Tuesday, 15 April 2014

West Ham (H)

A very, tired and drained Arsenal team take on a West Ham side with 9 full days rest who realistically only need 3 more points to absolutely secure their safety. Many of our players will face late fitness tests which makes the team line up almost impossible to predict. We have many doubts from muscle problems and fatigue and after players put in the full shift at the weekend it's hardly surprising. We my see Kim Kallstrom make his first start and all of a sudden that ridiculous signing looks like it could be very important after all.

West Ham have a doubt over Kevin Nolan tonight but that aside they have very few problems and the issue tonight will be dealing with Carroll especially if Mertesacker is rested tonight or is a doubt. We have to deal with the long balls lumped forward and Per has been instrumental in doing that this season. It is going to be a long and difficult night and as the game wears on the tiredness will begin to show. While it's true to say that players on this much should be able to cope with the strains of being an athlete, that's just not the case tonight. One team played 3 days ago and one played 9 days ago.

I firmly believe that tonight we need to do the damage early whilst the legs are fresh. If we hit the 75-80 minute mark and we're leading then although the last portion of the game will be nervy with any luck we'll grind out a result. If we hit that point even or worse then West Ham will feel they can do the job. That's what comes of playing a lot of football.

When you look at our position in the league you can't help but think if we're to make Champions League football then we need to win our 5 remaining games. It's out of our hands but with Everton facing tough matches against City and United we may be given a chance and that's why games like tonights are vital to our final push. All of our remaining games are very winnable but at the moment we lack momentum and we desperately need a win to get that belief back.

Finally, 25 years ago today, 96 fans went to a football match and never came home. It could have been any club and any fans. Whatever you're opinion of the Justice campaign it's important to remember those who died watching the team they loved. RIP.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Wigan Review

I originally planned to roll this and the West Ham preview into one long-ish blog but decided there was too much to say so it'll instead be two shorter ones in quick succession. So after 120 minutes of football and around 5 minutes of agonising penalties we made it to the FA Cup final. There are plenty of positives and negatives to take from the day. So we'll start with the negatives.

The game itself was one of the most torrid games of football I've ever seen. I said to my friend beforehand that both sides play open, attacking football so it should be a good game. How wrong I was. The game was lethargic, boring and there were few chances throughout the match. We were content to play sideways and backwards and pretty much any way but forwards. Wigan were content to hold and then try to counter. There was no drive to our game whatsoever, it was difficult to see where our breakthrough would come from.

We bizarrely started Yaya Sanogo who showed just why he hasn't opened his Arsenal account yet. To ask a man of 21 to lead the line for Arsenal in an FA Cup Semi-final personally is naive. When he missed the chance after going through one on one the fans were turning quickly inside the national stadium. Now this isn't me being critical about the young lad, his desire was first class, he chased absolutely everything even when it was clearly a lost cause but he's just too raw at the moment. If he's have scored that header that was fantastically saved by Scott Carson then it could have been a different story.

The first half drew to a dull, drawn out close and no matter how many £5 pints of watered down budweiser I could have drunk it wouldn't have improved my mood. The second half picked up much where the first left off. After 60 odd minutes Monreal went down under a challenge and Wigan broke through, Mertesacker slid in late and it was the clearest penalty you've ever seen. Gomez stepped up and hammered it home. At this point myself and everyone around me were fearing the worst. The guy infront of me quite rightly said now is when we need to get behind the team and the fans rallied.

Wenger took off Podolski to a chorus of boos mainly because it wasn't Sanogo being taken off and we reverted to a 4-4-2. Gibbs was brought on and made and instant impact, we looked a lot better with more pace and drive. We then hit the post and I thought that was our chance but the Wigan goal was living a charmed life. Moments later Gibbs thought he'd brought us level only to see his effort cleared off the line. From the resulting corner there was a sliced clearance that fell to Sanogo who controlled well and laid it off to the OX. He hit his shot into the ground and it was heading out of play when Per Mertesacker appeared to nod home cuing utter delirium in the Arsenal sections. I don't think I've ever celebrated a goal like that before in my life. 

