Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: Satisfactory

For the last couple of months really, I regarded our home game with Chelsea as likely to be the biggest, highest pressure game of our run-in this season and I think having lost the Wigan game last Monday I think that was a fair billing for it. However, much like Chelsea’s encounter with Tottenham a couple of weeks ago, the game never really hit the sort of intensity that you would associate with the occasion.

Certainly, Chelsea’s tactics played a part in the surprisingly turgid nature of the game, they seemed primarily concerned with not losing and looking at the league table I can’t see why they would take that approach. Their chance of finishing in the top four seems to diminish by the week in the league and to my mind they badly needed three points yesterday, yet they placed an awful lot of faith in their ability to catch us on the break, and even late in the game they didn’t waver from that approach. Maybe they’re gambling on winning the Champions League this season, and from the amount of changes in their lineup from the midweek match with Barcelona that seems a fair assertion. But whilst they’ve got every right to at least entertain the notion, being as they are 1-0 up on aggregate in the semi-final, it seems a big leap of faith for a team that still has to navigate the not inconsiderable challenges of Barcelona in the Nou Camp and then either a European Cup-starved (by their own standards) Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in their own stadium. 

Arsene Wenger noted the paradox after the match, saying

…it was a little bit of a strange game because before the game I thought it would be an open one – we had to win, they had to win. They decided to lock up the game and catch us on the break only, with two wide players who are quick, and Torres.

Certainly our inability to find a goal to win the game can partly be attributed to Chelsea’s tactics but the manager has also noted that we didn’t really seem to find top gear either. Last season against Chelsea at home was one of the most accomplished by an Arsenal side in recent times, we pressed hard and played at an incredible tempo and they just couldn’t live with it, this time around it seemed like inspiration was lacking a little bit. Chelsea presented a tough lock to pick and they did, to give the devil his due, defend well in the main. We seemed to lack the ideas to penetrate, perhaps missing the calm incisiveness of Arteta, especially since Tomas Rosicky appeared to be less than 100% after his reported illness in the week. 

A 0-0 draw isn’t the worst result for us, especially when coupled with QPR’s victory over Tottenham in the late kick-off, it keeps Chelsea at arm’s length and whilst Newcastle did win which means they’re three points behind us with a game in hand (though our goal difference is much superior), it does introduce the credible suggestion that they might usurp Chelsea and Tottenham for that last Champions League place and whilst I find Alan Pardew insufferable in the extreme, I would still find his success at the expense of two of our bitterest rivals most enjoyable.

For us, the knock-on effect of this result is that we still have three “finals” as it were in front of us. Stoke away next week is a massive test. I can understand if the week’s result against Wigan made us play a little nervously against Chelsea but the team needs to get that out of their head for that game. There is nothing those Cro-Magnon Mongoloid knuckle-draggers from Stoke would like better than to cause us a problem qualifying for the Champions League so you can bet that they’ll be right up for it next week, and we will have to be too. 

We’ve lost Theo Walcott with a hamstring injury, very likely for the rest of the season which may mean a chance for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to really stake his claim ahead of next season. That lad, as well as Ryo Miyaichi who has quietly had an excellent loan spell at Bolton, is surely destined to play a big part next season. His chance however, starts now. Indeed if he does well enough he might even be in contention for a place in the England Euro 2012 squad, something I couldn’t care less about but which I’m sure would delight The Ox.

So, not too much else to say really, a 0-0 draw that wasn’t great but not the end of the world either, and it’s on to another big game next week.

For now, that’ll be all from me. Take it easy and I’ll return soon.

Arsenal Vs Chelsea: The Crunch

Now, my very real worry about this blog is that such is the state of my hangover that I might end up simply typing “Oh god, my head, my head” over and over again. It was one of those unexpected nights out last night, always the best kind in my opinion and frankly I was in trouble early on. I’ve never done well with vodka ever since an unfortunate incident around my sixteenth birthday when I was drinking at a friend’s house and was so drunk that I didn’t notice when my mates made me a pot noodle made with vodka rather than water. Not even when I was eating the thing. The joke was on them in the end though as I ended up too drunk to move and vomited all over the guest room. Ah, to be young again.

Anyway, as you might surmise there was some vodka involved last night (one of my friends has a truly genius way of measuring spirits which involves pouring the vodka into a bottlecap over your glass, he gets far more in the glass than the cap but doesn’t stop pouring until the cap is full. Then he pours the cap in. Then he adds a second identical measure). And some beer. And some Jack Daniels, which was of course, delicious. What was not delicious is whatever the hideous takeaway was that I battered on the way home and which is now doing a conga line through my digestive system ensuring some full-service hangover this morning. 

