Portsmouth 1 – 4 Arsenal: Delightful Team Work Seals Big Win

December 31, 2009

Just ten minutes before the game started I installed AVG 9 on my laptop and upon completion it asked for a restart. After the reboot, I tried to log on to the system and it logged me off immediately. I tried a few times to no avail. Even the safe mode wasn’t working and it freaked me out completely as I realized this was a serious issue.

At that moment I couldn’t quite figure out what to do. A few minutes of googling made it clear that it will take an elaborate effort to sort this out. I was quite perplexed and annoyed when the game started as I have spent a lot of effort on customizing this computer to make my life easy.

So I started watching the game in a really bad mood. It only took a minute to change. As the Arsenal players closed down Pompey I completely forgot the issues that had troubled me just a minute ago. When a ball was played over the top and in behind the Portsmouth defense with Arshavin and Eduardo chasing I knew this was going to be a day for some great football. And what a day it was.

As I have said before, when our players move around effortlessly and with the willingness to get in behind, it’s only a matter of time before the goals come. It didn’t worry me one bit that Pompey were working hard and got a couple of half chances early on.

When Diaby connected sweetly to an Eduardo cutback, I thought he scored. Unfortunately, the ball swerved a bit towards the end and it became easier for the keeper to make a save. Well, the hosts’ luck was not going to last all day. As Eduardo scored from a deflected free kick, I thought we deserve some luck considering the injuries we have been having. It’s now thrice in three games that we have scored directly from a free kick. That must certainly be a record of some sort!

The second goal was classic Arsenal as the ball started from the center, went out wide on the right and then across the six yard box to the left touchline before coming back to the center. Song played Eduardo in with a brilliant left footed lofted pass. Dudu maintained his composure and didn’t take a shot as there wasn’t a clear opening. He rolled it to Ramsey who took one slight touch before laying it for Nasri who finished with aplomb. Arshavin and I broke into spontaneous applause and I am sure many others must have had the same reaction. It’s good to see Nasri get a goal. He has been getting into good positions recently but it hasn’t worked out for him that often. It’s even better to see that there were four Arsenal players in the Portsmouth penalty box for this goal.

The third goal was all Ramsey. He made the challenge to win the ball as the hosts tried to bring it clear. The young Welshman then utilized the space to create an opening for himself with some neat footwork. And his finish was excellent giving the keeper no chance. Rambo is probably our best two footed finisher from midfield and that says a lot for one so young.

Our fourth goal was the result of Song bursting forward. He almost sneaked through but for a last moment tackle. As the ball fell to Nasri on the right, Song pulled back at the far post and the Frenchman found him with a measured cross. The finish was not easy and once again highlighted the fact that Song has a lot more to offer. Two years ago many people wrote him off, today he is a brilliant DM and a year or two later he could well be an unplayable midfield powerhouse.

In between the last two goals we managed to concede one. Surprise, surprise! I don’t want to spoil this day by talking about the negatives but it was painful to see Belhadj unmarked in our box for the cut back when we had four people back defending and Ramsey standing and watching on the edge of the box. Given the rate at which these players keep on improving, I am hoping we won’t see more of such lapses.

By the time the game was over I had this overwhelming feeling that this was truly a team performance. Everyone did their part and there was genuine belief in the team. It seems the handbrake has well and truly been lifted and this team is ready to take on all comers.

By scoring from free kicks and from outside the box on a consistent basis we have added multiple threats to our attacking potential. Teams will now think twice before getting too physical with us, especially in the defensive third. They can’t get too close and they can’t give us too much space either, that should help us open tight defenses.

We also saw some good crosses in this game. It does prove that on their day our fullbacks and wide players can put the balls in the right areas, we just need more consistency on this front. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the runs into the box.

The news on injuries is not bad either. Cesc is probably out for a couple of weeks and so is Theo. But with Rosicky coming back we won’t have that big a shortage.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Not quite there yet, but is getting back to his best.

