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Arsenal vs Cardiff CIty

Arsenal vs Cardiff CIty

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:

Fabianski
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.

The closest Arsenal came to scoring

The closest Arsenal came to scoring

Cardiff, Everton, West Ham and now Tottenham. 4 straight draws and Arsenal are now 7 points behind Aston Villa. The Gunners now face an uphill task of  securing the Champions League spot. It seems quite unlikely now.

It was Arsenal who held Spurs to a draw and not Arsenal being held to a draw. Arsenal were dominated for most periods of the match and in the end a last minute save by Almunia saved the point.

The first half started with the hosts dominating. Slowly Arsenal seemed to get back into it and showed glimpses of brilliance, the Arsenal which we all want to see. Eboue looked full of energy but the hype of the ocassion got to him. First yellow carded for dissent for sheer stupidity and then stupidity once again earned him a second yellow and a red. The player let the fans, the manager and his teammates down. Then on Spurs had the numerical advantage and soon after the sending off Adebayor had to go off, injuring his hamstring. It seemed it just wasn’t our day. Half time approached and we did not have a single shot on goal. But we had our chances and we unfairly denied a clear goal by Eboue.

Nasri had a great first half

Nasri had a great first half

The second half saw more of the same, but even more domination by Spurs. Half chance after half chance but no real clear cut chance for either side. Spurs came closest to scoring with a Robbie Keane header just over the bar. Song also had a shot from a corner just outside the post. van Persie’s effort from a corner went wide. Right at the end Arsenal seemed to have given Spurs a big blow but Bendtner’s shot saved by Cudicini. And then on the counter Modric got a one on one with Almunia, only to be denied by a world class save by Almunia. But it was a poor finish by Modric too.

No Arshavin all match seemed very surprising. The Russian wasn’t match fit so Wenger didn’t start him. Fine. But why not give him 20 30 minutes?! Arsenal were looking poor at the end and needed Arshavin if they were to win. But it was as if Wenger was happy with a draw and Arshavin did not come on. We were lucky to get a draw in the end.

Wenger was a frustrated man at the end especially angered at the disallowed goal:

“I feel it is two points dropped because we had the best chances and we scored a regular goal that was ruled out by an illusionary foul seen by only the referee. I watched it three times on television and I still don’t see what was wrong. That is why at the end of the day it’s frustrating.”

Player Ratings:

Almunia – 8 – Had it not been for him, it would have been yet another defeat for Arsenal.

Sagna – 8 – As usual a brilliant performance. Did everything right. Especially when Eboue was sent off, he was the right back cum right winger and yet he did really well. Has amazing stamina.

Gallas – 7.5 – Did not put a foot wrong all match.

Toure – 6.5 – A couple of dangerous mistakes from the Ivorian but fortunately he got away with them.

Clichy – 7 – Did well. His injury was a big blow but he should be back for the next match.

Eboue – 4 – Arsenal did not win because of his sending off. He was after so long looking very good and was unfairly denied a goal. He seemed to pop up everywhere and it seemed it was going to be his day. But his character let him down. He has apologized for the red card but it won’t get Arsenal three points so no use.

Denilson – 7.5 – A nice little performance from him. He is starting to play quite well now. Made crucial interceptions and created a few chances. Just needs to work on his passing so he can provide killer passes. That is something he lacks.

Song – 7.5 – For the first time in quite a long time I was impressed  by him. He can be quite a good holding midfielder. Needs to be a lot more consistent though.

Nasri – 7.5 – Tried really hard all match. But I have been noticing that in the last 15 20 minutes he disappears.

van Persie – 7.5 – Like Nasri, tried to do something all match but in the end did not get too much support as Arsenal had a three man midfield of which Denilson and Song were mostly defending.

How bad will Adebayor's injury affect Arsenal

How bad will Adebayor's injury affect Arsenal

Adebayor – 5 – Could not play for long and the time that he was on, he did not do anything notable.

Substitutes:

Bendtner – 6 – Good movement off the ball, but he just isn’t an Arsenal player I feel.

Gibbs – Too little time to make an impact.

– Can anyone tell me where has Vela disappeared?! I am surprised. He has put up quite decent performances when given the chance, yet of all the praise that Wenger showered on him and his impressive performances in the Carling Cup he has not been given enough chances. I don’t get it.

– Adebayor is out for three weeks

by Zain Shahid

Arsenal vs West Ham United

Arsenal vs West Ham United

We’re back to Emirates now and once again needing a win. Dropping points now seems unacceptable. But West Ham have always been a tough match for Arsenal. This time around also it might be a difficult encounter as the Hammers under Zola are in hot form and have managed 13 points from their last 5 games compared to Arsenal’s 12. This match will be one to keep the pressure on Aston Villa for the Champions League place. People say its a fight between the Gunners and Villa but I think Chelsea and Liverpool are also in it, especially Liverpool. But in the end with the quality that big 4 have got and the lucky wins Villa are getting week in week out, it will be the same old Big 4 at the top of the table the end of the season in my opinion. Villa should have a tricky game against resilient Wigan, who held Liverpool to a draw in mid-week, at home. Then there is the big Liverpool Chelsea match so a draw in both of the games will be of great help to Arsenal.

Arsenal will look to continue their 9 match mini unbeaten run. To add to that only Arsenal have managed to score in their last 9 league matches. To expect Arsenal not to score is madness! van Persie is in hot form, Arsenal have only not scored 3 times in the League this season and have only failed to score once at the Emirates, which ironically was against West Ham!

The defensive aspect will be very important. I would like to point out here that on the 7 occassions that Arsenal have kept a clean sheet this season, they have won all those times. So keep a clean sheet and win!

I expect the same line up as was in the trip to Goodison Park:

Almunia
Sagna     Djourou    Gallas    Clichy
Eboue    Denilson    Diaby    Nasri
Adebayor    van Persie

But Toure might get a start as he was rested in mid-week. Nasri should drift into the centre quite often and probably end the match playing there with Diaby on the left. Vela is quite surprisingly being played very less often than expected considering his impressive performances from the bench and I would want him to play at least 20 mins. The man to watch will be van Persie, no surprises here. He has scored 3 and assisted 5 of all the goals Arsenal have scored in January.

Arsenal will have to look out for Carlton Cole. The guy is good in the air and very physical. There lies a problem because Djourou isn’t too strong but if he is not played then both Gallas and Toure are not good in the air! I expect Djourou to start though.

A 2-1 win for Arsenal is my prediction.

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.