However through this elephant-slaying hangover I can still clearly make out the significance of today’s match with Chelsea which frankly is as big as it gets. Arsenal have worked hard to get to where we are in the league, but this fight for Champions League qualification is one of fine margins and our loss to Wigan (our tenth league defeat of the season, and that you have to say is just not good enough) means that whereas we could have gone into this game knowing victory might have sewn up qualification for us, now we go in knowing that a win is what we really need to keep the wolves from the door.

Defeat today it has to be said, would have serious repercussions for us. Spurs and Newcastle would then have it in their own hands to overtake us. What sort of mood Spurs are going to be in after Chelsea wiped the floor with them at Wembley last weekend, I’m not sure but Newcastle are a team in form and will be facing Stoke at home, notoriously bad travellers this season and if we’ve slipped up then that’s going to be like the golden carrot dangled in front of them.

Victory for us today however, could all but end Chelsea’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League through their league position. They’ve still got that potential trump card of still being in the Champions League (though I still think that they’ll struggle to get through their second leg with Barcelona) which means winning it could get them in at the expense of the team that finishes fourth and that makes retaining third place even more vital. Plus, who wants to play that stupid qualifier in August?

It’s tough to know what to make of Chelsea today, will they be on top form, on a high from beating the nominated best team in the world? Will they be distracted and disrupted by changes to the team ahead of their second leg in the week? One of the biggest questions to me is whether Didier Drogba will play. What was evident watching the Barcelona game is that on his day he is still a top quality centre-forward. Much-maligned as he was for rolling around on the floor at the slightest provocation, Barcelona hated him all night long because he was constantly causing them trouble, not just in terms of his attacking prowess but his physical presence on the defensive as well was a huge bonus for Chelsea. We saw when they played against Spurs last week that he can still be formidable presence, and down the years we’ve struggled to deal with him over and over again.

These days of course, Drogba is getting toward the end of his career, and Chelsea will undoubtedly want him to face Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Tuesday. With that in mind, especially since he played the weekend and midweek this past week, I do wonder if he might not start today. It would be a bonus for us if he were to be benched because, and I realise these may be famous last words, in my opinion Fernando Torres is a much lesser threat. 

Arsene Wenger doesn’t expect Chelsea to repeat the tactics that they used against Barcelona. The manager says,

“They won’t play the same way on Saturday, even for Chelsea that was a one-day solution. Because when you play against Barcelona you know they will have 70 per cent of the ball. Chelsea will not have much choice to play differently [in the second leg] but they have a lot of experience in their side and they know how to be on the pitch.”

Any side that faces Barcelona knows that they have to make the most of the ball when they have it, and that Barcelona are going to be in charge for large periods of the match. I doubt Chelsea would be willing to cede so much possession to us, even with us the home team and considering that we’ve beaten Chelsea well in the last couple of meetings. I think they’ll aim for something much more along the lines of how they played Spurs last weekend, and controversial goal or not they did deserve to win that game. 

This season has seen some pretty memorable encounters with the other top sides in the league. A 5-3 win away at Chelsea, the 5-2 comeback against Spurs, snatching the 1-0 over City and the last-gasp 2-1 win over Newcastle all spring to mind. I’m hoping that come three o’clock or so this afternoon there’ll be another one to add to the list, especially as I do so love beating Chelsea as they are thunderous tossers. 

For now though, the hangover is closing in on me and I fear I’m going to have to leave it there. Sadly, I’ve got work in a bit, rather than sleeping my way up to kick off. I can’t describe my distress at this.

Anyway, come on you Gooners!

Another Weekend In The Bipolar Life Of Arsenal Football Club

So, defeat to Wigan on Monday was annoying to say the least. Even as we sit here several days removed from the event I still feel decidedly irritated about. Not least because it’s a lesson that we’ve been taught over and over again, and only recently before the Wigan game we got our last instalment when QPR beat us because complacency had crept in.

That it manifested itself again in this run in for the Champions League places is nothing short of ridiculous. We’d had warning of the form Wigan were in when they managed to beat Manchester United the previous week, this is a team that specialises in sorting itself out and getting the results necessary to survive late in the day, they were not to be taken for granted and yet somehow they were.

Now, I have every confidence that Chelsea will not advance to the Champions League Final, but if they should, and by some miracle win the cup then we would have had to have finished third in the league to be in the Champions League next season, and that makes this weekend’s game against them absolutely critical. We hold a five point advantage over Spurs and Newcastle who are 4th and 5th respectively, but they have a game in hand. If we were to lose to Chelsea, both sides would have it in their hands to overtake us and eject us from the top four altogether. If we had won the Wigan game, then I’d be pretty confident that victory over Chelsea would have pretty much wrapped up third place for us. As it is now, I think it’s a necessity.