Sagna: Worked hard, linked well and put in some decent balls

Gallas: Top performance, just what we expect

Vermaelen: Top performance, just what we expect

Traore: The best third choice left back in the world. Makes some minor mistakes but has a great future ahead of him.

Song: Solid as ever defensively, was more involved in the creative side of things and picked up a good goal.

Ramsey: Passing, tackling, shooting, dribbling, you name it. Another one whose potential is scary.

Diaby: A quiet game when compared to the last two but efficient and productive nonetheless.

Nasri: A goal and an assist are just reward for his efforts over the last few weeks. I think he can be as good offensively as Tevez has been for United and Citeh. Just has to get in the box more often as he did in this game.

Arshavin: Certainly a more hard working performance than we have seen from him recently. His presence and movement is always a threat for the opposition and opens the space for others.

Eduardo: Good to see the goal credited to him and nice to see him grow in confidence as he has a big role to play in the coming weeks.

Subs: Rosicky had some lovely touches. Eastmond had a forgettable game but one he will never forget. Vela didn’t get much time.

It took me five hours to get my laptop sorted out but I did discover a fantastic free tool in the process. In case, like me, you are not a techie person and use windows XP, you might find it useful to create a preinstalled environment for future use. Explore this free software, BartPE, it could come in handy.

A happy ending to this day on all fronts.


Portsmouth V Arsenal: Time to Show Our Strength in Depth

December 30, 2009

There hasn’t been any clear announcement from Arsenal regarding the injuries to Denilson or Cesc. It does make me wonder what’s going on. If you read my post yesterday, you’d understand that I have not felt so apprehensive at any point this season as I have over the last couple of days. The anxiety bout has lost some sting but I am not fully comfortable just yet.

This period will be a big test of our strength in depth. We can cope with injuries to the likes of Van Persie, Bendtner and Clichy, but when we lose Cesc we lose the creative fulcrum of the team. Last season we had those four scoreless draws in this period when Fabregas was missing. It’s no co-incidence, is it? There was a time when RvP pulled the team forward almost single handedly when Cesc was out. This year, with the Dutchman missing, the onus will be on Arshavin to deliver.

Nasri, Diaby, Eduardo and Rosicky are the other key men. The big issue is that except Nasri the other three are very injury prone. Come to think of it, even Nasri has not had a lot of luck with his fitness. Starting at Fratton Park, over the next fortnight, this group has the perfect opportunity to show just how strong our squad is. Some might even include Ramsey and Walcott in this list.

I feel we are at our best when our attack flows and we can keep the ball in the opposition half. By the same logic we struggle the most when we fail to get the movement and passing right. We are not a team that can sit back and soak pressure when the going gets tough. I guess Arsene expects a need will arise for a resolute defensive performance sometime soon and has been talking about the importance of maintaining a cool head. Le Boss wants the team to follow Vermaelen’s lead

Thomas is a very quiet boy, but very determined, I believe you see that in every ball he plays. He is a good mixer with commitment and relaxed focus. That is very important when you play at the back, that you never panic – because panic is something which is contagious and he always looks to master that.

To me, Vermaelen always looks like a professional assassin with his composed, strong, no-nonsense approach on the pitch and he is a clinical finisher! TV5 for Bond, anyone? Anyway, let me not digress into randomness.

Avram Grant has already spoken about the need for aggression against Arsenal. Crunching tackles, countless long balls, focus on set-pieces and a shoot on sight policy is probably the simplest way to describe the strategy the hosts will deploy. There isn’t much else they can do, if we get our game going.

That’s the key. We have to get our game going. Against Villa we showed that we can play without Cesc, but we didn’t show that we can win without El Capitan. If Denilson and Rosicky are unfit for this game, we might see Nasri move into the middle and Walcott on the wing. The other option is to give Rambo a start but I have a feeling Wenger will go for experience. Either way we are certainly good enough to get a win against the bottom of the table side as long as the players have the right attitude and belief.

