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The Super Sunday encounter between Arsenal and Manchester City can rightly be called a battle of ideologies. Cash rich Manchester City have not been shy of spending money. They have made a completely new team over the last year or two spending lavishly. Arsenal, on the other hand, with Arsene Wenger at helm have been the least spending Premier League side. They have persisted with project youth in the past few years with not more than a couple of additions each year. Tomorrow we may well find out how right Wenger is when he says “You can’t buy success.”
We usually don’t term games this early in the season as must-win. But its getting the 3 points especially in big matches like the one tomorrow that help to keep those must win games to a minimum in the final stages of the season.
The trip to City of Manchester Stadium used to be an easy ride for Arsenal till 2006. But since the influx of virtually unlimited money at City, Arsenal have managed to avoid defeat just once in the last 5 trips to Eastlands. Not to forget last season’s 4-2 defeat – a result that was overshadowed by Emmanuel Adebayor’s infamous stamp on former teammate Robin van Persie. Neither of the two might feature tomorrow though. Van Persie, as usual, is out injured and Adebayor has fallen out of favor with manager Roberto Mancini.
What’s more worrying for Arsenal is that they have a horrible away form. They have not kept a clean sheet in their last 15 away games and have won only one of their last eight Premier League away games. It really makes one wonder whether Arsenal can manage to get the 3 points tomorrow. Looks doubtful, honestly speaking.
As for the team news, City have an extremely short injury list. Balotelli, Jo and Toure are the only big names doubtful for tomorrow. Balotelli and Jo will surely not be missed with the form that Carlos Tevez is in. 28 goals in his last 31 Premier League appearances, including 7 already this season, says it all. It is this remarkable form that has forced Adebayor to the bench. But the lanky forward did get a hattrick in the Europa Cup in midweek so he will surely be contesting for a start against the club where it all started for him. New boy David Silva is also starting to fulfill his potential and could pose a serious threat to the weak Arsenal defence.
Arsenal’s absentee list is a lot longer than that of City. Almunia, Frimpong, Ramsey, Van Persie, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Wilshere (suspended) will all be missing. The list has shrunk a lot in the last week or two. Sagna is back, so are Walcott, Bendtner and Fabregas. The captain’s return is a timely one considering the little man running the show from midfield this season, Jack Wilshere, is suspended. The probable line-up will be:
Sagna Squillaci Djourou Clichy
Nasri Song Fabregas
Walcott Chamakh Arshavin
Fabianski is turning out to be a reliable goalkeeper. You don’t have mini heart attacks anymore whenever he’s called into action, and instead you really fancy him to pull out a save or make a good punch. Sagna is back fit and I would prefer him over Eboue because he’s better defender defensively. The back two pick themselves since they’re the only options we have unless Koscielny makes a surprising recovery from his back injury. At left back I wouldn’t mind either of Clichy or Gibbs but Wenger will probably go for Clichy’s experience. Nasri has been Arsenal’s best player this season so he’s an automatic selection. Song is the only holding midfield option we have. Fabregas picks himself. As for Walcott, I think we really will need his pace and direct approach in a big match like this because as Wenger said the first goal decides the game in most big matches so better to start him than bring him on as a super sub. Of course you can’t drop Chamakh. He’s been The Man so far. Involved in nearly everything – tracking back, good link play, assists, winning penalties, scoring goals. And we all know Wenger wont drop Arshavin so lets not argue about that!
League position: 2nd
Goals scored: 12
Goals conceded: 5
League position: 5th
Goals scored: 18
Goals conceded: 10
Lets hope Arsenal can turn their away misfortunes around and turn up with a performance we’ve all come to expect from them at home. With Chelsea getting a win today, not dropping points is all the more important now.
Almunia – 7 – Didn’t do anything wrong all match and made a decent save too. Apart from that save and a couple of punches from corners he hardly had anything to do.
Sagna – 6.5 – Yet another decent game for Mr. Consistent. But he needs to work on his crosses more.
Djourou – 5 – He was Arsenal’s worst player in the match. Didn’t do well enough in the air and failed to win some tackles. Didn’t look too confident while defending.
