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24 birthdays but none as bad as this. That is the story of Lukas Fabianski. Started the match by nearly conceding as he needlessly came off the line and ended it in the same fashion, except that this time he conceded.

Fabianski

Not many Arsenal fans were expecting a defeat considering the form they were it. It seemed we were invincible, but not anymore. FA Cup was the tournament we had the greatest chance of winning but we will have to wait yet another season now for it. To expect winning the Champions League is more hope than expectation. It seems another trophyless season it will be now…

It all started with bad news and ended with bad news as well. Denilson and Diaby preferred to Arshavin and Nasri. Wenger did manage to give a logical explanation as to why Nasri was not started but Arshavin. That was an unbeliavable decision. He had not featured in the mid-week match against Villareal so he was fresh and daring to have a go at Chelsea. Yet he is dropped. Wenger said when you have 8 matches in 24 days you can’t expect to play the same 11 in every match. But wait Arshavin didn’t play the last match. No reason to drop the best player of Russia in such a big match. Complaints later lets talk about the match.

Fabianski as expected was in goal. The same back four as against Villareal ahead of him as Gibbs passed a late fitness test. Walcott on the right, Fabregas, Denilson and Diaby in the centre. van Persie playing on the left and Adebayor the forward. The line-up raised a lot of eyebrows but Wenger isn’t a man who listens to others does he.

The match started with Arsenal clearly looking the better side. But that didn’t last. A howler from Fabianski nearly let Drogba give Chelsea an early lead but his header cleared off the line by Gibbs. Chelsea soon had another decent opportunity for Drogba. But the Ivorian’s touch too heavy and the chance went begging.

Chelsea couldn’t get the early lead but Arsenal did. Against the run of play Walcott put Arsenal ahead. Adebayor had the ball on the left flank, played a neat pass to Gibbs whose cross came straight to the unmarked Walcott inside the box. The youngster took the shot with his unfavoured left foot and it needed a deflection off the hand of Ashley Cole to beat Petr Cech.

Arsenal had got the goal but that was the only advantage they had as Chelsea continued to dominate. With a midfield comprising Ballack, Lampard and Essien against Diaby and Denilson, it was quite obvious Chelsea would dominate in midfield.

Walcott was looking very lively whenever he got the ball and Fabregas was brilliant as usual as well. The two nearly combined to increase the lead. Fabregas’s through ball met by Walcott who had his shot brilliantly saved by Cech. But Walcott had wrongly been called offside. Had Cech failed to stop the shot there would have been a lot of post match controversy.

Chelsea had an immediate reply though. Great vision and a pin point long ball by Lampard found Malouda just inside the box. A sublime first touch, got away from Eboue with the second and had a shot on goal with his right foot. Through Eboue legs and into the back of the net at Fabianski’s near post. Advantage Chelsea.

At this point everyone could feel that Almunia was being sorely missed. Fabianski was looking very nervous. He isn’t the worst of keepers but probably the nerves of playing in such a big match got to him.

It was one way traffic after that goal. Anelka had a stunning effort on goal but it hit the post and out. Diaby was at fault there. Trying to play pretty football inside the box isn’t something you should be doing in the FA Cup semi final against a team of Chelsea’s quality.

Next up Essien tried a curler but it was straight at Fabianski. Whenever Chelsea came near Arsenal’s goal, one feared Fabianski would mess up.

Even in the second half, Wenger’s motivating half time talk couldn’t do the trick as Chelsea continued from where they left. Lampard had a chance but superb tackle by Toure to deny him.

Both the sides had their chances. Walcott was the main player of Arsenal. Whipping in dangerous crosses in but no one getting on the end of them. Ashley Cole was looking hapless. Both side also had appeals for penalties turned down. Drogba and Lampard also combined nicely by Lampard volley went wide.

Honestly speaking, I feared Chelsea will inevitably score. They were looking too good and Fabianski too bad.

Arshavin and Nasri came on very late on. It was too little too late though. Ok they are wonderful players but you have to be sensible enough and not expect a miracle from them by bringing them on so late in the game.