As the game rolled on we were in the ascendancy with the OX crashing a shot of the angle. But it was almost destined to head to penalties. Extra time came and went and then it was destined. I don't buy all this penalties are a lottery crap. They are a test of skill and most importantly a test of nerve. I was far from confident that we'd do what we needed too although our record in shoot outs recently is surprisingly good. 

Wigan went first and Fabianski saved well. Arteta stepped up and with nerves of steel scored as he does so often from 12 yards. Collison stepped up and again Fabianksi saved well. Kim Kallstrom stepped up and I was confident knowing his record from dead-balls, I read somewhere that he's never missed a penalty but I can't confirm that. He power his side footed effort into the corner. Wigan then finally got off the mark and Giroud stepped up. Again sent Carson the wrong way and now there was real belief we'd do it. Wigan then scored again.

As I watched Santi Cazorla make the long walk down the pitch, my row in the heavens of Wembley locked arm in arm like the players on the pitch, I had a feeling he'd do it despite my nerves being shredded. The little Spaniard took a long run up that seemed to last a lifetime and then blasted his penalty straight down the middle, sparking more wild scenes inside Wembley. 

I read afterwards that Roy Keane said it was ridiculous celebrating like for beating Wigan. Which a preposterous statement from a bitter man who still feels the shootout of 2005 cut deep and long may he hurt from it I say. It was the celebrations of a team going to the FA Cup final and nobody remembers how you got there if your name is on the trophy come the end of it.

So far from classic Arsenal but we got the job done. I just want to say that we need to enjoy the moment until we take on West Ham tomorrow otherwise what's the point. Also I'd like to say the support on Saturday was absolutely tremendous from our fans, we outnumbered the Wigan fans by something like 4 to 1 and we really made it count. Talking of the Wigan fans I'd like to say they were all fantastic people having met many throughout the day and shared a drink with a number of them, great fans and it was all in the spirit of the day, I wish them all the best for the rest of the season.

Right back tomorrow for what is gonna be a slog of a match.   

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Wigan (N)

The league is well and truly out of our hands now, after our humiliating defeat to Everton we now rely on results from others AGAIN to get into the Champions League. Should Everton win their game in hand which lets face it against Sunderland they will, we will be 2 points behind them in the race for the top four.

Our attentions now turn to our best chance of a trophy this year when we take on Wigan at Wembley on Saturday. This is a huge game and for a team that hasn't won in 4 games, we really need to turn up and put on a show. There is no doubt that we have enough to beat Wigan but this is the FA Cup and we have our own Wembley demons to deal with. The new Wembley hasn't been a happy hunting ground for us at all, in fact I don't know if we've even won there yet. Wigan travel under no pressure knowing that all the eyes are on us.

Team news ahead of the game is less than encouraging with the OX, Gibbs and Rosicky all facing late tests ahead of the game. Aaron Ramsey however is fit to start and I have a feeling he will be in such a game. Wenger also confirmed that Fabianski will start ahead of SZCZ as he has throughout the competition. News amongst others is that Koscielny has a chance against West Ham on Tuesday and Ozil a chance against Hull on the 19th. 

I haven't seen much of Wigan this season but I know that they're playing well in the Championship despite defeat to struggling Millwall the other night. They still play their own brand of football and if we're not completely focused they'll punish us. I still worry about our defence with Vermaelen and Monreal playing together, the Spaniard has his moments but he's certainly much less eratic with Kos on the right of him. 