I expect the starting line up to be,

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Song, Nasri, Diaby; Walcott, Eduardo, Arshavin.

I think more than any news on fitness, a convincing performance and win tomorrow will make many Gooners breathe easy. 2-0 will do just fine.


Panic Attack As I Contemplate Life Without Cesc, Song And Denilson + Contest Results

December 29, 2009

Arsenal have had a prosperous holiday season so far. Within weeks of being written off from the title race, we are back in the thick of things with an impressive haul of 13 points from a possible 15. A spate of poor results for leaders Chelsea shows that it’s easy to drop off the pace in what is turning out to be the most unpredictable premier league season in recent history.

We could, in a matter of days, be just one point behind the leaders and in the fourth round of the FA Cup or we could find ourselves knocked out of the Cup and losing ground in the title race.

This season every game is like a cup tie, especially the away ones. Liverpool just lost to a team that can hardly do worse in terms of the league table. Chelsea and United have dropped points to clubs in the bottom half of the table and our away record is hardly impressive.

The cup game intensity is taking its toll on all squads, some more than the others. I don’t have to highlight our injury concerns but events after the Villa game have left me a little worried. Denilson came off with a recurrence of his back problem. It can hardly be a minor problem as this is his second relapse in a matter of weeks. Playing Cesc was a gamble and I have been waiting all day to get some update on El Capitan. Normally, I believe no news is good news but in this case my heart adamantly ignores conventional wisdom and refuses to acknowledge any positive outlook.

Song’s availability for the next two games is good news. If, however, it turns out that Cesc and Denilson are going to miss weeks instead of days we could be in serious trouble. Much more serious than the striker situation we are already facing and the defender quandary we had late last season. We could effectively be left with Diaby, Nasri and Ramsey as the only three recognized and relatively experienced midfielders with only youngsters as support.

Around a month ago, Rosicky was ten days away from a return. As of now, there are no signs of the Czech maestro returning to fitness. Even when he returns we really don’t know how long he will last. Now Denilson has joined the list of those who cannot survive more than a few weeks without a spell on the sidelines. You can call me negative but I wouldn’t be surprised if Diaby or Walcott join their mates in the treatment room anytime soon.

With very little information available in the public domain it’s impossible to say what’s going wrong. How can so many players have recurring problems? How do we get the return date expectations off by such large margins? Are we rushing too many players too often? Is it a vicious cycle where we are almost always short of players and are forced to rush them back? Does the departure of Gary Lewin have anything to do with this?

Whatever be the cause, we cannot really solve the issues overnight. Thankfully, we are on the cusp of the January window and Arsene will have a chance to bolster the squad. The problem is that we just don’t know for sure who will be back and when. How does the manager take an informed decision when the information turns out to be unreliable? Even if Arsene brings someone in, we can hardly expect a new player to perform at a cup tie level from day one.

I don’t know if we can blame anyone for this conundrum. Certainly, the players can’t be at fault, no top professional would be happy with recurring injuries. I am also assuming that the club choose the medical staff with due diligence and there cannot be a question about their competency. Frequent erroneous prognosis does make you wonder though, doesn’t it? Of course, our recent long term injuries have been down to bad luck more than anything else. One could put some blame on the manager for not having extra cover given our injury trends and for not rotating often enough.

Hopefully, this will turn out to be nothing more than me suffering a premature and baseless panic attack.

Let’s focus on something more cheerful. Thanks again for the fantastic response to the contest. I am pleased to announce that Sandeep from Pune got the score and the result right. He was the only one who predicted Fabregas as the first scorer while many got the score right. Congrats Sandeep, I will get in touch with you soon. I would also like to express my gratitude to the sponsors SoccerPro for giving me my first taste of running a contest.

Sorry, just can’t focus on anything else right now. Am I the only one who desperately needs an anxiety relieving dose of good news?


