Arsenal Cruise Into Champions League Group Stages

It’s true.  We did.

A 5-0 aggregate win overall, with a 3-0 win on the night did flatter us slightly, but if you were to ask Manuel Almunia how difficult he found the second leg, he’d probably say, “zzzzzzzz,” because he’d still be so bored after the toothless performance of Sparta Prague.  In truth, the game was over as a spectacle in the 7th minute when Tomas Rosicky arrived late at the far post and neatly tucked home Theo Walcott’s low cross.  It was perhaps destined to be after two games of AW bigging him up to shine against his hometown club that the Czech maestro would score against his former employers.  For me though, the goal was all down to Theo.  His quick feet out on the right wing afforded him the space in which he had time to pick out the arriving the Rosicky with a perfectly executed centre.  But Theo wasn’t done there and had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt.

As the hapless Sparta were broken down in the final third time after time, it was Walcott who was there as the outlet and the 19 year old didn’t disappoint.  Gone was the familiar uncertainty that has dogged previous appearances this season and in it’s place was a liveliness and directness that had one thinking about us finally having a solution to the winger problem.  Walcott twisted, turned and dribbled superbly throughout the first half and also linked up well with the excellent Justin Hoyte.  Shorn of defensive responsibilities, the stand in right back overlapped well and when required to defended solidly.

The central pairing of Diaby and Gilberto was a bit of a surprise, but given Cesc’s yellow card from the away leg it seemed like a logical decision, and the young Frenchman started brightly and instantly evoked the Veira comparisons that have become defacto when describing his performances.  However, whilst Gilberto went about his business in his usual functional way, doing the ugly work and stopping the Sparta midfield from creating much, Diaby seemed to get bogged down in his own enthusiasm to impress and began to dwell too long on the ball and subsequently surrender possession.  This caused the last quarter of the first half to become a little flat, and with Eduardo and RVP seeing little of the ball for most of the entire 45.  Something was needed to kick-start the game in the second half.

Unfortunately, and much to the annoyance of Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice, that spark didn’t come for much of the second half and as the game descended into an exercise in simply going through the motions, The Boss decided to throw on Adebayor and Cesc for RVP and Diaby in the 68th minute.  Cesc didn’t really seem up for it, but Ade looked lively and keen to put the disappointing Man City game behind him.  Within 2 minutes, he flicked the ball on for Eduardo and we got a glimpse of how that particular partnership might work out in the future.  However, that wasn’t to last, as 5 minutes later Denilson came on for Tomas Rosicky and the deck was shuffled.  Eduardo moved out to the left flank and Theo moved into the middle with Adebayor, with Denilson occupying the now vacant right flank.

With all the subs used, Arsenal looked like they were happy to see the rest of the game out and settle for the 1-0 by keeping possession and not really pushing Sparta too hard.  That is everyone but Eduardo.  Perhaps he was frustrated at not seeing much of the ball for a large portion of the game, but when Eduardo gave Zdenek Pospech the old knock-and-run on the right side of the penalty area, and cut the ball back for Fabregas to power the ball home, we saw what the Croation is capable of with the ball at his feet.  And 10 minutes later the provider turned poacher, when a dinked cross from Denilson after a neat one-two with Adebayor was flicked in with a kung-fu style volley.

All in all, it was a bit of a non-contest.  Sparta never really tested Arsenal, save for a few moments after defensive errors from Hoyte, Clichy and Senderos.  They never really looked capable of matching Arsenal for creativity and looked a bit in awe of the home team.  However, Arsenal failed to put them to the sword as they are surely capable of looked at times as if they were playing a training match.  You can only beat what’s put in front of you though, and Wenger’s team did that with the minimum of fuss.

 In news, er, news, head on over to Arseblog to read about the club trying to copyright the word ‘Gooner’.  Interesting discussion going on there.