Strangely, I’m not worried that we won’t rise to the occasion tomorrow. The fact is that this Arsenal team reacts better to pressure than it does to expectation (if they could somehow marry the two concepts and manage the pressure of expectation we’d be laughing) and I think that we have every chance of beating a distracted Chelsea team at the weekend. A game against Chelsea is exactly the sort of thing that Arsenal have done very well with this season. It’s the subsequent games against Stoke, Norwich and West Bromwich Albion that make me wonder. 

Which is not to say I’m taking victory for granted tomorrow. It’s always tough to play Chelsea, we’ve had the measure of them in recent meetings but they’re looking resurgent under the management of Bob Matthews, and that diabolical swine Didier Drogba has been fit and on form in the last two games, though I wonder if with his advancing years he might not start tomorrow in order to be in top shape for Barcelona in the Nou Camp. 

For our part, the team news could be better with the news that Mikel Arteta will miss the remainder of the campaign with the injury he picked up the other night. Arteta has been a consistently excellent performer this season, and when he missed a few weeks earlier in the season we noticeably suffered for his absence. Fingers crossed that we can manage better this time. Aaron Ramsey will undoubtedly come in, and he’s been finding it hard to get a place in the team lately so he needs to make the most of this chance. Yossi Benayoun in ineligible tomorrow which is a shame as this is exactly the sort of match the manager picks him for because of his hard work, experience, and most importantly his habit of doing exactly what he’s told to do. Other than that, there must be a blue moon about as Abou Diaby is back in contention to be in the squad.

Arsene Wenger says it’s all about finishing third for us. That’s what we need, that’s what we want and it’s the only thing that will guarantee Champions League football next season so we have to take our opportunities for the rest of the season. As the manager says,

“I don’t know [how many more wins we need], we just want to win the next one. I believe our target is just that. We have to think that we have been on a great run, we have a fantastic opportunity but we also just need to focus on the next game and win it.

“Only the third place guarantees you to be in the Champions League anyway.”

There are four games left. I hate this cliche but we’re talking about four finals – four games where our season really does hang in the balance. There’s my cause and no place for complacency in any of the games and tomorrow we once again face top quality opposition. Time to get very serious indeed.

That’ll be all from me today. Take it easy and I’m back soon.

Arsenal Vs Wigan Athletic: To The Brink

Good morning to you, tonight sees us take on one of the Premier League’s most adept team of survivors. Wigan Athletic have for years, specialised in last-gasp escapes from the clutches of relegation, and this year looks like it will be no different for them. Throughout the season, they’ve been written off and it’s been generally accepted that this, finally, is the year Wigan go down. However once again they’ve fought back in the closing games of the season and now have it very much in their own hands to avoid the drop.

They even managed an unprecedented victory over Manchester United in midweek last week. Wigan had previously lost every single match they’d ever played against United without exception, indeed I was at one of them. A friend of mine is a Wigan fan and he won an executive box for the 2006 Carling Cup final so he got to take twelve mates to the final, and along we went to see Wigan play in their first major final (I was still smarting from our rather painful elimination at the hands of Wigan in the semi-final), and they got absolutely tonked 4-0. Not that we minded too much of course, as we were in the midst of knocking back some very nice complimentary food and crucially a good deal of complimentary beer as well. In fact, if you’re reading James, cheers once again for an awesome day!

Over the years I think I’ve probably seen us play Wigan live more than any other team, and aside from those Carling Cup encounters (I was at the JJB, excuse me, the DW Stadium to see us lose the first leg 1-0 in possibly the worst game of football ever played. The most interesting thing that happened the whole 90 minutes was the power going out midway through the second half) we’ve had the measure of them at home particularly. Last time was, I think, the season before last and we won by a good scoreline and Wigan brought so few fans down for the game that a couple of them had chants directed at them individually. I’d be delighted to see us get three points in those sorts of circumstances again tonight.

For us this game is a real opportunity. To my mind, a win moves us to the brink of Champions League qualification. Win this game and then surely a win over Chelsea would finish it as a contest, or at least as a question as to whether we’ll be playing in Europe’s top competition next season. The players have got to be right up for it, and much like the Wolves game last week, there can be no taking Wigan for granted. It’s not a good time of season to be playing a team in the relegation picture, as we saw a couple of weeks ago against QPR, those teams are down there scrapping for survival and that can make them dangerous, especially if our own attitude is not spot on.

Once again, we’re talking about the need for a professional performance which gets the job done. Against Wolves last week, rather than press on and try to knock more goals past Wolves after going 2-0 up we took our foot off the gas and simply controlled possession. I’ve got no problem with that, we’ve got a massive game on Saturday after all and if we can get a commanding lead on the board and hold on to it tonight then that will be quite satisfactory. 