Arsenal 3 – 0 Aston Villa: Best Game Of The Season

December 27, 2009

Aston Villa came to the Emirates with genuine belief and pretentions of completing the top four grand slam. They must return a defeated and deflated side after being put in their place by an outstanding Arsenal performance. I have not seen the Arsenal team play better than that this season.

The main reason I felt this was our best effort was down to the solidity of the defense. Yes, Villa had their moments but they were nothing more than half chances. Shutting out an Aston Villa attack that has troubled all the top sides, albeit mainly on counter-attacks, is no mean feat. Arsene had called for a balance between audacity and cutting out the visitors’ counter attacking threat and the players delivered.

I had a feeling that Villa will come at us hard in the first few minutes and we will have to weather an early storm. As it turned out, Arsenal were out of the blocks much faster and could have scored within the first five minutes but for a scuffed attempt from Eduardo. We looked in control all through the first half as Villa defended deep and waited for their chances on the break. A higher than usual tempo was beneficial to Arsenal while the visitors must have felt comfortable as their defense was holding firm.

I thought we could have created more if we went five or ten yards higher in the Villa half. Of course, this could also have given the visitors more space to counter attack. As it was, we were controlling the play, winning plenty of set pieces, but not really working Friedel.

The second half started where the first had finished. Arsene brought Cesc on before the hour was up. I guess everyone could sense a shift in the tempo of the game. Our passing was sharper and Arshavin, who had gone AWOL in the first half, came into life. Fabregas looked like he was determined to make an impact when he went for goal from a free kick forty yards out.

Before Denilson scored against Hull, one would have to go back all the way till November 2007 for an Arsenal league goal directly from a free kick. Now we have two in two. Cesc scored what can be called the perfect free kick. You could see the resolve in his eyes. It reminded me of the look Sachin used to have in his heyday when he came on to bat in a big game. If you follow Cricket you might understand this, otherwise it’s quite difficult for me to explain. It’s the look that tells you this guy is going to come good today.

After the first goal went in we lost our composure a bit. Song went crazy. He started darting forward more often, tried some difficult passes when simpler ones were available and even managed to get a card for diving. Thankfully, Villa had only one offensive plan. Once the aerial threat didn’t work the visitors looked clueless in the final third.

However, as Arsene said after the game, Villa have a game style and personnel that make you nervous. They can nick one at anytime. It was important for us to get the second goal but the lack of shape wasn’t helping. Finally, it came down to a rare poor pass from Milner, good vision from Traore and a lovely assist from Walcott. Cesc scored his ninth league goal of the season with another sublime finish.

I am not sure if Fabregas hurt his hamstring as he slid while scoring or he hurt himself with that excellent burst to keep up with Theo. It can be said that the cause for the injury is not so important, what matters now is that we don’t lose El Capitan for a long period. Cesc is the soul of this Arsenal squad. We really need him to stay fit for most of the season.

Should Wenger have risked Cesc? It’s a difficult question to answer. I tend to believe that Arsene risks the key players in big matches. Unfortunately, in football we can never answer the what if’s for certain. Wenger is the man in charge, so he should be the best judge.

Diaby capped off a fine performance with a delightful solo goal. I think he is a player who is very good when he takes people on and plays through the center. At the same time he lacks the ability to pick out the final ball on a consistent basis. It could be down to the defensive onus that is placed on him. In the future we might see a more complete box to box midfielder but at the moment Diaby seems a little lost when the creative burden falls primarily on him.

At the end of the day we achieved a morale boosting win, the cost for which will only be known when the fitness of Denilson and Cesc is ascertained on Monday. With Song heading to the ACN after the Portsmouth game, we might suddenly find ourselves short in another area of the field. It looks to me that Le Boss doesn’t trust Ramsey enough just yet.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Deserves credit for a solid show. Has to do this game after game to establish his credentials once and for all.

Sagna: Usual hardworking performance.

Gallas: Managed the Villa strikers well enough.