Toure – 7 – Superb defending from the captain. Got a vital goal and sent a delightful long ball to assist Bendtner for his second which Fabregas would be proud of!
Clichy – 6 – Not the best of games by his standard. But at least this time he crossed the ball fewer times than against Fulham. He is a hopeless crosser and yet he crosses the ball in again and again. Can someone go and tell him how bad his crosses are because he clearly can’t see it.
Eboue – 6.5 – Surprisingly good performance by the Ivorian. Made good surging runs but as usual he lacked the final ball or the finish. And in the opening minutes the ‘Pass Master’ gave the ball away a few times too! Wenger would have been surprised to see that!
Denilson – 7.5 – Brilliant performance by the youngster. He is improving a lot, especially on his defensive side. He needs to put up such performances week in week out.
Song – 5.5 – Not the best of performances from Song particularly when he was in the centre of the midfield. He was better when playing as the centre half this time.
Nasri – 7 – As usual a superb match from the young Frenchman. He was involved in most of the attacks. The only thing missing was an assist or a goal.
Arshavin – 7.5 – Arshavin was a different class. Amazing. Whenever he is on the ball one feels he will do something special. He forced some superb saves from Carson and had a great assist with that delightful delivery into the box for Toure to head in.
Bendtner – 8 – He had the best match of his Arsenal career! He showed how capable a finisher he is and why Wenger has so much faith in him. Both the goals were world class especially the second one. Unlucky not to get his hattrick. It should have been 8.5 for him had it not been for a couple of bad misses.
Diaby – 6.5 – Played the 2nd half and played really well. He can take on defenders, he can send forward passes and not just sideways (unlike Song and Denilson!).
Ramsey – 6 – Made one mistake but otherwise he looked sheer quality. You can see the talent in him with his every pass. He can make passes that Denilson and Song, and even Diaby cannot. That pass behind the defender for Arshavin was superb.
Merida - 5.5 – 5.5 only because of the limited time he got. He looked impressive. He has got strength and quality.
Arsenal players can now swap their national teams shirts back to the red and white of Arsenal. Arsenal are stuck in the 5th round as first they had a draw in the away game and then the replay had to be postponed due to heavy snowfall.
The FA Cup is the competition that Arsenal have the most realistic chance of winning and finally bringing to an end the trophy-less years. Arsenal are further helped by the fact that all the matches leading up to the semifinals will be home ties for them. That will be quite an advantage.
But leading up to this match Arsenal are going through a bad patch. Way too many draws for them. 0-0, 1-1, 0-0 and 0-0 in their last four games says it all. What is even more alarming is that they have scored just a single goal in their last 4 games. Arsene Wenger is also quite surprised by that run:
“It is completely unlike us, the circumstances are a little bit strange. We played against West Ham who had a very good side, we played at Cardiff which is a little bit special and then we played at Tottenham with 10 men. We are used to scoring goals and we will score goals again, don’t worry. We have always had a good forward line and we were very close to scoring many times against West Ham and Cardiff. At the moment it is difficult for everybody to score but if we keep playing well as a team I’ m sure that will come back.”
Dramatic improvement is needed. But on the positive side. Those are 3 clean sheets from 4 matches and moving a bit more back, it’s 5 clean sheets from the last 8 games.
But Wenger is not worried by the last three draws as when you look at the bigger picture, Arsenal are unbeaten in 11 games and that is quite a run. The Frenchman said:
“We want to prepare well because we know it is a very important game for us and we need to focus. We are unbeaten in 11 matches and want to keep that going in every competition — the longer that lasts, the stronger you will be. If the three draws put together don’t look good, then you must put the whole 11 games together and that looks like we are on a run.”
On the other hand, ironically Cardiff are also on an 11 match unbeaten run. In those matches they are 6 matches unbeaten away from home but it includes 4 draws and have let in 7 goals in these 6 away games. Their last four matches are much better than Arsenal’s: 1-1, 0-0, 2-0, 2-0.