In terms of team news, question marks exist over the returns of Gervinho and Kieran Gibbs however I suspect that neither would have started tonight anyway. I think we’ll go with something more or less unchanged from the Wolves game, with Yossi Benayoun to keep his place. He has been a worthwhile acquisition this season in my book, he’s come in to big games and simply stuck to his task precisely and worked really hard and that’s a valuable, if basic trait for a player. He’s the sort of experience that we’ve lacked over the last few years when we had senior players like Silvestre and Arshavin (Who? I hear you say). 

We’ve got to be on our toes tonight. Wigan might be down the bottom of the league but they’ve won three of their last four games, and have lost only two of their last ten games. Their tails are up and they’ll be dreaming of another great escape. Points are precious at this stage of the season and both teams need them tonight. Robin Van Persie is only three goals away from equalising with Thierry Henry for the club record for number of league goals scored in a season. Tonight would be a good night for a hat-trick.

So that will do it for today, whatever you’re doing for the game, enjoy and I’ll return soon.

Wolverhampton Wanderers Vs Arsenal: There For The Taking

I realise that I might be in something of a minority here but I feel a bit saddened by Wolves’ imminent relegation. Years ago, the first time I attempted to go to university but got sidetracked by the need to drink and not attend lectures, I did so in Wolverhampton and indeed I lived literally across the street from Molineux.

Now Wolverhampton, it’s safe to say, is a bit of a hole. Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed living there, and a long standing ambition of mine was to see Arsenal come to town. I moved there in September 2005, the autumn following Wolves’ last relegation from the Premier League so the only way I was going to get my wish was a kind FA Cup draw. Incredibly, it did indeed come out of the hat, with one major drawback – Arsenal were drawn at home. It must be the only Arsenal match I have ever watched willing us to draw. Naturally we didn’t and we went on our merry way to winning the cup, which saw me overcome my disappointment pretty swiftly.

Years later when Wolves returned to the Premier League I was living just down the road in Birmingham, I sensed my opportunity but failed to secure a ticket for the first Arsenal return to Molineux. The following year I was cruelly denied by a situation at work and then further opportunities were frustrated by my return to Kent, leaving Wolves Vs Arsenal something of an unfulfilled fantasy for me, as it looks set to be for some years to come with Wolves looking set to return to the Championship for a lengthy stay.

Under other circumstances it might be easy to say I wouldn’t grudge Wolves a result today but the fact is we simply must have the points and consequently I would grudge Wolves possession of the ball, never mind the result. The reality for Wolves is that their season has disintegrated into an unredeemable shambles. The mystifying decision to sack Mick McCarthy has cost them very dearly I think, and their fate looks all but sealed. They’re looking at having to win the majority of their remaining six games, a tall order for a team that has won only five games all season in the league.

Nonetheless, they have nothing to lose and they have to give it everything tonight. Rolling over and dying would be an utter disgrace in the circumstances. For our part, we have to make sure it’s a professional job and we come home with the points. Tonight is an opportunity that isn’t likely to repeat itself in the remainder of the season after both Spurs and Chelsea dropped points. If we can win tonight we would establish a five point gap over Spurs and seven point gap over Chelsea and Newcastle. With a game against Wigan and then the huge game with Chelsea to come could have Champions League qualification all but tied up in the next week and a half.

Still, we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. Heads must remain screwed on and the lessons learned only recently at QPR need to be kept in mind. Mikel Arteta says the team is determined to take the opportunity, saying,

“Third place gives you direct access to the Champions League, it’s really important. It’s been a big fight; we have come all the way through from the back.

“We’ve put in a big effort, we are in a strong position now and we don’t want to waste it. We had a setback at QPR and it says a lot for our spirit that we came straight back.

I said at the time that the QPR defeat felt more like a kick up the arse than a season-stopping disappointment. A reminder that the job wasn’t done. It was a costly lesson because we could be away right now if not for that defeat, so let’s make it sure it was worth it.

Team news-wise it looks like Djourou gets a game because of the two-game suspension of Laurent Koscielny following his tenth booking of the season, and it seems Kieran Gibbs won’t be risked after a groin strain in the City game, meaning Andre Santos should get a start for the first time in months. On paper we should still have plenty to trouble Wolves, especially with Robin Van Persie overdue a goal. As we know though, the game is not played on paper.

Right then, that’ll be all for today. Have a good one, enjoy the game and I’ll return soon.

A Productive Monday

Morning all, just a quick one from me before I go out the door for work this morning. The nature of the Easter schedule means there’s a round of games being played in midweek with half the games taking place yesterday and the rest, including ours taking place tomorrow and tonight. 

