same as it was against Liverpool. However, I won’t be surprised to see Arshavin in place of either Nasri or Walcott. Nasri is going through a quiet patch but considering how he played in the reverse fixture at the Emirates, I will start with him.

Probable starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Diaby, Walcott, RVP, Nasri

Similar to the Liverpool game, it is difficult to predict what the outcome of the game will be. We haven’t scored many goals in the last few games and we have been quite ordinary in the final third. Still, away from home, we have delivered. And considering Spurs, there will be goals today. Hopefully, we will score more and get the three points. Come on Arsenal!!

Have a nice day Gooners and enjoy the game while keeping your fingers crossed. Tonight, we will resurrect our title chances!!


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!!


Arsene Wenger on Djourou and Szczesny’s start against Liverpool and Vermaelen’s return

April 15, 2011

Arsenal will face Liverpool on Sunday, where a win will take them to within four points of Manchester United. Arsene Wenger on Thursday gave the latest injury news ahead of the match.

While speaking to Arsenal TV Online, Arsene Wenger informed that there are no new injuries but there is a doubt on Sagna’s availability, who hasn’t yet recovered from his injury.

Meanwhile Djourou, Szczesny, Denilson and Song all have a chance to be available on Sunday. Wenger added that Djourou and Szczesny’s inclusion will be decided after how they perform in the training session because they have question marks on their fitness. 

The manager also gave good news on Vermaelen’s return as he confirmed that he has joined training. He added that we will need to show patience with Vermaelen as he has just joined the team and isn’t match fit yet.

On Thursday, Arsene Wenger said:

“We have no [new injuries] but we have a big doubt on Sagna. Djourou and Wojciech are question marks. Will they be fit? That all has still to be decided. We have two more days to find out. It could be a possibility that they could be available.

It’s difficult to say [what their chances are]. We have a test today [Thursday], we have a big test to see how they survive the training session. That will be very important. Denilson and Song have a chance to be available as well.

I am not reluctant [to use Vermaelen] but he is not match fit yet. He just joined the team this week so we have to be a bit patient with him.”


Player Ratings: Blackpool 1 – 3 Arsenal

April 10, 2011

That was one good win even if it wasn’t convincing at times. We put ourselves in a spot of bother on more than a few occasions but overall it was a win we deserved and what we needed after so many draws.

To start off with, it was good to see Lehmann in goal and it seems that he is ready after all. He didn’t have much to do in the first half but made one massive save in the second half that helped us stay in the game. To be honest, I was happy that Blackpool scored the goal or else Lehmann would have been shown a red and we would have been down to 10 with no keeper to replace him.

We did score three goals but we should have had at least 8 if not more. I am not being negative but we need to change our habit of taking 5 chances to score one goal, we will need this against Manchester.

At the back too we need to improve our positioning or else we will be having difficult times in the coming games. The way Blackpool got through on a few occasions was alarming and resulted in some nervous moments for us.

Despite all that I am relieved that we got the win and as I said in my preview, hopefully this will prove to be a catalyst for us and we will go on a winning streak from now till the end. At the moment we are still unbeaten in 2011 in the league, so that is saying something.

I would also like to point out that we were lucky today with a couple of decisions that should/could have been penalties. Where I stand, I would say that after plenty of decisions going against us throughout the season; it is a nice change that we got some going our way. But that doesn’t take away the fact that Blackpool had at least one clear penalty not given. Blackpool has been at the end of many wrong decisions going against them this season and imagine what their fans will be feeling right now. Most likely similar to what we were feeling with wrong decisions going against us. And as I said in my preview, I hope they are not relegated.

As for Diaby’s yellow, that was deserved and it will be good if someone tells him to show some common sense when we are winning. He needs to be reminded about the Newcastle draw if he has forgotten it.

Coming to player ratings:

Lehmann (7.5):  An overall good game from Lehmann. His decision making was awesome and made one massive save as mentioned before. It was good to see that he was communicating with the defenders.

Eboue (7): Offers us more while going forward but at the back he is still lacking discipline. Scored a very well taken goal after a good one two with Wilshere and always provided good width on the flanks.  He needs to improve his positioning at the back and his decision making though.

Squillaci (7): Played one of his better games today. Looked composed and made some good tackles especially in the 76th minute which then led to our third and vital goal. He needs to continue with such performances.

Koscielny (6): We were lucky today that some of his clumsy challenges didn’t result in penalties against us. Besides that, he did well.

Clichy (5.5): Clichy did leave his side exposed a lot today but dealt with the dangers nicely. He provided good support upfront too. However, as always, he made one stupid error which could have resulted in a goal. Thanks to Lehmann, we weren’t punished for it. Was also partially at fault for the first goal.

Diaby (7): Opened up our account after he finished a good move involving Fabregas and Van Persie and which was started by him. Initially he failed to make his presence felt but improved as the game went on. As for his booking, stupidity is the word that comes to my mind. Diaby needs to be reminded what happened the last time he acted like that.

Wilshere (6): Good work rate from the young man. Was all over the pitch and combined well with Fabregas. Tried his luck with a good chip that was saved by the keeper. Did get an assist for the second goal.

Fabregas (7): It was good to see him back today with his delightful passing. His vision is just out of this world and the way he coolly executed the passes was awesome. Should have had 4 assist to his name today had our forwards been clinical. And still he is a long way from his best.

Arshavin (5): Was anonymous for the entire time he was on the field. Nothing went for him today but we all know he can produce something out of nothing. Hopefully, next time.

Van Persie (7.5): Was good to see him finally getting on the score sheet after he possibly missed three open chances. Got an assist on the first goal too.  My only gripe, he needs to be more clinical, despite his 12 goals this year.  

Nasri (6): I was disappointed that he didn’t score today. Otherwise, he had a normal game.

Subs:

Walcott (6.5): Brought pace to our attack and made a good run to assist for the third and vital goal that secured the win for us.

Ramsey and Gibbs had very little time to make an impact. No ratings for them.