Vermaelen: The man is class.

Traore: Didn’t foray forward often but Villa got little change out of him.

Song: He will become even better over the next couple of years, I have no doubt about that.

Denilson: Busy and Effective.

Diaby: Another one who has a lot more to offer. Needs a long run of games and a more stable role.

Cesc: Words can’t do him justice.

Arshavin: Has to talk less and work more. He has the ability to be among the worlds best but his work rate is questionable.

Eduardo: Should put in extra work after training in his shooting. Scuffs more than he gets right. His positioning and movement are excellent and he can be lethal if he gets his finishing sorted out.

Nasri: Goes unnoticed at times but is invaluable to the balance of the team.


Arsenal V Aston Villa: An Epic Battle On The Cards

December 26, 2009

When I was growing up, Boxing Day was about Test cricket. Normally, there are two or three matches that start at different grounds around the world and with holidays in school, I used to love watching all of them. This has changed over the last few years. Nowadays, the time just after Christmas is all about non-stop football. It’s already started well with Chelsea dropping more points away from home to a resilient Birmingham.

Arsenal can make this one of the best festive periods of recent years if they continue the home form against Martin O’Neill’s side. A tough task indeed as the visitors have lost fewer games than Arsenal so far. Given their record against other top four sides this season, we might even consider this game as one of the hardest. Some creative folks have already labeled this a grand slam opportunity for Aston Villa.

Last season, the visitors took all three points as we failed to convert our dominance in terms of possession into goals. Villa have done the same to the other top sides this year and will come to the Emirates with the intention of making it hard for us to break them down. Arsene knows what we need to do offensively and defensively. He is quoted on the Arsenal website saying,

Yes, they caught us on the break last season. This year I believe we know what their strength is. Our job is to prevent them counter-attacking and being audacious enough to take the game to them.

It’s interesting to note the combination Wenger has identified. I feel, at times, we have been afraid of taking the game to opposition. We have paid the price for this against teams like Burnley, Sunderland and Chelsea. Hopefully, being at home, we will have higher confidence and spirit of adventure.

I am also keen to see if we can prevent Villa from counter-attacking. Fulham showed how Arsenal can be troubled by long balls into the inside right and left channels. The visitors have also mastered the art of attacking through those areas and we will certainly have a tough time controlling the likes of Agbonlahor.

However, the biggest threat from Villa comes via their organization. They hardly, if ever, lose their defensive shape and the midfielders track back every single time. We will need to be at our creative best if we have to unlock this defense. The longer it takes for us to score the first goal, the harder the game will get.

Cesc, has been rated as 50-50 to start this game. I think Arsene will put him on the pitch if he can jog. El Capitan is by far the most important player in our squad and we will need all his creative talent if we want to prevent the visitors from achieving their grand slam.

Arshavin is another who can change this game. Villa haven’t played against our Russian genius and they could be in for a small surprise. He’s already scored in big games and sometimes you need a moment of individual magic to break down a resolute defense.

Traore is back and that’s a relief. Silvestre would have struggled against the pace of this Villa team. Our full backs are going to face their toughest test so far as the visitors boast of some of the best wide players in the league. Young, Downing and Milner are all capable of explosive bursts down the flanks. They are also extremely accurate with their crossing. Sagna and Traore will have their work cut out as they try to contribute in attack as well as defense.

Team selection will give a clue as to how Arsene sees this game. I have a feeling he will start Cesc in place of Eduardo and push Diaby up front on the left as Arshavin moves into the center. It will also be interesting to see if Eboue gets a start in the front three. It will certainly be a sign that the boss wants to be extra cautious.

I would like to see this starting line up,

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Veramelen, Traore; Song, Cesc, Denilson; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin

I think we will nick this one by the odd goal in three.

Don’t forget your chance to win arsenal merchandise of your choice. You just have to predict the first goal scorer and the correct score for this game. Details of the contest are on this link. It is open to everyone around the world.