It’s already been a productive set of games for us with Spurs hilariously going down to a 2-1 defeat at home to Norwich and Chelsea also dropping points to a late Fulham equaliser. It means that tomorrow’s game at Wolves represents an opportunity that is unlikely to be duplicated between now and the end of the season. Should we win we’re five points clear in third, and seven clear of Chelsea.

The continued form of Newcastle United means there’s no way to suggest they’re not part of the equation as well. Another fine win for them means they sit on level points with Spurs and whilst conventional wisdom still seems to say they don’t have a chance the fact is that they’re in form. Spurs and Chelsea are not. I don’t think I could find the words for the hilarity if Newcastle were to steal that last Champions League qualification place away from those two. Their manager might be a first class wanker, and their fans filled with the most ridiculous sense of entitlement in the league outside of Anfield but I’d happily see Newcastle enjoy that sort of success if it dumped Spurs and Chelsea on their arse.

Anyway, better to worry about ourselves. Tomorrow’s game looks like a nailed on three points but then so did QPR to an extent, and we know how that ended up. Tomorrow lessons need to have been learned and Wolves need to be put to the sword. They might be in a mess but they’re also desperate and desperation can have a funny effect in football. Since they came up, Wolves have never been particularly easy opponents for us. Granted they’ve never been in this sort of state in that time, but the team has to remember that this is going to be anything but easy.

A professional job is needed. Thomas Vermaelen speaks of the improved ability of the team to organise themselves and function as a unit and that certainly has played a part in the team’s ascent of the league table. The restoration of something approaching a settled back four has made a huge difference to us, and the team are taking responsibility for each other all over the pitch, helping us keep our shape and not to be so vulnerable to a quick break.

Arsene Wenger says that he doesn’t want the season to end. Though I see where he’s coming from I have to say this looks like a great point for it to end, we’re on form, our rivals aren’t, we’ve got the best league position we’re likely to get and for the first time in years we (fingers crossed) seem to be finishing a league campaign strongly. It’s a strong platform to build from for next season IF we can achieve it. IF we can manage to finish the season like we’re playing at the moment, we won’t have to go into a summer talking about rebuilding, or ensuring that we don’t capitulate next season like we have this time around for the first time in who knows how long.

Not wanting the season to end is understandable from the manager’s point of view, but still, we’ve got some distance still to go before it actually does end. Six really important games lie ahead. If we can win the next three you have to be very confident that we’ll finish third, and I note that that huge game against Chelsea takes place in the middle of their two legs against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. I think that tie could prove a very costly distraction for them.

Anyway, sorry to be brief this morning, but the rigours of employment dictate that I must be away. Take it easy and have a good one.

Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City: Boom

This season, with all its ups and downs has seen some truly special Arsenal performances. The effort to overhaul Spurs from two goals behind, the madness of the 5-3 win at Chelsea, the bittersweet 3-0 win over Milan in the second leg all spring to mind, but yesterday’s win over Manchester City was a strong contender for our best of the season.

The question others were asking before kick off was how Manchester City would respond to the pressure of Manchester United opening up an eight point lead at the top of the table. For me the question was were we going to allow defeat to QPR the week before to drain all the confidence that has built over the last several weeks, or would it prove a timely kick up the arse, reminding us that games are not won just by turning up.

It proved very much the latter, and for City’s part their ability to respond to the sort of pressure they were under can be sorely questioned. Although City had spells where they were able to relieve the pressure somewhat, they never had a period of control or sustained threat, whereas we dominated from the first whistle.

It seemed to me that this was a game everybody was right up for, not just the players but the crowd too. After the match Wojciech Szczesny reserved special praise for the fans, comparing the atmosphere to the recent win over Spurs as well as last year’s win over Barcelona. I’ve never seen anything more ridiculous in football than Manchester City’s “Poznan” celebration and I was delighted to see our fans take the opportunity to take the piss out of it after Arteta’s winner.

Our domination in the early stages didn’t avail us many chances, although there was the horrifying incident which saw Thomas Vermaelen accidently clear a Robin Van Persie header off of the City line. Arseblog has a fantastic picture of that incident this morning that captures the Belgian’s reaction perfectly – have a look. I realise that had we not got the three points we might not be able to laugh so readily at it, but as it is I think we can afford the chuckle.

