Backs to the wall first for the Gunners

Large respect due to every Arsenal player on the field yesterday that contributed to the victory over Sunderland. On a day in which everything that could go wrong did; it was a nice surprise that the Arsenal refused to crumble and stood up to the challenge set in front of them. For all the plaudits Arsenal have received over the years for their style of football one thing they have struggled to exhibit is resilience and a backs to the wall, win at all costs attitude.

cazorla goal afc

If the top four places do come down to the wire this season the points gained yesterday will be looked back as a vital victory contributing to Arsenal’s fortunes. Experiencing the game had to be one of the most testing on the hearts of Arsenal fans; my heart was pounding so hard it took 10 minutes after the final whistle to return to a normal level.

The start to the events of the day centred around the centre back position in the Arsenal back line with skipper Thomas Vermaelen already ruled out; doubts remained on the fitness of Laurent Koscienly. Despite passing a late fitness test on Friday all was not well with the Frenchman; he was named in the starting line up but after pulling up in the warm up it was clear he could not play.

This lead to a last minute reshuffle of the defence, Arsene Wenger opting to move Bacary Sagna into the middle and drafting Carl Jenkinson into the right back role. An initial strange decision considering a centre back was available in Ignasi Miquel though given his lack of game time with the first team this season; the experience of Sagna despite being out of position was required for a potentially testing game at the stadium of light. One does wonder if the decision to let Johan Djourou go out on loan and not bring in a replacement was a wise decision if Miquel is not deemed good enough to start ahead of a right back who has never played at centre back before for Arsenal.

First half of the game Arsenal were actually in complete control, they played with purpose, passed the ball well and were fully deserving of their half time lead from Santi Cazorla’s strike. If ever there was a negative to draw from the first half it would be the wastefulness when on top. The Sunderland keeper Mignolet pulled off some great saves to keep the score at only one goal difference which gave Sunderland hope.

There were two turning points in the second half which certainly swung the game heavily in favour of Sunderland. Firstly Jack Wilshere who carried over his top form from last week’s international against Brazil finally succumbed to the barrage of fouls on him in the game. It seemed it was a Sunderland tactic to target him in the game and even as strong as Jack is he isn’t superman. After a heavy knocked he signalled the bench and was removed from play.

jack injured

The second turning point was the red card for Carl Jenkinson after he picked up two yellow cards. The cards cannot be disputed, they were bookable challenges and it is hoped he can learn from the experience. Many have been calling for Bacary Sagna to be replaced at right back by Jenkinson due to the Frenchman’s recent form but yesterday may have been evidence of exactly why Jenkinson is not ahead of Sagna right now. Jenkinson is still young, he still has a lot to learn but is a definite talent who has the potential to make the right back slot his own for years to come but Sagna has not turned into a bad player overnight. The competition is good for the team but I think absence has made the heart grow fonder with many Arsenal fans, we cannot write off a player like Sagna after a few below par games.

Going down to ten men certainly threw the game into Sunderland’s favour and from then on Arsenal had to content with constant pressure on the back foot. Aaron Ramsey stepped in as right back while Wenger still resisted the temptation to bring on Miquel. The pressure was really hard to witness but I must commend all the players who dug in to hold onto that lead, we rode our luck several times but deserved the three points. Each player has earned the right to wear a big ass chain in celebration of their efforts.

big ass chain afc

Wear than chain with pride boys

I will even forget the wasted finish from Olivier Giroud when Arsenal found themselves three on one late in the game; with options he decided to hold onto the ball and eventually blast the ball high and wide despite the better options available. Hopefully Arsene will pull him aside and have a word as a goal at that time would have sealed the win and halted the immense pressure in the game. Despite that moment he played his part in the victory and so I will not draw too much from it.

Special mention must go to Sagna, Ramsey and Szczesny  in the game, the two outfield players have split the fans faith this season but they managed to put in excellent performances yesterday despite playing out of position. They have certainly won over many of the fans with their efforts yesterday and I hope that effort will continue for the rest of the season. Keeper Szczesny pulled off some important saves yesterday to preserve the win; he did have a couple ropy moments in the game but when called upon he really pulled of the stops that showed why he is our number one.

Next up is Blackburn in the F.A cup next weekend; enough time hopefully for Jack Wilshere to recover from his knock and our injured centre backs to return.

Enjoy your day people.

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International break a time to recharge, Frimpong loan soon – AFC

Never thought an international break would be a welcome event but given the events of the weekend I feel us arsenal fans will appreciate the breather. Supporting arsenal is a full time job and the lows come part and parcel with the highs. The thing with football is it is an infinite journey with many twists and turns, there are no finish lines, you win a cup you move on to the next one. It isn’t like a rocky movie with a freeze frame of punching the air in glory at the end you plan for the next season and move on.