This match is very vital for Arsenal. They need to continue their unbeaten run and by doing so they will stay alive in the competition in which they have the best chance of ending up with the trophy. Wenger knows the importance of the match:
“We want to transform that bit of disappointment from a draw into a convincing victory, and the team is on a good way. I believe we should focus on our way to be successful and not too much on the others. We need outstanding performances until the end of the season and the only way to achieve that is by focusing on our performances.”
Which team will Wenger go for is a very difficult guess. It’s the FA Cup. Maybe Wenger will go for a side with a mixture of first teamers and fringe players or considering the importance of the match, you lose you are out, he might go for a full strength side. I expect the first possibility. Arshavin isn’t available as he wasn’t an Arsenal player at the time of the first leg so there is one player out of contention. Diaby is injured, Eboue suspended and also Ramsey is injured. Eduardo is back and may play a part though I don’t expect him to be handed out a start. I expect the following line up:
Sagna Gallas Djourou Gibbs
_____ Denilson Song Nasri
van Persie Bendtner
Now there is a gap there. Arsenal are out of right wingers at the moment. So maybe Wilshere will be given a start on the left with Nasri on the right, or Vela on the left and Nasri on the right. I would love to see either of them play. But from what I have heard Bischoff can play in the centre and on the right and I would be pleased to see him play. He can score absolute stunners! Eduardo might come on as a late substitute.
Prediction 1-0 to Arsenal.
by Shayan Niazi
With Man Utd and Liverpool likely to dominate the title race again this season, Aston Villa and Chelsea could find themselves in a scrap for third place.
Arsenal’s squad appears weaker, with the summer departures not quite balanced by the new arrivals. Losing key players like Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini, as well as experienced squad members Jens Lehmann and Gilberto Silva must surely take their toll both on and off the pitch.
Other news is Alexandre Hleb is determined to stick it out at Barca and fight for his place, it’s a shame he didn’t show the same mettle at Arsenal, but then he’d look a right plonker if he left Barca wouldn’t he? It’s good to see the curse of Arsenal is still working though and should if nothing else show to any want-aways that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
It’s a testament to Arsene Wenger’s ability that there are no rumours of discontent despite Arsenal not winning a major trophy since lifting the FA Cup in 2005. Many fans recognise what Wenger is doing post Henry, Pires, Bergkamp and co, and with the emergence of the talent at his disposal now the Frenchman will fully expect his squad to challenge for the Premiership.
With the loss of key players in the past 2 seasons it takes time to re-build a team. Wenger doesn’t go spending large sums on celebrity players, instead he takes a considered approach and looks to the long term but in the end fails to meet the expectations of the board.
The main question is that CAN Arsenal finish in the top 4? The current stats tell us finishing in the top 4 requires a lot more than Arsenal are doing at the moment , and Wenger’s treating it like a joke. Sure, it’s good he’s got philosophies of how the game should be played and wants to bring youngsters through but he’s still being paid to win football matches.
He almost seems to be being defiant and stubborn in not buying players to try to prove a point but the bottom line is the money’s there and it’s obvious to anyone he needs a centre-back and a defensive midfielder and, as long as he’s not buying those players, he’s letting the fans down, letting the board down and basically failing to do what he’s paid to do.
current news tells us :
Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood has told Arsene Wenger the club would not suffer a financial apocalypse if they did not secure a Champions League berth.
Currently in fifth place and eight points behind leaders Manchester United, Wenger is facing the reality of finishing outside the top four for the first time in his 13 year reign.
But Hill-Wood has moved to assure Arsenal fans that if the club has to settle with a Uefa Cup place there would be no financial meltdown and nor would they struggle to continue paying off the mortgage on their £360 million stadium.
“Although missing out on the Champions League for one year would be a big disappointment, it would not mean financial Armageddon for Arsenal.
Arsenal are currently in need of 12 points to cover the gap between Manchester United and are 5 points away from Chelsea , with the games in hand being taken away one by one and a total of 13 games left Arsene and his team need to go all out in order to earn a Champions League spot.
Wenger needs to try different tactics to save his team from finishing 5th , and try a different set of players who might make it count for the team. With the absence of Fabregas , Walcott and Rosicky there is no influential player left in the field and Wenger is left with no other option but to bring on players like Ramsey , Arshavin and Wilshere if he wants to go for it.