Aside from Birmingham three years ago this is our best chance of winning a trophy since the infamous drought. If we can shake this monkey off our back it will be a giant step to truly competing again. It'll be a hard game but at this stage that's to be expected at this stage in the season. I'll see you all on the other side on Monday. COYG! 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Everton (A)

It's hard to think that a month ago we were well and truly in the title race and now today we find ourselves playing a game which is crucial to obtaining a Champions League place. Everton have been in top form recently and we well, we haven't. A loss today and it's totally out of our hands. A win and we control our fate, just. Goodison Park has not been a happy hunting ground for teams this season and Everton's record there is very good.

There is no doubt we'll need to on top form to get anything from the game and we've been given a small boost ahead of our trip. Aaron Ramsey has been declared fit to play although I doubt we'll see him start it will certainly lift the team. Monreal is back and will probably fill in at left back as Gibbs is a doubt. Koscielny is out so I would assume Vermaelen will slot in alongside Mertesacker. In the midfield Wenger has options and no doubt Podolski will be hoping to start, although with the Ox also in contention Cazorla could be pushed out to the left.

Everton have far fewer injuries than me, but Ross Barley looks set to recover from a knock. Jagielka on the other hand looks set to miss out today, meaning Stones could step in. They have a plethora of players to pick from up top with Mirallas, McGeady, Deulofeu etc. Their main striker of course will be Lukaku who's on form at the moment. Containing them will be difficult and the defence will have to be sharp today if we're to get anything from the game.

Some will point to the fact Everton have some tough games remaining but I'm still concerned that we could blow it today. If we get a result it's still within our hands although a draw assuming Everton win their game in hand will leave them just one point behind us. This is the last game in the so called deathrun but it's getting to that silly stage of the season and every point counts.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens today.

Monday, 31 March 2014

City Review

Again apologies for missing the City game this time but I just never got around to drafting something up. Overall I think we showed some resilience and picked up what could be a vital point come the end of the season especially with Everton breathing down our necks. 

I'm not going to lie going into the game I didn't expect much from us in fact I expected the worse and after 18 minutes, I expected it even more. The match started lively and actually would have been a good game for a neutral to watch, both teams were attacking but when Silva broke with City the deadlock was soon broken. The tricky Spaniard looked to shoot but instead squared it to Dzeko who hit the near post but much like at Old Trafford the rebound fell to Silva who put it away. Lucky? Maybe, but when your charging to the title you need luck and Silva had the instinct to follow it in.

The half went on in a tit-for-tat kind of way with both sides creating the odd chance. Mathieu Flamini put the ball in the City net but it was rightly ruled out for offside. The half drew to a close but there was some optimism around the Emirates for the second half and for good reason, the second half started and Arsenal immediately looked better. 

There was more urgency and more drive to Arsenals game as they began to pull the City defence across the field. Then 7 minutes in, we struck. Displaying the patient play on the edge of the box that we so often do, found Podolski on the left hand side of the box. The German looked up and curled the ball towards an onrushing Flamini who guided it past Hart. It was a big goal and you could really see what it meant to the Frenchman who as proved to be a phenomenal piece of business from Wenger.

The rest of the game was all Arsenal and moment later we probably should have been 2-0 up. Some clever interplay with Cazorla found Podolski again but this time inside the box on the left with Hart to beat. I thought almost certainly he would fizz it across the face of the goal and into the far corner, but instead he tried to put it between Harts legs but the England keeper got the lucky with the ball brushing off his heel and wide.

That was really the best chance we fashioned for the rest of the game but credit to Wenger, I expected him to throw on some more defensive players as the game progressed but he went for it bringing on Alex OC and Sanogo but it just wasn't to be. After a bad week a big point against Man City was much needed ahead of our final game of the dreaded run we've had to endure.

The game next weekend is without a doubt the biggest of the season. We sit 4 points ahead of Everton who have a game in hand. Assuming they win that, there's a point in it meaning that we have to go to Goodison and get a result. A draw isn't ideal but a loss is catastrophic. If we lose it's out of our hands and we rely on other teams at this silly stage of the season to save us.

