In which Arsene Wenger points to right field and calls for the homer

When Arsenal hired the former manager of Grampus Eight and Monaco, the Evening Standard replied “Arsene Who?” He showed them who and in his very first full season, this man whom no one knew lead the Arsenal to their first double since 1971.

In that season Arsenal fell on dark days. Losing 3-1 to Blackburn and falling behind Man U by 12 points. The press again said that the deficit was too much to make up and claimed that Arsenal’s title chances were done.

There were reports of dressing room discord and Wenger’s troubled older player, one Ian Wright, had been interviewed by police over allegations of abusing fans. Wenger also reportedly struggled with a “malaise” in the dressing room, underlined by the loss to Blackburn.

But Arsene and Arsenal defied the critics. They blew the doors off the statistics and after an immaculate run of form finished the season double champs.

It took Arsene another four years to repeat the double feat. In the interim the club sold off their star pupil Anelka and lost various other players to bigger clubs with Overmars and Petit leaving. And there were heartbreaking defeats to Galatassary and Liverpool in two cup finals.

People started to question the Arsenal. Were we a selling club? Did Wenger just build off the back line of Graham? What did this nerdy looking manager truly add to the team?

Again, Wenger showed the critics. He brought in Sol Campbel, Ljungberg, Henry, and Pires to pair with an already powerful midfielder in Vieira and a back line which featured Keown and Lauren. This would be his most dominant team of his career.

Ljungberg helped win the FA Cup with his goal over Chelsea. Shucking John Terry to the side in the process. Four days later, Arsenal won the League at Old Trafford, overcoming a cynical performance by Man U who clearly had no interest in playing football and simply went about kicking Arsenal all over the pitch.

The next season looked promising and they were in the midst of a 29 game unbeaten run when Wenger famously declared that his team could go an entire season unbeaten. So many people scoffed at the notion that scoffing became the norm for months on end.

It would eventually be Wayne Rooney who ended that unbeaten run, playing for Everton. And the the team would miss out on the League title late in the season after a loss to Leeds United. Viduka scored Leeds’ late winner and ever since then I hated Mark Viduka.

Little did we all know at the time, but that loss would spark one of the greatest achievements in Arsenal history. The consolation is that Ljungberg backed up his FA Cup winner from the previous season with another goal and gave Wenger his third FA Cup.

After that loss to Leeds, Arsenal would prove the doubters wrong. They went 49 games unbeaten* and fulfilled Wenger’s prediction that his team could go an entire season unbeaten. Such was the achievement that they built Arsenal a gold plated Premier League Trophy.

I say all this not to relive history for history’s sake but rather to point out that for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, nothing is impossible. Yes, they lost 4-0 in Milan. A terrible night, which all but knocks Arsenal out of the Champions League. But once you get over the fact that Arsenal have nothing to lose then “going for it” makes sense. Which is why Arsenal are going to go for the five goal win and why Wenger is starting Robin van Persie tonight.

Just to underline the magnitude of the task: Arsenal need a 4-0 win to get to extra time and possibly penalties, a 5-1 win for Arsenal means that Milan go through on away goals, which means that if Milan score just a single goal Arsenal need to win 6-1 or better.This is why a 4-0 deficit has never been overcome in the Champions League.

Possibly the most contentious decision that the boss can make today is starting Robin van Persie. Best case scenario; Arsenal start him, he scores a hat trick and Arsenal go through on a 6-1 or 5-0 win. If Wenger starts Robin and Arsenal don’t go through then any injury to the player between now and 10 years from now will probably be blamed on his playing tonight.

Robin has scored 25 of Arsenal’s 55 goals. Robin is a player with a long history of injury and a team who are in the midst of a battle for fourth place which Wenger has said is also crucial for the team to achieve. There will be those who will say “if Robin gets hurt” then he will never play for Arsenal again because Arsenal won’t finish fourth and because Champions League football is that important.

As someone who has watched a lot of Serie A, I can confirm that Milan will target Robin van Persie with fascist precision. Van Bommel will kick van Persie tirelessly but watch also for the other midfielders to drop deep and deny the Arsenal captain any space. And by “deny space” I mean “kick ruthlessly”

Arsenal are also missing quite a number of central midfielders with just Song confirmed as 100% fit. I would expect then a change of shape for this Arsenal side.

One way to beat an Italian diamond midfield is… (dramatic pause, because I know how much some of you are going to be excited to hear this) is with a four-four-two. And Arsenal actually have the personnel to play a four-four-two!

With only two fit central mids, that’s exactly what I expect they will do. The defense is set, no tinkering there. But, in midfield you have options: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing and Gervinho on the left. That’s two tricky dribblers who attack well down the wings. In the striker role again you have options: Chamakh could play the number 9 with Robin right behind him in the 10 role. This would serve several purposes but mainly Chamakh would just be there to hold the ball up (taking kicks from the Milan midfield) with Robin the main play maker. Theo could also start on the right or be brought on late to help wear them down.