Saturday’s draw felt like a defeat to many gunners’ fans, to throw away a two goal lead at home to a side not on our level hit hard, really hard the missed penalty rubbed salt straight into the open wound that was our patience.

The bad feeling peaked on Saturday and it took a day or two for the fans to calm down. Would a midweek game have given the team a chance to fix the errors from Saturday? Probably, maybe but for me the mini break gives me a chance to recharge my faith and belief in my team.

Provided there are no major injuries from the international games I can realign my focus on the massive game we have coming up. Last season the match against spurs was a major turning point in our fortunes as we overturned the bad feelings from previous games and restored the belief in the team. This season things are slightly different however the bad feelings are lingering. Losing to Tottenham is not acceptable at any time, and if that were to happen this Saturday then the Wenger out brigade will be at their strongest, a defeat would make any defence of Wenger a hard task.

We do have some positives leading up to the north London derby. The form of Olivier Giroud is a positive, the Frenchman is starting to find the back of the net more regularly and the confidence is growing.

We will need the big guy to bring his A game on Saturday, if there are still arsenal fans out there yet to be convinced about Giroud’s abilities then the winning goal against the spuds will elevate the striker to god like status (for a day or two). I for one feel a bit more confident he can cause some problems for the spud defence and hope he returns from France duties with no injury.

Another positive is the return of Szczesny to the arsenal first team, I would assume he is a shoe in to start on Saturday replacing Vito Mannone, although the Italian hasn’t been a complete disaster in the first team he has raised a few questions in recent performances. The header he conceded on Saturday is one of the goals you would expect a top keeper to save, he will be a lot better for the experience he has gained over the last month or so but now is a time for reflection to work on the good and bad sides of his first team game experiences whilst our Pole returns to number one duty.

In other news Emmanuel Frimpong went public to declare his determination to succeed at arsenal. Some rumours started to surface yesterday that the combative midfielder was going to be sold in the New Year as the club decided against offering him a new contract. Thanks to the platform of twitter the arsenal man put the rumours straight by stating he intends to stay at arsenal beyond this season, he also hinted that a loan move is on the cards. Which team that will be is not yet known but he clearly has been given the blessing of Arsene to continue his rehabilitation with first team football out on loan.

He built such a good relationship with Wolverhampton wanderers last season it would not surprise many if he went back there on loan. The drop down to the championship may not carry favour with all fans but I feel the chance for first team will take preference over whether it’s at premiership level or not. It would probably be a greater test at championship level for him as the tackles are not wrapped in cotton wool there. Of course we don’t want to risk a reoccurrence of the injuries he sustained over the years but in the long run he needs to overcome the psychological barriers such injuries can bring. It helped benefit Aaron Ramsey’s return to arsenal first team duty with his spells at Cardiff and Nottingham Forest and can do the same for the Dench mastermind.

Enjoy your day people.

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Euro 2012 round up 2 days in – AFC

The Euros really are making up for the loss of football in the close season. We are two game days into the tournament and have now witnessed four very enjoyable games. There has been Arsenal interest in all the games so far and plenty of talking points have been raised from their involvement.

The opening showpiece of the Tournament involved hosts Poland and our keeper Szczesny had a game to forget. A very entertaining game all the same and after impressing and taking a one nil lead through a Lewandowski goal, Poland had the added bonus of Greece  being down to 10 men after 2 dubious yellow cards for Papastathopoulos.

Poland and our keeper decided they wanted to make the game difficult for themselves and proceeded to let the Greeks back into the game with a goal that was easily preventable. Szczesny probably shouldn’t have come out for the cross which led to the goal, the resulting melee led to an easy shot for Salpindingis to score the equalizer.

If Szczesny thought it couldn’t get worse it did. The polish defence was caught flat-footed as a ball over the top left Salpindingis one on one with the keeper. Szczesny anticipated a first time shot and flew out with a trademark star jump to block but the player decided to take the ball around the keeper, Szczesny’s momentum carried him too far and he proceeded to upend the player. This resulted in a penalty and a straight red for the pole. The keeper didn’t question the decision and walked straight off. Luckily for Poland the substitute keeper who came on saved the resulting penalty. Amusingly Szczesny was pictured celebrating the save in the tunnel watching on a TV screen. The game ended at 1-1 but was thoroughly entertaining.