What was not to be laughed at however, was Mario Balotelli’s “challenge” on Alex Song in the first half in which he went in studs up on Song, high on the knee, and I think quite deliberately too. Balotelli acted the petulant child all afternoon and his antics ceased to have any entertainment value whatsoever after his assault on Song. How he got away with it I don’t know. It was a challenge just as bad as Taylor on Eduardo or Shawcross on Ramsey, Song was very, very lucky his leg was not planted more firmly on the turf otherwise that’s the sort of injury he would have suffered. In one way it was worse than those challenges because Taylor and Shawcross might be careless, lumbering morons who don’t particularly worry about the consequences of their actions, but they didn’t deliberately throw a leg-breaking challenge at an opponent as Balotelli did yesterday. He receives a ban for his eventual, inevitable red card but could still face retrospective punishment for the Song challenge and rightly so. From what Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has been reported to have said after the match, it may be a moot point anyway as he seems to have finally lost all patience with Balotelli and I’d be surprised to see him play for City again.

So to the second half, and more and more Arsenal pressure. Van Persie hit the post after Song put one of those excellent balls over the top right on the Dutchman’s head and there was a truly inexplicable miss when a rebound from (I think) a Theo Walcott shot came to Thomas Vermaelen who slipped on the soaking wet pitch, skewing his finish to the otherwise excellent and ever-reliable Yossi Benayon who somehow contrived to send the ball wide of the post from inside the six yard box.

With pressure on City growing, but time running out changes were made. Ramsey came on for Benayoun, Chamberlain for Walcott, but it was a trusty source who finally gave us the goal. Mikel Arteta took matters into his own hands, winning possession and advancing through the City half with one thing in mind. He unleashed a spectacular drive from distance that left Joe Hart no chance, it smashed into the net and the roof came off the place.

There was still time for Balotelli’s richly deserved sending off, some seventy-odd minutes after it should have happened, and a City free kick which turned into an Arsenal break from which Aaron Ramsey gave us one of the most glaring misses of the season (though I’m not sure that Benayoun’s wasn’t worse) but that was that. 1-0 to the Arsenal, a fantastic and crucial result for the club that puts us very much in the driving seat for Champions League qualification. 

Arsene Wenger was delighted with what he’d seen after the game, saying,

I always felt the goal would come but it was very tight and in the end you feel it is important not to lose. But we kept going and at home recently we have produced some outstanding performances against any team. I am very happy that we got the win and the team continues to grow in quality.

It would have been a huge disappointment not to win yesterday having played so well. The team thoroughly deserve their place in the table and we’ve still got a great chance of finishing in the automatic Champions League places. The battle continues today with Chelsea and Spurs in action for Bank Holiday football, and we play again against Wolves on Wednesday.

For now, that’s all. Have a good one and I’m back soon.

Arsenal Vs Manchester City: Chin The Chinless One

So to today’s important clash with Manchester City. One of two games we have left this season that really sticks out as a massive test of our resolve to finish not just in the top four but the automatic Champions League qualification places. Of course the other games are, at the end of the day, just as important in terms of the points on offer, there’s no getting away from the fact that we’re playing a team of tremendous quality today. A team with whom we would like to be mixing it with for the title next season.

As frustrating as last weekend’s defeat to QPR was, it would be forgotten forever by all and sundry if we win this game. The confidence of the last month or so would certainly return in force and it would set us up fantastically for the final few weeks of the season in which there are tough tests to come. Chelsea of course, are in there, and so is the much loved trip to Stoke. Even Wigan at home can’t be taken for granted since they’ve recently started playing like a team that had been taking it easy and chilling out all season but then happened to glance at the league table for the first time and realised how much trouble they were in, and promptly started trying to sort it out. A bit like me and my bank balance the week before I get paid.

Tottenham’s draw with Sunderland yesterday relieves a certain amount of pressure as it means a draw will be sufficient to see us return to third place this afternoon, although that would mean a productive weekend for Chelsea whose three points by the skin of their teeth over Wigan yesterday sees them move, hopefully temporarily to within two points of us.

So whilst I can make my peace with a draw today, three points is what’s really called for. Not only because of the big picture but also because I’m a small, petty man who is reflecting on the two undeserved 1-0 defeats that we’ve suffered to City this season and hoping that we can get some ample revenge by finishing off their title challenge once and for all. It’s an area we have some experience of, Chelsea’s two-year reign as champions under Mourinho came to an end because we deprived them of crucial points, and we also put the decisive nail in the coffin of Liverpool’s best title challenge in 18 years or so a couple of years ago. It hardly matters in the long run but I could quite cheerfully see us take the wheels off of Manchester City’s title bid as well.

It’s strange in some ways how eminently dislikeable Manchester City have become over the last few years. I can still remember how I and most fans perceived them before Sheikh Megabucks bought them out, they were, in a sense everyone’s favourite underdogs. Living in the shadow of Manchester United (which, incidentally they still are and still would be even if they won the league ten years on the bounce) and seemingly existing for the derby, for their moment when they occasionally beat United. It was quite endearing really. I mean, they were offensively shit and strong candidates for relegation (again), but all they seemed to care about was beating United, and that was a sentiment most of the footballing world could enjoy.