A minute after Nasri came on, the worst happened. Drogba sent through by a long ball. The Chelsea forward shrugged off Silvestre and the Frechman virtually gave up his chase. Very poor defending. Then Fabianski capped up a hopeless performance by setting up Drogba’s goal. Came off his line. Tried to stop Drogba by a half stretch of his left leg. He was never going to be stopped that easily, got away and finished it with his left foot. Toure and Silvestre got back but too late, the ball had already crossed the line. You could see how furious Toure was seeing the ball cross the line. He secretly felt this game was over.

Wenger had a final throw of the die by taking Adebayor off and bringing Bendtner on. Bendtner can be a good super sub and he nearly forced extra time. Got away from a couple of defenders and sent a cross in. Arshavin got on the end of it and had a shot. The shot had beaten Cech and was heading for goal only for Alex to step in and put the ball away for a corner. The corner saw Cech flapping at the ball resluting in another corner. Similar flapping by Cech but this time the ball was cleared. Match over. Dream over.

Drogba yet again brought tears to the Arsenal fans eyes. Dumped Arsenal in the League Cup final two years back and does the same in the FA Cup semi final this year. Arsenal fans will have to live with the regret that if Almunia and Gallas were fit maybe the result would have been different. Nothing can be done now and Arsenal are out of the FA Cup

Injuries have killed yet another season of Arsenal.

Ivanovic hardly had anything to do all match. A player of Arshavin’s quality would just have ripped him apart. But no Wenger thought Diaby would do a better job than Arshavin.

And Adebayor really needs to start fighting for long balls. Fabregas sends brilliant long balls to him. And what does he do! Makes a run forward in the vain hope that the defender might fail to head the ball and it will fall to him. That is never going to happen Ade. At least not against a team of Chelsea’s quality.

Lets forget about it now, though I just cant get it out of my mind! So one can imagine how hard it will be for the players to get over this defeat. Lets hope they get over it as soon as possible or it might even result in a Champions League semi final defeat. They need to re focus quickly. This season may seem to be over but it’s not as yet…

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by Zain Shahid

This season has been one of the worst in Arsene Wenger’s career at Arsenal and when you look at the trend with Arsenal’s points tally and performances overall improving since the last 3 seasons, this season has come as a big unpleasant surprise. The big question in everyone’s mind is what has gone wrong this season.

Arsenal miss their partnership
Arsenal miss their partnership

The main reason in most people’s minds would be the departures of Flamini and Gilberto. They were our main holding midfielders and who would not agree to the fact that Flamini was one of our best players of the season, second only to Fabregas. With their departures we have had to play on most ocassions without a holding player or sometimes with Song in that role and everyone knows he is just not good enough to be in our first team. And the fact that Wenger has been more interested in signing Arshavin than a defensive midfielder came as a big surprise to me. (Talking of Arshavin, Zenit have said they are waiting for a reply from Arsenal as negotiations continue; and Wenger has said he wants the deal done before the match against West Ham.) We know there has been a lack of clean sheets this season and it can be blamed on the lack of a natural holding midfielder in the side rather than putting all the blame on Gallas and Toure. But to add to that the lack of defensive cover has also been a big factor. When Gallas and Toure have been out, the far from convincing Silvestre has come to fill in or the inconsistent Djourou. If Arsenal fail to keep a clean sheet against West Ham tomorrow then they will have just 15 clean sheets so far whereas last season in the same period they had 20 and we have conceded 35 goals so far compared to 28 last year at this time.

One of the most creative midfielders Arsenal has had in recent times
One of the most creative midfielders Arsenal has had in recent times

Another reason is Hleb’s departure and with it his creativity that pierced defences open. Ok Hleb did not score as much as he should have but he was exceptionally talented when it comes to creativity. I’ll be honest, I miss Hleb. Some might say Nasri has been a great replacement and I agree, especially considering he scores a lot. But the problem lies in piercing defences open, creating a lot of chances rather than passing sideways all match. Nasri can do the job but he can’t play up to the level he is capable of on the left. Last year Hleb was played as a second striker and he was brilliant there, I see no reason why isn’t Nasri played there too. He has showed with his few performances in the centre how good he can be and especially with Fabregas out he is needed there.