The next game in the evening involved the Czech Republic and Russia. Both countries captained by Arsenal players Rosicky and Arshavin. This went on to be another entertaining game which ended up 4-1 to Russia. Andrei Arshavin had a fantastic game. Starting on the left of a front three our no.23 tended to play a freer role compared to what he normally does for the Arsenal. He really dictated all of the attacking play and although he wasn’t on the score sheet he definitely left an imprint on the game. Many gooners must have been wondering why he doesn’t produce that type of performance for the gunners though to be fair a lot more defensive responsibility is required in the Arsenal team. Some players really turn it on when playing with their countrymen as opposed to their club team; Arshavin seems to be one of those players. Though he has had his fair share of criticism when he has played for Russia it just shows he is human and doesn’t produce man of the match performances in every game for his country, but when he is good he is good. Poor Tomas Rosicky tried to rally his Czech Republic team but they were swept away by the more clinical (once Kerzhakov was withdrawn) Russians.

The group of death matches played yesterday were really highly anticipated matches. It was clearly deemed Denmark would make up the numbers in the group as Holland,Portugal and Germany would fight it out for the top two slots.

The Danes first test was against many neutral fans 2nd team Holland. A country with near flawless qualification achieved for the Euros and boasting our very own skipper Robin Van Persie in their line up. The game started off at a slow tentative pace but as the game wore on was slowly dominated by Holland. They bided their time and played some good intricate football, carving away at the Danes. What wasn’t part of the plan was the Danes going on to score the first goal.

I suppose in a similar way to how Arsenal plays their football; they are most vulnerable at the back when they are on top. Robin wasn’t having the best of games and the TV cameras weren’t shy in zooming onto the face of Jan Huntelaar every time something didn’t come off for our skipper. It has become an unwelcome distraction in the Dutch camp over who should be starting up front for Holland in the championships between RVP and Huntelaar. It clearly wasn’t going for Robin yesterday and interestingly Clarence Seedorf pointed out that maybe Robin was trying too hard to impress on the big stage which actually proceeded in affecting his performance. He missed a couple of chances that we have seen him gobble up for Arsenal last season and he also had one embarrassing moment of an air shot when unchallenged. The game actually finished 1-0 though Holland despite a flat performance really should at least have equalised; another culprit from the game was Arjen Robben who seems to have carried over his poor luck and decision-making from the champions league final. Arsenal target Ibrahim Affelay started the game well but faded later on, his start surprised a few due to his low number of games played last season due to injury woes at Barcelona.

Nicklas Bendtner led the line for the Danes and did his part holding the ball up at times and linking play but never looked a goal threat throughout the game. I guess he did what was asked of him by the management but to a neutral his game was easily forgettable and typical. Bad day at the office for the Dutch, wonderful smash and grab for the Danes and yet another fantastic game at the Euros.

Going into the evening game yesterday Portugal and Germany would have been well aware of the result between the Danes and the Dutch. I suppose it was a chance for either country to take advantage of the slip up by Holland. It was a game for many gunners to have a look at Podolski close up. Per Mertesacker wasn’t included in the starting line up probably as a result of all the time he has spent on the sidelines leading up to the competition and the emergence of Matt Hummels.

This game was a rather tense affair as two countries with aspirations of having a good tournament realised what was at stake and did not want to open up too much. Although Portugal was never deemed as strong as Germany they still posed a threat through Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. Our new Gunner Podolski had an ok game; he fits in well with the German system and showed a very good hard work ethic tracking back helping out his team. That will be a trait that will go down well with Arsenal fans when compared with Bendtner per say as fans like to see effort on the pitch. Podolski was neat and tidy and efficient and though he didn’t score he looks like he will have a goal or two in him as the competition moves forward.

The game itself did fall into a lull as no goals were scored first half and midway into the second half dare I say it the game was getting less and less interesting. Just when fans were calling for Mario Gomez to be removed he popped up with a goal. I believe Miroslav Klose was ready to come on for Gomez the next time the ball went out, luckily for him an opportunity arose from a cross and he managed to extend his neck muscles enough to connect with a cross from Sami Khedira. Game over, well not really as towards the final stages of the game Portugal took the game to Germany as nerves kicked in and should really have equalised when Varela had the ball break free to him only for Neuer to pull off a desperate save.

All in all the least entertaining game of the four but still a decent game that came alive after the goal was scored.

Today it’s the turn of Republic of Ireland,Croatia,Spain and Italy. No current gunners on show but there is an interest for former gunners Eduardo and Fabregas.

Here’s to some more good games in an already satisfying Euro 2012.

Enjoy your day people.