Now, the plucky underdog spirit is gone from City and replaced with an arrogance that not even Chelsea managed in their first few years under Abramovich (and let’s not forget Mourinho’s managerial reign fits into that bracket). Their conduct in the transfer market and in the media smacks of a club who think that they’re untouchable which thus far they’re not. Not on the football pitch anyway. Where once people could have looked at Manchester City winning the FA Cup and enjoyed the underdog’s big moment, now their successes seem like a blow to the sport as a whole.

So, what I’m saying in a roundabout fashion is that I’d like to beat City because of their insufferable arrogance as well as because of the significance of this match to our season. And of course, there’s always that chinless bloke who used to play for us and now plays for them. He’s a complete wanker too and defeating him would be a pleasure, but then he’s ultimately defeated himself by ruining his career through moving to City.

It’s true that by winning today we might essentially hand Manchester United the title, but since there’s no prospect of us winning it I can’t say I care too much about that. In many ways it would be worth it to see City’s faces as they leave the pitch later.

Anyway, enough for now. Enjoy the game and I’ll return soon.

Back In Action

Well hello again one and all. As I said in my last post, a lot of work has gotten between me and the blog for the last week and a bit but never fear, we’re in the clear now and I’m fit to return to action. The evils of university work have been overcome and I’m now able to return to the important things in life. Arsenal, of course, is what I mean by that.

Since we last spoke things have gotten a little less rosy in the Arsenal garden. Defeat to QPR has thrown everything right back into the balance. We remain third place but margins are now a lot less comfortable. We sit on the same points as Spurs and lead them only by virtue of an extra goal. We remain some five points ahead of Chelsea outside of the top four, however Newcastle have once again inserted themselves into the equation and they sit two points behind us, however we have a game in hand.

That game in hand is coming up tomorrow and it’s quite a big one as they go. We face second placed Manchester City at home in a game that both sides need to win. City’s grip on their title challenge is faltering a bit and should they lose on Sunday and Manchester United defeat QPR then it’s going be something close to game over for them. For our part we’ll be looking to respond to whatever Tottenham and Chelsea can manage in their respective fixtures today. Spurs are away at Sunderland in what will be a tough game for them, however Chelsea host Wigan which I think has to be assumed to be a home win all day long.

I can’t help by feel that we owe City one coming into this game. We were unfortunate to lose in the away game this season, the 1-0 defeat at the Oily McOil stadium was, I would argue, one of our most spirited away performances this season. Additionally I felt our loss to them in the Carling Cup was likewise a little unjust especially as they essentially cheated by fielding Sergio Aguero in a Carling Cup match. 

It seems a good time to playing City, they seem to be accepting defeat in the title race already and that’s an attitude that as we have seen at our own club in the not too distant past, can cause more problems than you already have. I imagine that there are a lot of fixtures they’d rather have this weekend than this one, and if United win the early game on Sunday then the pressure will really be on them in this game, as it will be on us if our rivals win their games.

Arsene Wenger believes that last weekend’s defeat to QPR does not kill all the momentum that was built before it with seven straight victories, and nor should it. I think, frustrating as it is, that complacency crept in a bit last week. Maybe the team looked at that QPR game as the easy one in a tough run of games and you just can’t do that in this league at this stage of the season with a team scrapping for survival.

It didn’t and still doesn’t however, feel like the sort of disappointment that would derail a season. It doesn’t feel like a Carling Cup final loss, it’s just, well, annoying. It was very costly because now a strong position has become much more tenuous. In no way would I seek to suggest that it was in any way a positive but I hope now that it has happened that QPR game will prove something of a timely kick up the arse for the team and remind them of the dangers of complacency.

Anyway, complacency should certainly not be an issue tomorrow. Manchester City might not be having the most enjoyable time of their season but they’re still packed full of quality and we’ll have to produce something right up there with our best performances of the season to beat them. I think we can do it, I think the motivation is there and so is the quality. As always when you play these sorts of games there is the danger you can do everything right and still lose to a team of such ability, but we’re a good team too and the same applies to City. 

As the manager says, [url=http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/wenger-a-draw-will-not-suit-either-team]a draw is no good[url] to either team really. Two points dropped wouldn’t do us many favours, which is not to say I couldn’t see the value in salvaging a point if it came to it but really this is a game we need to win, and City need to win and that should certainly make it interesting as a spectacle. I’m intrigued to see how City approach this because even though we haven’t got the quality that we used to have and City have only got better over the last few years, they still play us like they’re scared of us. Well, maybe scared is the wrong word, but it seems their first priority is to stop us playing rather than focussing on their own game.