(The writer of this article is a Chelsea fan but admires Arsenal and their style of play so he closely follows the club)
by Zain Shahid
With the form that Arsenal are in, this performance against Cardiff came completely out of the blue. Poor defending at times, gave the ball away on too many occasions and did not create enough chances; and all that against a Championship side!
The hosts made a bright start and one might say we were lucky it remained 0-0 thanks to some not so good finishing. Gradually we came into the game with Nasri getting a brilliant chance to put us ahead but his shot was saved by the keeper. Apart from that there was a van Persie free kick that flashed just wide of the post and an easy chance wasted by Adebayor. The list ends there and it sums up the performance of Arsenal. Cardiff nearly made us cry but their late free kick hit the bar otherwise we would have been left fighting for just two trophies.
The only positive from the game was Keiran Gibbs, who is becoming a good cover for Clichy; and not to mention the fact that we managed not to lose! Ramsey did not perform to the level he can as probably the occasion got to him and he gave the ball away too easily. Eboue had another hopeless performance. Bendtner looked a bit lost as the striker but played better on the right. Diaby, when he came on in the second half, played quite well but another substitute Adebayor was unbelievably poor. A guy with his quality has got to finish chances like those but on more than one occasion this season we have seen him miss chances like that.
Surprisingly with us needing a goal to win it, Vela or Wilshere were not introduced to inject the vital pace which was desperately needed. I was really confused with Wenger’s thinking on this one. And when he did bring on Wilshere, he got a couple of minutes to win the match! Unbelievable.
Arsene Wenger will surely not be pleased to play an extra game now with the small squad that he has but you have to live with it. If Arsenal manage to win the replay, they will face either West Brom or Burnley at Emirates. Seems easy on paper but like this match against Cardiff, it wont be easy…i.e if Arsenal get to the next round!
by Zain Shahid
Another FA Cup weekend is here and as many say FA Cup is the most realistic chance of a trophy for Arsenal this season. People might say it’s another easy fixture for Arsenal after having an easy ride against Plymouth in the last round. Even though no match is too easy, everyone will have to accept that but considering that Manchester United and Tottenham play each other, Everton and Liverpool also face each other so comparatively Arsenal are advantaged in this round.
It has been the case in recent weeks that every Arsenal match has been a virtually ‘must-win’ encounter to stay in contention for the title. In this case too it is a must win match too. It’s the Cup; you lose, you’re out and that is something Arsenal cannot afford because as I mentioned this is Arsenal’s most realistic chance of winning some silverware this season.
Cardiff are a decent side and no doubt they will make Arsenal work really hard for the win. For Arsene Wenger, the fact that it is a Cup tie makes no difference as for him every match has the same importance and he wants to win every single match. Cardiff have the advantage with the home crowd behind them and if Ramsey is to be believed, the fans at Ninian Park are really noisy and are very much behind the team for the 90 mins.
For Arsenal, they have the same old injuries with only Gallas coming back. Clichy is suspended. Wenger is not prioritising any competition so we will see a full-strength Arsenal side with the exception of Fabianski.
The man to watch for Cardiff will certainly be van Persie. The Dutchman is in hot form, arguably the best form of his career so far, and so far this month he has been involved in a goal at least in every match. On the other hand Arsenal need to watch out for Jay Bothroyd. He has been a very successful buy for the Bluebirds and will certainly be looking to inflict some damage to his old club. Arsenal’s weak link will be Keiran Gibbs. He is relatively inexperienced and as he has been transformed from a left winger to left back so there are still some weaknesses in his defending, though going forward he can be exceptional.
