Arsenal vs Blackburn: Preview and Starting Eleven

April 2, 2011

The last two weeks have been really boring to say the least and I am really looking forward to the games this weekend. The international break might have been too long for my liking but it did came at the right time for our team and I really hope that it will have given them a much needed breather from the League and time to move on from the disastrous three weeks of football we witnessed before the break.

From now onwards it is as straight forward as it can get. Perform and win each game and therefore lift the trophy come May or else prepare for the worst. And there can be no more excuses regardless of the fact that we have no keeper and no centre backs to rely upon. We have everything in our control and it is up to us to seize the initiative which we have failed to do throughout the season. We have been given countless opportunities and we have failed on all occasions. Thankfully we are still in it and things are still in our hands.  Hopefully we won’t make the same errors because a mistake now will be too costly and unrecoverable from.

We play the first of our last nine games today and it is at home against Blackburn. Before the United game at home we have 5 games to play of which two are at home and three away, including games against Liverpool and Tottenham. If we can go on a winning streak till the Manu game, the momentum will be with us and hopefully we will go on unbeaten (wins) till the end of the season. I don’t want to think about what will happen if we lose or draw even one of these games.

Today’s game won’t be easy at all because Blackburn are only a point from the relegation zone and they will do everything in their power to get points. It will be up to us to step up our game and play the full ninety minutes with passion and intelligence to get the win.  Goals will matter and if we keep the ball and produce some good scoring opportunities, they will come. The defense and midfield will have to do their part and keep Blackburn at bay. As long as we keep it simple, the three points will be ours.

As far as today’s starting lineup is concerned, the whole team picks it up itself as we have many regulars returning from injury. Fabregas, Song and Walcott are back in the squad and it would be foolish to not start with them if they are hundred percent. The thing of concern is the defense and goal keeper. I am desperately hoping that there are no howlers today because as long as we don’t concede we will not lose the match and I believe that upfront we will find the goals with the likes of van Persie, Nasri and Walcott.

Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Almunia is in goal. At the back, Squillaci and Koscielny will start and they will be flanked by Clichy and Sagna for there are no better options than them.

In the middle of the park, with Song and Fabregas returning, they will surely start alongside Wilshere, who has been superb during the internationals.

Upfront too the players pick themselves up. Van Persie has been declared fit to start. Nasri will be there on the left and with Walcott also back, he will be on the right.

Probable Starting lineup: Almunia, Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Wilshere, Walcott, RVP, Nasri

Before I end this, I want to add that Manu are playing before us and by the time we start the game, their result will be known to us. As I said before with things being  in our hands, any result for Manu shouldn’t be of any concern to us because we know our job is crystal clear, which is to win every game from now onwards till the end. Manu dropping points will be an added advantage, no doubt, but we cannot rely on their results for long. So hopefully when the game starts today, the team will be focused on their task.  

And as fans, all we can do is get behind the team and give them the lift needed to perform. 

That is all for now. Have a good day and enjoy the match. Today we will find out if we are ready to take the initiative. Fingers crossed!!

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[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.


Player Ratings: Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham City

February 28, 2011

I won’t go into how the game played out or what we should have done or where it went wrong. It was just one of those days where we sadly didn’t take the initiative and suffered. Bad luck for us as it came in a final where we had a chance to end our six years wait for a trophy.

I will say one thing though that most of our players did felt the pressure of playing in the final and also playing under pressure of a lot of fans expectations. Although, it should never have been the case but they will have learnt a vital lesson. I just hope we bounce back from this.

Coming to player ratings:

Szczesny (5): Made one excellent save and did well on most occasions. However, one wrong decision and one mix-up, not entirely his fault though, and two goals. Not what I was expecting from him. Experience does matter and this will be a great lesson for the youngster.

Sagna (5): Defensively wasn’t that commanding. Provided good support upfront as he delivered in a couple of good crosses.

Djourou (4): I think he felt the pressure of the final the most. Made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes. Missed a few headers, misplaced a few passes, lost his man on the first goal. Need I say more? Also wasn’t expecting a performance like this from him.

Koscielny (5): He was much better than Djourou. He was solid on most occasion and made a lot of important interceptions but then went on to make a mistake he will never forget. What on earth was he thinking, I will never know and I will leave it at that.

Clichy (5.5): Did well on most occasions on the left side. Was good in the one-on-ones. Didn’t provide much support upfront.

Song (4): I guess he is tired after all. Wasn’t up to his best as he misplaced a lot of passes and never looked at ease in the middle.