Euros start today, exciting times – AFC

It’s Friday 8th June and the Euros are set to start today, the long wait is over and I’m feeling a little excited. Operation “cope without premiership” has moved into phase two if you are wondering phase one was the spluttering of pre-Euro friendlies we have witnessed recently but in my opinion international friendlies just don’t hit the spot. We as football fans need football that matters, games that have that life or death feeling. The friendlies are an excuse to iron out the mistakes and get sharp; the tournament is the time when the mistakes are unacceptable. 

Our wives and girlfriends dread this time of year; the odd jobs we have promised to do are placed firmly at the back of the list of importance. They will have to wait a little longer for that shelf to be put up; they might as well buy a brand new washing machine because we are not taking a look at the current one now.

By the way no disrespect to the bona-fide football loving ladies, I know there are a lot of you and you will be enjoying the tournament as much as the next person.

Now the added interest to the tournament comes in the form of the Arsenal players that will be representing their countries.  Many past and present stars will be on show in the majority of the games to give gunners fans plenty to mull over.  We also have a category of potential former players which gunners fans will be divided over supporting through the competition. And a final category of potential signings, gooners across the land will turn into scouts and run the rule over the players linked with moves to Arsenal and give their assessment of those players and hope Wenger is taking note on Twitter.

I will give a brief summary of the players in question to look out for:

POLAND: Szczesny (current).  Our current number one will be playing between the sticks for Poland. He has earned his plaudits whilst playing for his country and now on the grand stage hopefully he can show what he can do. Will be a major boost for his confidence to have a good tournament and will benefit Arsenal in the long run.

RUSSIA: Arshavin (could be going). Our Russian no.23 will be captaining his country and will hope to have a good competition. He seems likely to move on after the Euros so expect him to have extra incentive to impress potential suitors.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Rosicky (current). Super Tom will also be captaining his country at the Euros. Given his form towards the second half of the season for Arsenal it will be nice to see him carry that form into the Euros and have a good tournament.

NETHERLANDS: Van Persie (could be going) our skipper will be going into the tournament after a fantastic season for Arsenal. His confidence will be sky-high so his contribution in the tournament could be that final piece of the puzzle that can push Netherlands towards success. With his future put on hold until after the Euros many AFC fans will be backing Robin for success.

Ibrahim Afellay (Scout watch). Will be interesting to see what the Barcelona winger has in his locker

DENMARK: Bendtner (could be going) The big Dane looks to have one foot out the door, after spending the season out on loan and vowing not to return to Arsenal. Reception from Arsenal fans will be mixed.

GERMANY: Podolski (current) a great chance to have a good look at our acquisition on the big stage. We have all seen what Podolski can do in previous tournaments but this time as an Arsenal player there will be more interest in his actual play and how it can fit in at Arsenal.

Mertesacker (current) the tall German will be coming into the tournament on the back of a long-term injury. Hopefully he is back fully fit and has a good tournament.

SPAIN: Fabregas (former) Former skipper, some may wish him well, some don’t really care. I’ll still have an interest in him but not too bothered how he does.

CROATIA: Eduardo (former) Dudu is still liked by many Arsenal fans and it’s still quite sad it ended the way it did after his horrific leg break. What’s good is he got his career back on track and I would like to see him have a good tournament.

FRANCE: Koscielny (current) Our Kos is coming into the tournament on the back of a great season at Arsenal. He improves with each game he plays and has worked his way into Laurent Blanc’s plans.

Nasri (former) No comment

Clichy (former) nothing against Gael, hope he has a good tournament if he can dislodge Patrice Evra from left back slot.

Giroud (Scout watch). Let’s see what the striker can do, he has impressed in recent friendlies.

M’villa (Scout watch). Another we will anticipate to see on the big stage if he overcomes his ankle injury.

ENGLAND: Oxlade-Chamberlain (current) hopefully the Ox has a good tournament for an injury ravaged England squad. He has nothing to fear going into the tournament and if used right by Roy Hodgson should have a positive impact on the team.

Walcott (current) this will be Theo’s first proper tournament. After being swept into the England squad for the 2006 world cup and was unused, he was then left out of the 2010 world cup squad by Fabio Capello. Theo will need to use this tournament to make up for lost time.

Cole (former) No comment

SWEDEN: Larsson (former) Former player Sebastian should star for the Swedes this tournament. Never quite made it at Arsenal before deciding on taking his career elsewhere. Amazing dead ball skills, will be interesting to see if he scores any trademark free kicks at the Euros.

 Well that’s the players with Arsenal links. Enjoy your Friday at work and then hurry home or to the pub for kick off. Roll on 17:00 (UK time of course)