The Carling Cup aside, they haven’t had much success at the Grove, as I said earlier its a tough game for them too and probably not one they’d choose to be facing this weekend. More time to look at this game tomorrow though when the team news should come sharply into focus.

I have to say I’m still feeling pretty good about Arsenal’s progress in recent months despite the loss to QPR. Mind you, such is the workload I’ve had over the last couple of weeks that I was actually asleep during that match and awoke to the news of our defeat which in my drowsy state I just kind of shrugged off. I was more annoyed when I saw the goals we conceded but on the whole I don’t think we need to run around screaming and flailing our arms just yet. 

Anyway, nice to be back, more on the match tomorrow.

Previewing A Week And A Half

Good morning and welcome to a slightly peculiar blog. It’s a bit peculiar because its got quite a bit of ground to cover, not necessarily because there’s so much going on at the moment but because, well, it’s going to have to last a while. 

Basically I have reached what might be referred to as “that” time of year in my studies where there is simply so much to do that I know what I’m doing with every single hour of every single day until the end of next week. Although there are times during the year when it gets hectic between my full time degree, my full time job and everything else, this is the time of year when frankly it all hits the fan.

Fortunately, I have a plan. I have holiday from work coming up in the crucial final week next week and I have my other commitments down to a minimum. However the fact is that I have to find more time particularly this week to get stuff done, and as a result I’ve decided to take the longest break that I will have taken from writing this blog since I started a couple of years ago.

Now, by no means is this an end to regular publishing of the blog, it is very much a temporary and necessary measure based on the fact that the hour or so that I spend writing it in a day simply has to be reallocated to getting the crucial work done. Ironically, next term at university I have two exams that won’t be as much hassle as the work that I’m presently facing. So, as long as we’re clear that this is a temporary and necessary break I guess we can go on to Arsenal related stuff.

Now, I’ll be returning next weekend, just before we play Manchester City in what has to be regarded as something of a big match but in the meantime we’ve got a less daunting but no less crucial task to fulfil against QPR at Loftus Road. Of course its that time of year when the worst teams in the league can become unpredictable to play as they resist the tentacles of relegation.

Being a club which contains both Joey Barton and Mark Hughes, it cannot be understated that QPR are tossers of the highest order. Unlike Norwich and Swansea they’ve come up to the Premier League and added precisely nothing to it but another dull and shit team. Relegation would be a richly deserved fate for them, but to be honest as long as we beat them on Saturday I can’t say their ultimate fate bothers me.

We’re on our best league from for almost five years, which if you’re QPR is not really what you want to be facing at this point in their situation. We carry the momentum, the confidence and the quality going into this game as well as a need for points just as great as QPR’s. It’s been good to see since we arrived in third place in the league that nobody from the team that’s spoken publicly from the team has seemed to treat what has been accomplished as “job done” as it were. Staying third will be an even bigger task then getting there in the first place and there are tough tasks to come.

Nigel Winterburn believes that the confidence that now exists in Arsenal’s squad is the crucial factor in our much improved form. The former defender said,

“I think it is sometimes hard for the supporters to understand how big a part confidence plays in a player. You need great mental strength as well and I think the team has showed that.

“After AC Milan the players were low and they would have had to dig deep because they had some severe criticism. But recently they have shown great desire to get back into that top four and put a run of results together.

Much as the term “mental strength” has come to be regarded with a degree of suspicion by Arsenal fans, it is the term that fits here. The squad has shown, repeatedly, great mental strength in the last few weeks to come back from difficult situations and that’s been great to see. The question is, how will they respond now if a result does not go our way? To me the prospect of a setback is a crucial factor in whether we deliver the strong finish to our league campaign that it looks like we might.

This weekend throws up some interesting situations. After their exertions in Portugal last night, Chelsea will have to rally themselves for a trip to Villa Park, although our recent experience with Aston Villa seems to suggest they might have nothing to worry about, whilst Spurs will play Swansea at home but not until Sunday which means we have the opportunity to put six points between them and us, if only for 24 hours. As we all know, Spurs’ ability to deal with pressure is hardly renowned. Swansea’s away record is a bit dire but we know that they’re a hard working, talented team with a good manager and should Spurs not be at it on Sunday then they could easily come unstuck.

So those are the permutations this weekend, I’m now taking myself off to a shocking essay on the economic history of Britain which is exactly the sort of crap I’m going to buried under for the next little while. Apologies for the forthcoming interruption in service, but it really is necessary, in the meantime have a good one and I will return in all my glory (or something) before the Man City game.