Not good enough...
Not good enough…

Then comes the lack of support Fabregas got in the centre and lack of quality in midfield. This really does not need much explanation. We all know Song has been hopeless and Denilson can’t defend so Fabregas has had to worry more about tracking back rather than doing his job i.e ripping apart defences with his exceptional passing. On the wing we have seen Denilson, Diaby and Eboue. All have not played up to the mark. Imagine for instance if Denilson was in AC Milan, or Barcelona or Manchester United. Would he be in their first team? Noway! He is not good enough to be in the first team of a top European club. Same goes for Song, Diaby and Eboue. We have been just waiting and waiting and waiting for them to come of age. Will they ever be good enough? Doesn’t seem so does it?! Especially Eboue. I have always mantained he should be sold and replaced with a natural, world class winger and I stand by it.

Gone... And injured
Gone… And injured

A lot might say injuries have been the biggest setback this season. Imagine Rosicky on the left, Fabregas in the centre, Walcott on the right, Nasri supporting van Persie and Adebayor. With a defensive midfielder this attack can be the best in the world but poor us, all these guys are hardly fit together. But the point is players get long-term injuries like we have seen with van Persie in the past, now Rosicky is still out, Eduardo is coming back, Walcott and Fabregas still out; these injuries are not going to happen every year will they. That’s what everyone said of van Persie when he got injured time and time again but they were wrong. He has showed his fitness and class. He has been our player of the season so far. So if the aforementioned players remain fit, Arsenal are a side to be feared by all European power houses. They may be injured now, but they won’t be out for 3 4 months every season, hopefully not next season.

These reasons have led to defensive frailty and lack of creativity up front. Right now it’s just van Persie keeping Arsenal in the fight for the title, even though with all the poor results we have got this season and where we lie in the table at the moment thinking of winning the season seems quite unrealistic. This season looks like a fight for a Champions League place and not the title. The only very dim hope remaining is that van Persie contines the form of his life and with Nasri, keeps getting decent results for Arsenal till Fabregas and Walcott return. That might be the turning point of the season if Arsenal are still in the race for the title when the duo make their comebacks.

by Zain Shahid

The Story of 2008...Sad Times...

The Story of 2008...Sad Times...

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.

The Rivals

The Rivals

by Zain Shahid

January is here. Sir Alex Ferguson is making use of it but so far no move from Arsene Wenger. But he has been linked with Arshavin, Arteta, Alonso, In|er to quote a few. I would like to talk about what exactly does Arsenal need this January.

I feel we need cover for the central defence. Gallas is good but he has his days, Toure is good but he is not in form right now and seems unhappy at Arsenal, Djourou is good but needs more time to play regularly in the 1st team. Thats where the list ends. I’m not counting Silvestre here because he is just not good enough. He should be played only when none of the other three I mentioned are unavailable. We have Song too, who Arsene says is more of a centre half than central midfielder but I have so far not been impressed by his tackling. I have seen him commit too many fouls which is not something one would want in a centre half so I would rule him out of the list too. We also don’t have the best young talent in this department either. Only Harvard Nordtveidt has been rated as a really talented centre half in our Reserves. So we need a good not too young and not too old centre back. Its a very tough job to find one but Arsene Wenger is quite good at it so if he feels he need to strengthen this area, he will somehow find a good, capable guy to fill in. But there are other departments that need more urgent strengthening so i guess a new centre back should be left till the summer considering the economic depression so we aren’t going to spend much.

by Zain Shahid

RvP - Scores the 1st

RvP - Scores the 1st

It was an impressive performance at the Emirates on Saturday. Maybe they could have scored 5 or 6 had they taken more of their chances considering they created around 15 16 chances! The 1st half wasn’t the best but they came out really well in the 2nd. Van Persie really showed his class which we expect to see week in week out. Nasri was brilliant. I have always been a big fan of his and he showed today he is a top quality player. Overall it was a good day for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger was all praise for his team:

“We did the job in a serious way and had we not been focused and completely up for it, we would not have gone through today. I give credit to my team for doing the job seriously, and also to Plymouth who had a great game as well. I was surprised how well they were organised and how strong they were in every challenge. They did not die physically and were always dangerous on set plays. The gap between the Championship and the Premiership has been reduced and looking at the FA Cup results today, you could see that. Robin has always been interested in team affairs and wants to help sort things out. He is a big example of how well you can have an evolution, when you consider when he came he and who he is today.”