Also, Cesc dedicated last night’s win to the memory of Anotnio Puerta.  I’d like to echo his sentiment

“The armband was for him, the goal was for him, everything was for him. “He was a great lad who loved his football. I played with him in the Spanish Under-21s and we made our debuts together in the national team. He was 22, so the way he died was a tragedy. It shows you have to enjoy every moment in football and in life because you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.”

And on that rather sullen note, I’ll say Happy Thursday

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Sparta Preview – Arsenal Not Signing Adriano – Lehmann

Tonight sees the second leg of our Champions League qualifier against Sparta Prague.  A 2-0 away win stands us in good stead to qualify, but the job is certainly not over yet and we’ll need to keep things tight at the back to ensure there’s no hiccups along the way.

Thankfully, at the press conference today, AW revealed that Philippe Senderos will return to the squad so there will be no need for Alex Song to play.  At all.  None.  With Almunia still in for Lehmann and Eboue and Sagna out, Justin Hoyte and  should be the only change from the team that beat Manchester City at the weekend.  I’m expecting the line-up to be;

  • Almunia
  • Hoyte
  • Toure
  • Senderos
  • Clichy
  • Hleb
  • Fabregas
  • Gilberto
  • Rosicky
  • van Persie
  • Eduardo

I feel Eduardo will come in for Adebayor who had a stinker against Citeh.  As mentioned yesterday, we’re still searching for the striking combination that will provide the most goals and it’s fairly certain that RVP will be the mainstay, accompanied by one of Eduardo or Adebayor.  From what I’ve seen of Eduardo, he looks like the best man of those 3 to link the play between the midfield and his partner up front.

In a splurge of newsy soundbite benevolence, Wenger also commented on the rumours surrounding the non-signing of Adriano.  The Boss said,

“If I find the right player with the right quality I will always take him. With Adriano they wanted to give you a player and also take one from your squad. It would mean losing a player and then get one in who you were not desperately wanting. It is nothing to do with the quality of Adriano.”

I’ve got to say that really, Adriano would be a massive coup for us.  He’s proven quality and plays in the style of an Arsenal player, albeit one who is a human battering ram – the sort of player we thought Julio Baptista would be.  The question is who did Inter want in return for him?  It would have to be someone we’d consider too important to lose.  Fabregas?  Rosicky?  RVP?  Gilberto?  Your guess is as good as mine.  In fact, it’s probably better.  What would’ve been perfect would be to swap him for Bendtner or Adebayor and then asses the situation at the end of the season.

Wenger also commented on the Lehmann situation.  With rumours rife that the German is considering his future with the club, AW was quick to play that talk down and state that Jens is still committed to regaining his No.1 spot when he returns from injury.

“I had a meeting with Jens last Friday and he is not capable of playing at the moment. I know what is happening and he is not on his way out of the club.”

Finally, have a butcher’s at this.  How does Mark Hughes think people who have eyes and watch his team play using them don’t formulate their own opinion of his team (and in particular Robbie Savage), that his pathetic retaliatory finger pointing won’t change?  The man is clearly deluded.  I personally can’t wait until the next time we play his lot and we see Robin and Cesc both “accidentally” slide tackle him when chasing balls that are going out of play.  I can see the little smirk on Arsene’s face now.

Anyway.  Off to work for me.  Have a good day won’t you?

Cheers

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Normal Service Is Resumed…

…In more ways than one.  Firstly let me apologise for my absence over the bank holiday weekend.  As you can imagine I was very busy with doing all the things that are supposed to be done on a bank holiday – having BBQ’s and getting hideously drunk.  I had good intentions to update the blog, but hangovers and late nights put paid to that.  But I’m back now, so you can all rest easy.  I’m sure that’s a big relief to hear.

What was also a big relief was 3 points bagged against Man Citeh.  The vastly improved mancs could’ve provided Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side with a bit of a stumbling block, but after a hard fought, open game, it was Cesc ‘The Cescinator’ Fabregas that proved to be the difference between 1 and 3 points.  I’m sure you’ve all heard and read about the game a lot over the last three days so I won’t dwell too much on that.  But it is important to note that last season against a vastly inferior Citeh and us still having ‘talisman’ Henry, Ljugberg etc we managed to lose 1-0 in the opening stages of the campaign.