Wilshere (7): One of our best players. He was great in the middle, gave his heart out. We needed more like him yesterday.

Rosicky (3): I don’t want to point fingers at any one but I feel he was the weak link for us. Was way too casual as if he was sure we will win. Misplaced a lot of passes in the first half as he failed to make an impact. Improved his game in the second but still not enough. He should have won it for us if he had been simple and not gone for a deft back heel near the end.

Nasri (7): He too was great out there. Took some time but he also gave his heart out. Made excellent runs, showed good close control, had shots on target. I guess it just wasn’t our day as there were very few playing like him.

Van Persie (7): Scored an excellent goal. But I guess luck always desert us in such time. Should never have gotten injured and should never have been substituted.  

Arshavin (6.5): Excellent assist for the goal and was one of the better players in the first half. Went missing in the second half as he was substituted.

Subs:

Bendtner (6) had a couple of good moments but still lacks that extra quality Van Persie has. Chamakh (6) defensively provided good support. Upfront produced a good chance for Bendtner and Rosicky but both of them failed to utilize.


Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham: Heartbroken! Yes, but we have to move on!!

February 27, 2011

We could have lost any other way but not like that, just not like that. I don’t know what to write or what I feel after what just happened. We had the game in control. That kick from Foster was going nowhere. How did the ball end up in the net, I just don’t want to know or want to think about what happened in those few seconds, I just want to forget it. I am heartbroken and I feel like I have been crushed just like every Gooner but we have to move on from here and get behind the team.

But the question is where do we go from here? Will it be the end of our season or will we be hungrier for success? What will the effect be on the players? We will know the answers to these questions in the next three games for sure. We can only hope the team doesn’t crumble after this.

What ever happened out there, well done to lads for the performance and let’s just hope for the best. There is still a lot to play for and this is not the end of the world…….

Will come up with the player ratings tomorrow.


Arsenal vs Birmingham City: Preview and Starting Eleven

February 27, 2011

So, the day that we all have been waiting for has finally arrived, the day which hopefully will be the start of a new era, the day which hopefully will be start of many great things to come and the day where we will hopefully end our almost six years wait for a trophy.

I know, it sounds all dramatic but still you cannot deny the importance of today’s game. It won’t be wrong in saying that this game will define the rest of our season. Everyone including the players are pumped up for this. We have done all the hard work and today is the day to get the reward for it. This is the final hurdle in this competition that we have to cross and hopefully all our hard work will bear fruit in the shape of a trophy and more will follow when this season comes to an end. 

On paper this looks like a game that we will win easily and hopefully we will after what we did to them in the New Year. However, it is a Cup final and Birmingham surely won’t go down without a fight. They themselves will be looking for a trophy of their own and you can expect a very tight game and a match that will go till the very end.

Birmingham’s tactics will be clear. They will hold their lines and try to frustrate us as they know they can’t win by playing football against us. They will rely much on set pieces and counters. They have players that can play dirty and we will have to be wary of them.

As for us, we will have to start with a high tempo and look for an early goal or two. If we play the way we approached the game against them in January, this game will be easy. Possession again will be the key as we will have to remain focused and resilient through the 90 minutes. Our team will have to defend well because a goal for them is going to increase their confidence.

As for the starting eleven, Wenger will need to select the best possible options because today there is no room for mistakes.   

The backline and the keeper for me all pick themselves up.

It however becomes tricky in the middle. Will Diaby be a wise enough choice to start with? Who will play the Fabregas role? I have been thinking about two line ups. One consists of Wilshere in the play making role with Song and Diaby, if he is 100 percent fit, behind him. The second option is to play Nasri in the Fabregas role and with Song and Wilshere in support. Wilshere and Song are the key to our midfield today and we will need both of them to play their best games. I prefer to start with Song, Diaby and Wilshere in the middle.

Nasri to start on the right and Arshavin on the left with Van Persie to lead the attack and also the team.

If, however, Nasri starts in the Fabregas role; I will then bring in Rosicky on the right. Many will prefer Bendtner due to his performance against Stoke but I have my doubts about him on the flanks. He plays better in the lone striker role.

So my starting XI would be: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Diaby, Nasri, Van Persie, Arshavin

And please Arsene just don’t start with Denilson and Almunia.

I won’t make any predictions for a fear of jinxing it.  A win by any means is necessary today because anything but a win today is going to be critical for us. I just don’t want to think about anything else.