I'd just like to take a moment to remember that 13 years ago today, Arsenal lost David "Rocky" Rocastle to non-hodgkins lymphoma at the age of just 33. For those who saw him play, many will never forget his unusual combination of flair and power. For those who didn't he lives on through the stories passed down from fan to fan. RIP Rocky.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Chelsea and Swansea Aftermath

I don't really know where to start this following the humiliation of the weekend. The result was one of the most painful I've endured as a fan, worse than the 8-2 at OT, worse than the 6-1 at the same ground. It's been a season where we've competed and where there's been a sense of progress at last, but have we really made that much progress when we lose 6-0, 5-1 and 6-3 away to our closest rivals? The fact that there appears to be this mental block in the big games is a huge concern, especially leading into the FA Cup semi-final. Ultimately the lack of desire and mental preparation rests with the manager.

This was followed by heart-break on Tuesday night when after going 1-0 down at home to Swansea, we showed that fight and determination that everyone has spoken about this season to score 2 goals in 2 minutes via Podolski and Giroud. Then moments from time an unfortunate deflection and block hit Flamini in the shins and ended up in our own net. It pretty much sums up this week and we are now looking very precarious in 4th.

Everton are 6 points behind us, with a game in hand and we have to visit Goodison Park this season. Assuming we lose to City this weekend which based on recent results is pretty much a given, they're 3 behind with a game in hand and we have to play them in 2 weeks. That will be a 6 pointer if ever there was one. It is so typically Arsenal to have been in the title race not 2 weeks ago and now we're looking over our shoulder worrying about our position in the top 4.

There was one shining light on Tuesday however and that was the fact that Kim Kallstrom made his debut and actually looked like a fairly solid player. Everyone and their wife ripped him upon arrival but if he's going to contribute to the team in the end then nobody will be complaining.

Well I'll be back on Friday with some team news and the build up to a game that quite frankly I really don't want to think about at the moment. Try to enjoy the rest of the week. COYG!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Tottenham (A)

Well I can't say I'm surprised that we're out of the Champions League. We had it all to do and when that ugly German Schweinsteiger scored in the 54th minute the tie was all but over. Podolski scored a quite superb goal moments later to make the scoreline respectable on the night but it was just too much. Ah well onward and upwards as they say. 

Tomorrow is the game that all die hard fans and away scheme members look for when the fixtures are released. A game that can quite literally change a season. The North London derby is our match, our chance to get one over on our nearest neighbours. But more than that a win tomorrow could kick us on into the final few stages of the season. If we win tomorrow we'll be 9 points clear of 5th placed Tottenham incidentally with a game in hand, meaning if all goes well when the fixtures level out we could have a 12 point lead over 5th. Not completely sewn up but so close.

Along with that we're entering our dreaded run where we play Spurs, Chelsea, Swansea (due to cup success), City and Everton between now and April 6th. In these games every win is vital and every point dropped could be the difference. I'd like to say this is a good time to play Tottenham in their current run but in a derby they'll be right up for it to turn it around. They have problems at the back and a few other players who could miss out, but we're hardly at full strength with the news revealed that Ramsey has suffered yet another set back and Ozil is out for up to 6 weeks.

In terms of our team Oxlade-Chamberlain is in contention with starting and with the way he's played recently I really think it's a no brainer. He adds pace and drive to the team which tomorrow could do some serious damage. Cazorla should start and then in the middle we have decisions. I think le boss will go with Rosicky due to experience and he does like a goal against Tottenham. That said he could change things around to include Podolski who I'm sure has a big role to play yet this season. Gibbs is however a doubt which means we could play Monreal there. Kallstrom is fit but I doubt this is an apt time for his debut.

This is a huge game as not only is it a derby but it has connotations for the league too as I mentioned up there. A big performance today and we'll be as prepared as we can for a difficult run. A loss and we'll be hammered in the media and questions will be asked. Let's hope for the former. COYG!