The expected line-up should be:
Sagna Toure(C) Djourou Gibbs
Eboue Denilson Ramsey Nasri
van Persie Adebayor
There is still the possibility that Arsene might rest at least one of van Persie, Adebayor and Nasri considering the midweek trip to Goodison Park is of immense importance and he would not want his main players fatigued or in the worst case, injured. There is also a possibility of Gallas returninig to the first team which would mean Toure might be left out and van Persie will wear the captain’s armband once again. But as he has just returned to full fitness so I don’t expect a start for him. Vela and Bendtner might get an important start too if Wenger decides to rest van Persie or Adebayor and I certainly would love to see Vela starting. Bendtner’s, if not started, substitute appearance might be a match-turning introduction if the match is not over already by then considering the form the Dane is in. And this FA Cup tie is another chance for young Ramsey to once again impress the fans and the manager and send a message to Denilson and Song that he is knocking on their door so they’d better start performing well! My prediction is a 2-1 win for Arsenal. Lets once again hope that no matter what the scoreline, Arsenal go through to the next round!
by Zain Shahid
Some might say it’s revenge time for Arsenal this weekend against Hull… but actually it’s more than just revenge. Arsenal are finally getting into a bit of form this season and are 6 games unbeaten coming into this match including wins in their last 3 games. Not only this, they are finally starting to win dirty, something that had been missing so far this season. On the other hand, Hull’s dream run in the season has come to a stop; or as many would say: the bubble has burst. No win from their last 12 matches and 4 consecutive defeats coming into this match. However they do have a bit of a morale boost with the 1-0 away win at St. James’s Park in the FA Cup. Just like it has been for the past few weekends, it can be termed as a must win game for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger knows that with 5 defeats already this season he cannot afford to drop points in matches like these, especially with trips to White Hart Lane, Anfield and Old Trafford still remaining. The last 3 matches have been wins for Arsenal but all have been at the Emirates so winning this match is very vital as Arsenal need to improve their away form. Arsenal need to set the tone for this year and spark a comeback into the title race.
The most probable line-up for tonight’s match is:
Sagna Toure Djourou Clichy
Eboue Denilson Diaby Nasri
van Persie Adebayor
*In this line-up though, I am not sure if Nasri will be on the left or Diaby will be because we have all seen we need Nasri’s brilliant creativity in the centre in Fabregas’s absence. Arsene Wenger too was impressed by Nasri’s work in the centre. One thing is for sure, even if Nasri starts on the left, he will end the match playing in the centre.
However the line-up that I would love to see is:
Sagna Toure Djourou Clichy
Eboue Ramsey Vela
van Persie Adebayor
If Vela is not started then I think he should be brought on with around half an hour at least remaining so that he has ample time to make a big mark and as we have seen in recent matches he should play an important role in getting a result from the game if it’s not over yet when he comes on.
Keeping in mind the form of the two sides, I expect a 2-0 win for Arsenal if Hull don’t come out just to defend otherwise if they do so then probably Arsenal will come out with yet another 1-0 win. Lets hope whatever the scoreline be, Arsenal get the important 3 points.
by Zain Shahid
As we all know 2008 was one of the worst years in Arsenal’s recent history under Arsene Wenger. We were cruising at the top of the table with a 10 point lead as the year started but with a new year came a complete form slump. Dropping points again and again, Eduardo breaking his leg, Rosicky out, and we eventually end up 3rd despite leading for most part of the season. We also got unluckily knocked out of the Champions League to Liverpool, and were humiliated 4-0 at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. Then came summer and all we sign is young Ramsey who is not part of our first team as for now and Nasri, who is the only good thing that has happened to us this year (apart from that historic truimph at San Siro!). Apart from those two we signed Silvestre, who himself would not remember the last time he played for Manchester United, and Bischoff, who had hardly played for his previous club and has not played for Arsenal apart from a substitute appearance so far. Then this season started and we lost our second game of the season to Fulham, then got into a bit of form which ended at the Emirates to Hull City. Since then we have seen disappointing performances from the club, with only two standout performances against Manchester United and Chelsea. We have already lost more games so far this season than we did all season last season. We are 8 points behind the leaders, once again finished 2nd in the group stages of the Champions League, out of the Carling Cup to lowly Burnley. Luckily there wasn’t FA Cup this season in 2008 otherwise we would have been out of it too! So to sum it up 2008 was a very unlucky year for Arsenal. But luck is not going to betray Arsenal again and again will it?! I don’t think so. We have started the year winnig dirty…we all know teams come and park their bus against Arsenal and in 2008 they had been quite successful in it. However this year we have already been successful of winning against teams that come just to defend twice (if you include late last year’s fixture against Portsmouth in 2009!). We have advanced to the next round of the FA Cup and are looking all set to sign Arshavin. What a start don’t you think?! Last year we could not win against teams that came to just defend; and could anyone have imagined that Arsenal would buy a big name like they are very close to signing Arshavin! So the start is quite good…and if you believe in Lady Luck then maybe 2008 as a whole was meant to be a bad year and 2009 as the start suggests (though I admit it might be too early to start making conclusions) will be a good and ‘lucky’ year for Arsenal! Ok our best player is out but remember what happened when Henry went?! van Persie and company are really coming out of their shell now. van Persie has been producing consistent match winning performances and so has been Nasri. The defence hasn’t looked this good all this season, Vela is really starting to become an impact substitute, Ramsey is impressing, Denilson and Eboue are much improved, and even Bendtner who was hopeless last year has suddenly scored 2 goals from 2 matches in 2009! Eduardo is also back, and once Walcott and Fabregas return they will be like two big name signings for us after returning from long term injuries. So the signs are looking very good I think. Lets just hope for the best! May 2009 be Arsenal’s year!