Does the World Player of the Year Tell Us Something?

December 23, 2009

Recently, Messi was crowned the World Player of the Year. Given the year Barcelona have had and the Argentinean’s role in the team, it is well and truly deserved. This award though, made me take a look at the recent history of WPoY.

Here are some interesting facts,

2009 Winner – Messi

Age at the time of winning — 22

Club  at the time of winning — Barcelona

Years at Club before winning WPoY —  9

Transfer fee – Peanuts, I guess.

2008 Winner – Ronaldo

Age at the time of winning – 23

Club at the time of winning – Manchester United

Years at Club before winning WPoY  — 5

Transfer fee – Just over 12 Million Pounds

2007 Winner – Kaka

Age at the time of winning – 25

Club at the time of winning – Milan

Years at Club before winning WPoY – 4

Transfer fee – Less than 9 million Euros.

These look like young players who were signed for a moderate fee and given the time to develop into world class players. Of course, prior to these three, Cannavaro was an exception of sorts, and the likes of Ronaldinho, Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo fall into the Galactico category. Some might argue that Ronaldinho was somewhere in between the young and talented and the proven stars when he was signed by Barca.

Cesc, obviously, falls in the same bracket as the recent winners. Given his present goal scoring form and his unlimited lifetime supply of assists, he can, if he stays fit, be right up there for the award next year. We also know that individual awards and trophies normally go hand in hand. The last time we won something was when Henry came second in the race.

Of course, one player does not change the fortunes of a club. But we can certainly say Fabregas has a good supporting cast in players like Arshavin, Nasri, RvP(for the contribution he has made this season), Song, Vermaelen and others.

I think a fit Fabregas can create history this season. Some merit to the thought?


Contest: Results + Extension

December 22, 2009

First of all, let me thank everyone for the terrific response.

Unfortunately, this contest did not have a winner. It is a surprise that amongst all the mails I received, nobody expected Denilson to be the first scorer. Many people got the score right but I feel it’s unfair to give out the prize based on a half correct answer. As a result, I have decided to extend this contest to the Aston Villa game.

Here’s another chance to win Arsenal merchandise of your choice. The rules will remain the same and will apply to the home game against Villa on 27th December. You have to predict the first goal scorer and the exact score of this game for a chance to win your favorite Arsenal merchandise.

  • The contest is open to everyone. Feel free to share the details.
  • Send your emails to desigunnercontestATgmailDOTcom – obviously replacing the AT with @ and DOT with.
  • You can pick the product of your choice from SoccerPro’s selection of Arsenal products. You can choose from the home, away and third jerseys, training tops, shorts, or  supporter t-shirts.
  • Include the following in your email – Name of the first goal scorer, the final score, the product of your choice with size, your Name and complete shipping address. Only the winning person’s information will be shared with the sponsor to enable shipping. The rest will be in my mailbox and will be deleted after the contest is over. So it should be quite safe.
  • I have deleted all the previous emails, so please do not ask me to look for the details in your previous mail.
  • The subject line of the email should be SoccerPro Contest
  • Please be clear with the score prediction. 2-1 will not be the same as 1-2. It’s best if you use this format Arsenal 5 – 0 Villa.
  • Only one entry per person please.
  • The email must be in my inbox one hour before the scheduled start of play. I don’t want you to know the starting eleven’s before making the predictions
  • In case, due to a surge in holiday sales, the product of your choice is not in stock you will be asked to pick a different one. I will deal with this once we have a winner as this applies to only one person.
  • There will be only one winner and if more than one person gets this right, I will pick one randomly.
  • This is a fun contest being run in good faith. I will not entertain any disputes.
  • Leave a comment if you want any clarifications. I won’t be able to reply to emails.

This contest is sponsored by SoccerPro, a retail as well as online soccer shop. They sell a wide range of products including soccer shirts and the Arsenal jersey.

Let’s hope we have a winner this time. Wish you all the best.