Everyone’s going on about Chelsea being top of the table, and to be fair, they are.  But the fact that both Arsenal and Liverpool are only 3 points behind and both have played a game less seems to have eluded most of the media.  That’s probably due in no small part to the hype that SKY surround the Russians with rubbing off on the rest of the sports news media.  Even Manchester Utd seem to have fallen off the radar a bit.  No doubt that will be remedied over the course of the season as they begin to rise back up the table, but for now they languish in the bottom half and have been looking extremely ordinary so far.

Taking note of all this is Mr Arsene Wenger.  He realises that the start Utd have made this season and ours last season are not dissimilar.

“At this stage of last season, we had only two points and were already under mental pressure,” said Wenger. A team like Manchester United are big enough to deal with that and come back. But we were a very young side and it was a bit too much for us. It was important to get a good start this time and we have done that.”

He has a good point.  Utd are experienced whereas we were not last time around.  Chelsea are also comprised of seasoned campaigners and know what it’s all about.  The fact that we’ve hit the ground running and not had a stuttering start like last term stands us in good stead and its effect on morale cannot be underestimated.

Also riding the wave of optimism is Manu Adebayor.  The Togolese international has been talking about the need for him and RVP to score goals.  And plenty of them.

“We are at Arsenal to score goals, we are at Arsenal to play football, we are at Arsenal to enjoy ourselves on the pitch and do something together. Give us time. We understand each other off the pitch, so we are just trying to do it on the pitch. I hope we can score plenty of goals. I just want to do my best – if that is 15 goals or 20 goals, just as high as possible.”

I really can’t see Manu and Robin being the bestest of buddies and practising their funky dancing together, but I think that maybe they could have a good relationship that could be translated to the pitch.  For both of them this season provides something new – being joint first choice striker (along with Eduardo).  Before, it was always Henry that was going to be the main man, but with his departure a void has been left and not filled.  There will probably not be another Thierry Henry.  You can’t replace a player like that anyway; he was unique.  So we’re left with filling the void left by one man with two men.  It will take some time for the relationships to develop, but we have seen from all 3 players flashes of what their capable of.  I fully expect that over the course of the season that the goals will begin to flow once a rapport between strikers is established.

Some tenuous transfer ‘news’ for you.  Apparently we’re after Ajax’s Urby Emanuelson.  Quite why we need another fullback is beyond me, but it won’t stop the rumour mill will it?

So that’s it.  I’ll hopefully be posting on the regular again as of today, so check back soon. Enjoy you’re post-BH day at work.  Bleurgh!

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Manchester Citeh Preview – GR In Apology Shocker!

It’s funny how things work out isn’t it?  You do your best to read as much opinion and news about your beloved Arsenal with the hope that you can blog about them in the best possible way.  You try to be funny, you try to be informative and you try to be correct in your assumptions.  Oh, and you try to slag of Myles whenever possible.  But today I have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong and Myles was right.  Sort of.  Basically, I was wrong in my assumption that Jens would play against Citeh, because he isn’t going to.  Myles was right because he said that it would be Lehmann, Almunia or Fabianski in goal for the Sky Blues visit.  Well done Myles.  You’re a professional journalist right?

So, Jens is out for when Sven’s team play our lads tomorrow.  The Boss revealed details of his injury yesterday (clearly after I’d left to play my pre-season match).

“Jens is out and he will miss two weeks I think,” said Arsène Wenger on Thursday afternoon. “Maybe more – I don’t know. He is going to see a specialist in Germany on Friday. He had this injury before but it has got much worse.”