Player Ratings:

Fabianski: 6.5 – Made a few good saves otherwise it could have been 2 or 3 goals for Plymouth. However he needs to come out to catch crosses and corners with more confidence.

Silvestre: 5 – Played just half an hour and did not look good particularly when going forward. The latest is he is out for three weeks.

Gallas: 6.5 – Did pretty well and was in quite an attacking mood, going forward time and time again.

Djourou: 6.5 – Had a nice game like his partner and he was particularly good in the air which is something Arsenal need desperately.

Sagna: 7 – Yet another good performance for the right-back. Did quite well while going forward also.

Diaby: 7 – Was involved in quite a few of the attacks and did a bit of tidy defending a few times.

Ramsey: 6.5 – Had a good game overall. A bit too selfish on occasions but its justified considering the youngster is looking to make an impact. He can hit the target quite well from long range and made some good runs forward.

Nasri: 8 – Without doubt the man of the match. Had a perfect game. Was involved in nearly all our attacks. 2 assists and he certainly deserved a goal. I have always mantained he should be played in the centre and he pressed my claim quite well!

Eboue: 6 – Had an average game. Better than what we have seen from him recently though.

Bendtner: 6.5 – Did just a bit above average I thought. He desperately needed a goal and got it. Looked very involved in the game. But he needs to do more to prove that he is good enough for Arsenal.

van Persie: 8 – Did extremely well. 2 goals and 1 assist, what else do you want! Maybe for him to perform like that more often. But he has certainly shown yet again how good he can be on his day. A good day as captain for him.

Substitutes:

Vela: 6 – An average day for the young Mexican. And I persist he needs to be played as a forward and not as a left winger. He is much better as a forward.

Gibbs: 6.5 – Had a great day attacking. Needs to work on his defending a bit more I think but overall a very good performance from the young man.

Wilshere: 5.5 – Didn’t get enough time to really get into the game. Tried making an impact straight away though, and on most occasions unsuccessfully. But he is exceptionally talented and has an immensely bright future ahead of him.



Toure - Unhappy at Arsenal

Toure - Unhappy at Arsenal

by Zain Shahid

The latest reports suggest Kolo Toure has asked for a transfer. These reports are true! Arsenal Chairman Peter Hill-Wood though immediately reacted to the news saying Kolo Toure will not be sold. He said “I know about it (the request) but we are not going to accept it. We are not looking to let any of our players go and he is under contract – and we expect him to honour it. They seem to get unhappy rather quickly for odd reasons.”

This is quite an interesting news. At first there were reports saying Arsene Wenger is trying to keep William Gallas at all costs who said to Wenger that he doesn’t like playing with Toure so maybe somehow the news got to Toure who did not like it and immediately asked for a transfer. I don’t blame him because who would want to play at a club where he is unwanted. Another thing that interests me on this one is that its the Arsenal chairman who has come out to reject his request publicly not the manager. Aren’t such matters to be handled by the manager?! Maybe Arsene Wenger too wants Toure out but the chairman doesn’t want so?! I have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes! Maybe its not like this, rather it could be just that the Chairman himself did the honours to let it known to Kolo how important and wanted he is at Arsenal. It could be either of these two scenarios! But the point is Toure wants to leave. It reveals the dressing room environment, players want to leave. Not a good sign I guess.

I hope he stays. He and Gallas are our main defenders. I mean Silvestre and Djourou are just not good enough to take his place. Silvestre hardly ever played for Manchester United in the last few years, yet after coming to Arsenal he has become such a regular but I just don’t think he is good enough for Arsenal. Toure is much better and I want him to stay. He is a fan favourite so if he leaves the fans wont be happy one bit. Lets hope the intervention by the Arsenal Chairman is enough to keep Kolo at the club for the season at least.