My everything is telling me that we will win this for sure so I have everything crossed for this one. Do so yourself and have a great day and hopefully we will all have a night to remember. Go Arsenal, we are all behind you!!

p.s. I hope the referee doesn’t spoil the game with incompetent or biased refereeing. With Mike Dean you can expect the worst.


Arsene Wenger’s injury update on the squad including Fabregas, Van Persie, Walcott and Koscielny

February 25, 2011

Arsenal are going to be without Cesc Fabregas in the Carling Cup Final against Birmingham City  this Sunday.

Speaking to Arsenal TV online on Thursday, the manager confirmed the bad news by saying how it is a very small injury through which he will miss the game. On a question for his return, Arsene added that it is impossible to give a deadline for his return even after Sunday’s game .

Fabregas was withdrawn early on in the game against Stoke on Wednesday due to a hamstring concern.

The manger continued by saying how Fabregas is disappointed for being side lined from the final and added that the best way to help him  now is to win the Carling Cup for him for his contributions to the team in this competition.

Fabregas joins Theo Walcott on the list of players who will miss the final as Walcott was ruled out after the game against Stoke for his ankle injury.

The manager gave an update on his injury by saying how he has a classic ankle sprain which is going to rule him out for at least two weeks.  

Arsene Wenger also gave good news in the shape of Koscielny, Van Persie and Diaby’s return to the squad after recovering from their respective injuries as the manager added that everybody else form the Stoke game are alright.

On Fabregas, Walcott and the recovering players, Arsene Wenger said:

“It is a very small injury but certainly Cesc will be out for Sunday. For how long [beyond that] I don’t know but for Sunday he will be short. It is very difficult to give a deadline. It is impossible.

He is [disappointed]. We all feel sorry and sad for him. The only way we help him now is to win the Carling Cup as he contributed a lot in this competition.

I saw him [Theo Walcott] this morning. He has a classic ankle sprain. We don’t think there is any more damage to it. But it is still a sprain. We are sad for him too. He is out for Sunday and maybe one or two more weeks.

[Van Persie, Koscielny, Diaby] All the three will be available. That’s the good news. And everybody else is all right from the Stoke game too.”


Leyton Orient vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

February 20, 2011

After the remarkable win against Barcelona, it’s time now to move on to another contest that awaits us. I know most of us, inclding the players, will still have their thoughts on the Barcelona win, but if we are to continue with our impressive form, we need to put aside our win against Barcelona for the moment and deliver today against Leyton Orient in the best possible manner.

Arsene Wenger, in his pre-match conference, said that we need to show commitment levels against Leyton similar to those shown against Barcelona if we are to go the distance in the FA Cup and all other competitions we are in. In the coming 8 days, starting from today, we will be playing three games in three different competitions which is a chance to show everyone that we are ready and focussed. And a win in all three games is really going to ensure it.  

The bottom line is that we need to start with the right spirit and determination today and not take the opposition lightly.

For the starting eleven, Wenger has already said that he will rotate for this game, so hopefully those who start will get us a result.

In goal, I will keep Szczesny even though there is a strong possibility that Almunia will start this game. As for the centre backs, Squillaci for sure will start today and to partner him I will go with Djourou, if he is completely fit. Koscielny deserves a rest because I don’t remember the last time he wasn’t in the starting lineup. On the flanks, Clichy to be replaced by Gibbs and Eboue to keep his place.

In the middle of the park, Wilshere and Fabregas both need a day off. Rosicky and Denilson should come in for them. Song to keep his place for some added steel in the middle.

Upfront, Chamakh needs a start and he needs to deliver today after some not-so-good couple of months. Bendtner to start on the right and I will keep Nasri on the left, so that he can get some match fitness.

Probable starting XI: Szczesny, Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Gibbs, Song, Rosicky, Denilson, Bendtner, Chamakh, Nasri.

If you would remember the game against Wigan after the Chelsea win, we had started with a team similar to above and dropped points by drawing that game. I hope nothing like that happens today because, one, we need  to avoid a replay, and two, we need to show the world that we are focused for every competition and ready to face any type of opponent.

Leyton Orient will no doubt try to give us a hard time, and considering it’s their home, they will be pumped up with the crowd behind them. However, if we play to our strengths and play like we have done recently, this game will be over by the hour mark and us through to the next round.

So enjoy the game and have a great day. We draw ever closer to the final at Wembley with a couple of hurdles on the way that need to be cleared without any damage to us.

Keep them crossed!!