Some of you maybe thinking that it was the knock he took in the England game when Micah Richards bundled into him and Lehmann was seen rubbing his arm afterward.  But you’d be wrong.  In fact, it is Jens’ Achilles that is the problem.  Speaking at a charity event for TreeHouse, AW revealed that it will be Manuel Almunia that will fill in for Jens against Citeh.  So we can expect Fabianski on the bench then.  Of the Spaniard, AW said,

“He’s equipped to take responsibility. Last year when he played he did very well and he is maturing. He has all the attributes you need.”

In other injury news, both Gallas and Eboue are still out.  There is no mention of Tomas Rosicky though, so he status remains a mystery.  One good thing (and something I did predict correctly) is that Emmanuel Adebayor is expected to return for the game on Saturday.  It is unlikely that he will start, or play for very long, but it is a welcome boost to our front line and we’re at 100% in that area now.  Also expected back is Gilberto Silva, which as I’ve mentioned previously, will be great news for us, and for Cesc who will feel more able to go and play his natural game with the knowledge that he is being backed up by the Brazilian captain.  Again, I don’t think he’ll play a full game, but he could start and get 60 minutes under his belt.

As Arsene prepares to meet Sven for the first time in league competition, the Frenchman has been quite complimentary of the Swede and his policy of bulk buying of foreign talent.

“When you talk about top-class English players you talk about Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Wayne Rooney — they are all at big clubs who do not need to sell. So then if you want to buy that equivalent international quality, you go for someone like Elano for six or seven million — you could not get an equivalent English player for that much. I’m sure Eriksson will be a success, he is a great manager.”

Let’s hope that tomorrow’s game is a better one for us than at a similar stage of the season back in ’06.  If we are serious about mounting a title challenge, we need to keep the pressure on The Chavs, and open up the gap over Utd.  We also need to keep pace with Liverpool who are also doing well so far this season.

So here’s to your Friday night.  And here’s to 3 points tomorrow.

Cheers all

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Players Come Through Friendlies Unscaythed, But Wenger Gets In A Ruck

 First up, get over to Gunnerblog.com to read GilbertoSilver’s quality post about a little boy who wanted a new watch.  Sounds weird?  I’m not going t lie to you; it is.  But is also funny as fook at the same time.

 Anyone watch the England game last night?  By Christ we’re shit.  I mean really shit.  The only good thing that came from that game was seeing that Micah Richards is actually real quality.  He’s a gooner too.  I’d fancy us signing him if we’d not gone for Sagna.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we still might.  He can play at centre back too, so if Hoyte and Djourou/Senderos don’t make the grade, he is the ideal man to get in.  It is super unlikely to happen though, which is a shame.  But if we do end up securing his services sometime in the future, remember, you heard it here first.  Unless you heard it somewhere else first.  Obviously.

There were plenty of Arsenal players in action for their respective nations last night, and thankfully I don’t have to tell you about a long list of injuries.  It would seem that no one picked up a knock that will affect their ability to play at the weekend, and some even made comebacks.  Sort of.  Emmanuel Adebayor featured in the Togo squad against Zambia and can’t be too far away from making his return to playing in an Arsenal shirt.  It’ll be good to have the big fella back again to provide us with options up front, and more importantly a foil for Robin.

New boy, Eduardo da Silva managed to score for Croatia against Bosnia in the formers 5-3 win.  He only played 63 minutes, but didn’t come off for being crocked or tired which is good news.

Big Phil Senderos’ Switzerland beat RvP’s Holland 2-1 to give the Swiss the bragging rights at Colney before Saturday.