Now back to the never ending Arshavin transfer speculation! The Russian star expressed his desire to wear the number 10 shirt at Arsenal and also hoped that he wont have a hard time in adjusting to Arsenal’s style of play:
“In some games last season, we played football which was very similar to that of Arsenal. I would prefer my present No 10 but in the team where I hope to move it’s not vacant. So I’m ready for any number they are going to offer me.
“In some games last season, we played football which was very similar to that of Arsenal. “
So he wants the the no. 10 shirt in ‘the team where I hope to move’! Now that is awesome news! In most cases players who are to be sold end up at clubs of their choice and it seems Arshavin wants to join Arsenal.
Meanwhile Arsenal target Everton’s Mikel Arteta has dispelled transfer rumours linking him with Arsenal and Manchester City and assured his commitment to the Toffees.
by Zain Shahid
In my earlier posts I mentioned Arsenal’s lack of cover for central defence and a quality defensive midfielder. This time I will turn my attention to another even more important area needing strengthening i.e wing.
This season we have seen Arsenal drop a lot of points because of the lack of width. With Denilson, Diaby, Ramsey, Nasri and Eboue playing on the wings, one can see the lack of natural width in the squad. Denilson is a central midfielder and even though I feel he can cross, he lacks the pace to play as a winger; then Diaby can’t cross well, Ramsey is good but he prefers to move into the centre rather than staying on the wing and sending in crosses; Nasri is the best among these 5 but to get the most out of him he should be played in the centre (especially now that Fabregas is out) but if needed he is our best option on the flanks; lastly Eboue is the most naturally wide player in the squad but he lacks the quality to be a good enough consistent first teamer. We have Walcott, who is our best option on the wings but he won’t be back for another 2 or 3 months and Rosicky who might play again only next season. Apart from these Bendtner and Vela have been tried on the wings and both have impressed but they are natural forwards so you can’t play them on the wing regularly as I think their futures are as forwards. So the lack of width is quite visible. There are players like Silva, Jesus Navas, Joaquin etc who are world class winger and play at comparatively smaller clubs so if the money is availabe Arsenal are quite capable of signing them.
So as for now a winger is desperately needed. There is a chance for one to be signed, a very slight one though, as Arsene Wenger said that he is looking for a creative midfielder which is quite obviously Arshavin and another midfielder. This another midfileder could most probably be a central midielder but there is a slight chance that it could be a winger. However, the ‘another midfielder’ might not even be bought in January considering the fact that Arshavin might be signed which will drain Arsenal’s little financial resources available to be spent in January.
Talking of Arshavin, according to The Sun Arshavin is on the verge of signing for Arsenal despite the fact that Wenger is not prepared to spend the amount of money demanded by Zenit, which is due to the fact that both the clubs want to go through with the deal as Arshavin is bound to leave Zenit and Arsenal so far are the only club interested in him so perhaps the two clubs might strike a deal.