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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:

Fabianski
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!

MANCHESTER CITY:
League position: 2nd
Points: 17
Goals scored: 12
Goals conceded: 5
Form: WWWWD

ARSENAL:
League position: 5th
Points: 14
Goals scored: 18
Goals conceded: 10
Form: WLLDW

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.

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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.

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.

Fabregas like Gunners and Gooner staring at 5th place

Fabregas like Gunners and Gooners staring at 5th 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!

Ramsey - Below par performance from the youngster

Ramsey - Below par performance from the youngster

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!

Arsenal Reserves have drawn 2-2 with Stoke but Wilshere stole the show with an absolutely brilliant goal. Eduardo managed to play the full 90 minutes unscathed which is a very encouraging sign for the Croat. He got a goal too but it was ruled out for offside. He made a good run and the finish was exquisite. Unlucky to be offside. But Wilshere’s goal was the best moment of the day. Superbly curled in from the outside of the foot into the top corner.

You can watch the highlights of the match at:

http://www.setanta.com/uk/Articles/Football/2009/1/22/Prem-Wilshere-goal-video/gnid-36538/

Enjoy!

by Zain Shahid

Wenger - Had a frustrating first half...

Wenger - Had a frustrating first half...

After the firts 45 mins one could feel another dissapointing result was on the cards. But what we forget is that this is 2009 and not the unlucky, bad year for Arsenal 2008!

There isn’t much to say about the 1st half. Just passing the ball around in the midfield and sometimes out of frustration sending a poor cross in. That was the story of the first half for Arsenal. Bolton, no doubt, just like every other side that plays against Arsenal were extremely organized in defence. Arsenal passed the ball a lot and had the lion’s share of possession but the passing was no threat to Bolton. Arsenal needed a piece of magical inspiration… and it made me miss Fabregas! But Nasri in the 2nd half did that job well playing in the centre.

The 2nd half also started like the 1st one except that Bolton also had a couple of decent chances this time. But the match changed as Carlos Vela came on. Arsenal’s attacks became more penetrative and passing became more quick. Certainly that brilliant defence piercing ball by Nasri to find Adebayor deserved a goal but the Togolese striker took too long to unleash the shot. Arsenal continued attacking and came as close as to hitting the post courtesy van Persie. It seemed like another one of those days until arguably the man of the match van Persie was found in the box by a brilliant through ball by Clichy, and then the Dutchman’s pinpoint first touch cross for Bendtner set up the goal. A brilliant finish from a tight angle by the Dane certainly must have done wonders for his confidence. A few nervous moments at the end for the defence but it was a job well done in the end by the Gunners.

Player Ratings:

Almunia: 6.5 – Good work on the few occasions that he was called into action especially right at the end in injury time. Could have got a 7.0 had he communicated well with his centre halfs.

Sagna: 7.0 – Brilliant as usual. Was attacking most of the match and did well but whenever needed he was back defending and marked particularly well.

Djourou: 7.0 – Impressive performance by the youngster. Was strong in his tackles and always looked in control.

Toure: 7.0 – A good game for him also like his partner. He is certainly coming back into form.

Clichy: 6.5 – Did well once again. Made good runs forward but his crossing yet again let him down.

Eboue: 6.5/7.0 – He had his best match in months. Looked like a responsible player. Made good movements, didn’t give the ball away cheaply and when Sagna was a lot forward on corners or free kicks he stayed back in his place.

Denilson: 6.0 – He is not in a good form but he looked better than the last couple of games today. Made a few attempts to go forward and try and create an attack instead of just passing the ball around the half way line.

Diaby: 6.5 – An average performance from him. Needs to do better.

Nasri: 8.0 – The best player in the midfield today. Was involved in nearly all the attacks and did deserve an assist or two. Good passing, runs, free kicks, corners, crosses. And that ball to find Adebayor was just world class.

van Persie: 8.5 – Without doubt the man of the match. Played exceptionally well and deserved a goal. He too was involved in nearly all attacks and it seemed throughout the match that he wanted to do something special. The assist was wonderful. One could see his desire to get something from the match. He needs this consistency. Two consecutive brilliant performances from him.

Adebayor: 6.0 – He was quite involved in the match. But on most occasions he slowed down the attacks. Had just one shot on goal and that too a simple chance which he should have scored. All he can do is finish simple one on ones and headers.

Substitutes:

Vela: 7.0 – The match lighted up with his introduction. Made good surging runs forward and good passing and little one-twos. Very energetic and active.

Bendtner: 7.0 – I was not happy when he came on because I wanted Wilshere to be brought on. But he certainly made all Gooners proud with that vital finish. His goal got the points for us. Looked very involved in the game and almost had an immediate impact with the header. Does reasonably well on the right of midfield I have been noticing.

Ramsey: Too little time for him to get anything out of the game.

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.