The main point of interest for most Gooners was Jens Lehmann playing against England.  With all the attention on him after the errors against Fulham and Blackburn, the German ‘keeper was under pressure to perform.  Things did not get off to a good start when after 9 minutes Fat Frank fired England into an early lead, beating Lehmann at the near post.  You’d be hard pressed to find fault in Jens’ performance for that goal despite the near post finish.  That said, Myles Palmer has done exactly that.  It was a good strike from close range and the German No. 1 was left little chance.  I thought he did really well to save a header from scouse midget, Michael Owen from nigh on point blank range, and his only real dodgy moment was when a lucky rebound off him fell to Owen who subsequently skied it when  a simple tap would’ve done.  It wasn’t an outstanding performance from Jens, but it was solid and I found myself cheering whenever he saved the ball despite my patriotism.  I think he’ll start against Citeh.  In fact, I’m sure of it after watching him last night, as I’m sure Arsene did.  Want to bet against me Myles?

There were a whole bunch of other players in action, but I’ll leave you to read about that yourselves here.

Arsene Wenger has come in for some criticism from France coach, Raymond Domenech over how best to treat William Gallas’ injured groin.  Domenech wants Gallas to spend 10 days at the French HQ in Clairefontaine receiving treatment, but Wenger reckons that it’s a recurring problem with the captains abductor muscle and is therefore Arsenal’s duty to ensure their player is made fit again at their facilities.  Wenger said,

“I believe it is logical the Arsenal’s players get treatment with the club’s doctors”

Wenger and even Mourinho have previous with Domenech for his demanding too much of their players, so it is unlikely that AW will succumb to the French coach’s wishes.  Expect more posturing and verbals from the Gallic chiefs before this matter is put to bed.

Sticking with the international these, absentee so far this season, Gilberto Silva has been recalled to the Brazil squad that will play friendlies against the USA and Mexico next month.  Hopefully, hell have played some league games for us before then, as I think we really need his experience alongside Cesc in the middle.  Take nothing away from Flamini, but Gilberto is better and that’s that.  For all his admirable work rate and energy, Flamini just isn’t as good at doing what Gilberto does for club and country.

Domestically, Robin van Persie has been given some good news.  Arsene Wenger has said that he doesn’t intend to play him as the sole striker in a 4-5-1 for the whole season.  Good news for Robin, good news for us as I believe that we play better in the tried and tested 4-4-2.  And with the forwards that we have at the moment, playing 2 together will enable them to get the best out of each other and therefore do better for the team.

Right, I’m off to play another pre-season friendly.  It’s raining.  A lot.

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Lehmann – Walcott – Dein

Mornin’ all

Quick one this morning becasue I’m in a rush.

First up, Jens Lehmann has been saying that he’s not bothered by the pressure of the mistakes he has made.  As he makes his first appearence at Wembley for Germany against England tonight, he is stoical about all the talk that has surrounded his high profile errors in his first two Premier League matches of this season.

“After the first minute I had two very good games against Fulham and Sparta Prague. Even on Sunday I felt fine.  So I don’t feel under any pressure at all. I do not read comments which people make about me. I judge myself. That is enough.”

No one can say that Jens is not a professional, and I hope that tonight provides a chance for him to move on and leave behind the stigma of being a bit of a “Teflon”.

Theo Walcott played last night in a game analagous to the one gainst Blackburn.  The England U-21’s faced Romania and drew 1-1, with Theo being booted all over the place.  Is it going to be the norm now for good, quick players to be kicked and hacked until they can no longer play their natural game?  I thought all that died out back in the 70’s.  Yes, football is a man’s game, but it shouldn’t be the case that players can get away with victimising a flighty winger or striker and negate their impact by simply kicking them.  Thankfully, Theo came through it without serious injury and had quite a good game by all accounts.  These U-21 games are very important for the young Englishman, as it provides an opportunity to hone his skills against opposition commensurate with his own ability.  Hopefully this will stand him in good stead for future Premier League appearences where he can build on what he has learned at International level and gain some confidence, which does seem to be his main problem at the moment.

Finally David Dein will be attending this year’s Soccerex.  It will be interesting to hear what Dein has to say when he is inevitably quizzed about what happened at Arsenal.  The format will be a ‘one-on-one’ which I imagine will be a Q&A.  If Joe Public gets to ask the questions, then we might see Mr Perma-tan squiming a little bit.  And who wouldn’t like to see that?

Right, must dash.  Have a good day

UPDATE: Thanks to Arseblogger for pointing out that that Gallas was probably referring to the next France game being 6 weeks away, not his recovery from injury and subsequent return to the Arsenal squad.  Good work sweary-Dublin-based-Arsenal-blogging fella!

And thanks to GilbertoSilver over at Gunnerblog for bringing us the rumour/news that Arsenal have been trialing Honduran winger, Wilson Palacios.  Head over to Gunnerblog for more.

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Gallas – Walcott – Dunn

William Gallas has admitted that his injury is worse than previously thought.  The club reckoned that he’d be out for 3 weeks, but gallas reckons it’s more like 6.  Talking to French paper, L’Equipe, Gallas said,

 “I believe it is over for Italy.  You will not see me again until October. It is a bad blow, it is always difficult to accept, but now I have to rest.”

Right then.  Brilliant.  Captain out injured for a long time.  Hmmmm, where have I seen this before?  To be fair to Billy G, whilst I was all for getting rid of him this summer because of his whinging and his mediocrity last season, he’s turned things around, and has even looked like being quite a good captain.  It is  a blow that not only our captain, but a first choice and experienced centre back will be missing fo such a long time.  Hopefully, Gallas is just telling porkies and it’s really not as bad as he’s making out, but if it is, then we will be seeing a lot of Big Phil Senderos over the next few weeks.  If you cast your minds back 2 seasons, Phil partnered Kolo Toure for a long time and managed to get us to the Champions League final.  He’s a good player, but one who is susceptible to lapses in concentration and these really, really need to be cut out if he’s to make the grade. He does bring ariel prowess to the defence though, and in a team that genuinely lacks height, that cannot be underestimated.  When he gets a good run of games, Phil can look like a class player but he struggles when thrown in at the deep end.  Hopefully breaking him in this season against teams that don’t contain Didier Drogba might be just what he needs, and with hard work on the training ground he could prove some of the naysayers wrong.  If he doesn’t get his act together, we might find ourselves ruing the decision to let Johan Djourou go out on loan.

Whether AW is up to some japery is unclear.  What is clear though is that he has definitely said that he’s surprised that Theo Walcott didn’t make the England squad.

“I was surprised last week when people were talking about a striking crisis in England and nobody mentioned Walcott…”It has taken him some time but now in the last week I can see he is really coming back [from a shoulder injury]” 

Now, Le Boss could be making a subtle joke about Theo’s inclusion in the World Cup squad and all the uproar that caused, or he could be being 100% genuine.  Sometimes it is hard to tell with the laconic Frenchman, but from wha I’ve seen, he really is a big fan of Walcott’s and to be fair he does have a point.  With all the injuries to front men for the Germany game, Theo was in with a shout of selection due to two simple facts:

1. He’s a striker

2. He’s English

He probably doesn’t merit a place on current form, but we all know what he can do on his day, and I’m sure McClaren does too.  He also has the added bonus of being able to play on the wing too.

Finally, hideous git David Dunn has been spouting shite about Arsenal being moaners in the Mirror.

“It’s getting a little bit funny because every time we play Arsenal, they’re the ones who say we’re violent. But we’re not, we’re committed and that’s what you would expect from any team.  It always seems to be the Arsenal camp who come out with that kind of comment. I wouldn’t be so sure Alex Ferguson would say that and he would expect that from his team as well.”

He obviously doesn’t remember 3 days ago and the comments Fergie made about Ronaldo getting lumps kicked out of him.  And will someone tell him that being commited doesn’t constitute allowing your team to foul and cheat your way around a pitch.  When he follows it up with statements like,

“They have better players than us with more ability going through the team so we have to close that gap and make it into a little bit of a battle.”

You can see that the man is as stupid as he looks.

Ok dudes.  That’s it for today.

Peas out.  Or whatever those krazy kidz say

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