Stuart MacFarlane put a photo of the boss talking tactics to his team during training this week and that makes me think that the old dog has a trick up his sleeve. That and the fact that Wenger said that he could play “six strikers” today.

I guess in the end you could day that when Wenger says he’s going for it, he goes for it and I have no reason to not have faith. After all, this is the guy who once said that the impossible was possible and took a team to 49 games unbeaten.

Just like the apocryphal Babe Ruth pointing to right field, there’s Wenger up to bat, saying one last time. “It’s ok, I got this one.”

I’m just hoping for a cracking game. Anything more will be a dream of dreams.

*Until Wayne Rooney dived and Mike Riley awarded the dubious penalty

44 thoughts on “In which Arsene Wenger points to right field and calls for the homer

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Ziggy

    Brilliant stuff and we need more of it, so hopefully all our supporters incl. permanent whingers back the team and help them to show their true colours (that’s why we love them, haha).

  2. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Dick Swiveller

    You bastard, now I actually believe we can go through. I’m pretty sure we’re going to win so all it takes is a few big performances at the back and a few big performances up top and we’re almost there; guess it’s still my fault if I’m disappointed we can’t win by 5 goals though.

  3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

    Maybe the “nothing to lose” attitude will shred to pieces the proverbial handbrake from the get go.

    Come on Arsenal!!

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Many are in the “nothing to lose”, “anything can happen” frame of mind. I’m there sometimes too. I just keep thinking of that Beyonce song:

    “You can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare
    Either way I, don’t wanna wake up from you
    Sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare”

    That’s my Arsenal. now COYG and SHOW us something special…

  5. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Cliffy

    i’ll settle for hell for AC Milan…for the whole 90 minutes..
    Efforts and belief is all that counts…

    The result of the last two league matches just made you believe in the “team”…now we just need to see some “efforts”

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1gsco

    I am keeping my hope in check. I’d like for Tim to see a great spectacle of a game to finish off a great trip for him. I’d like to see the team go for it. If they get caught on the break or get unlucky, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. For me, winning the game would be a bonus – no matter the score. Just want to hold head up that we put in a good game in front of the home crowd.
    And no injuries would be nice as well.
    I definitely am not worried about it if we lose again. It could easily go poorly. When you have to make up such a goal difference, you have to take incredible risks and Milan have crafty enough players to exploit it. I hope fans don’t get on the teams back if it goes pear shaped because of those risks taken. We’ve had two really awesome results and need to not lose any confidence for our league games. 4th is in our hands to keep and 3rd is in our sights. Much more concerned with those targets as I think everyone is at this point.

  7. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1marek

    Does anyone remember the last time Song was injured (seriously or otherwise)? Say what you want about the man, but he seems to always be there. At Arsenal, that alone is of great value.

    @Tim,
    I’m originally from a European country and a family that suffered a bit (to put it mildly) under the nazis and fascists, but I wouldn’t really use the term “fascist” to knock an Italian player. Especially if the ideals he agrees with are Italy-first and Catholicism. Would you knock any player for being a communist?

  8. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    I’m glad the players and manager are up for it, because, while we as fans can have the luxury of being realistic (for me, this game’s a dead rubber), I want the players to put in the effort and class that was so lacking at the San Siro.

    We can win this game, and if we do, it keeps our momentum going as we head into the “every game is a cup final” part of the Prem season. It also restores/builds confidence.

    I know many of us disagree on what we can achieve tonight. I, for one, don’t think it’s possible for us to score 5 unanswered goals against one of the better Milan sides in recent years (they’re no longer senior citizens, in case you haven’t noticed). But I know we can all agree that a win tonight will put some things right.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1vancouvergooner

      @Bunburyist, yes being pragmatic, we can win this game but don’t believe we don’t concede at least one. The first 15-20 minutes will be crucial as Arsenal tends to be slow off the line.

  9. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1DF

    Arsene is a romantic who loves to defy the odds–this season, he has luck on his side, because Chelsea has imploded. He will try to win the games against Milan, pulling out all his big guns. Fans will love him for that, unless RvP gets injured.

    The arsenal will have Newcastle at home and Everton away these 2 weeks, two more important games to play.

    I will keep my fingers crossed hoping that this will not a kicking game. Italian teams are good at shutting games down without needing to play rough like Sunderland; I dont think Wenger can outwit Allegri…

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1DF

    Milan will play 4-5-1, With Zlatan as the lone striker. Let us see how the gunners can pass their way through the 5 in the middle…

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    It will be interesting to see how Milan play… Most likely they will sit deep, absorb our pressure/desperation, and hit us on the counter.

    In which case, I’m not sure what use Walcott will be.

    Hope I’m proven wrong.

    My prediction: 2-1 to Arsenal.

  12. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1marek

    That had all the markings of a “practiced” set piece, actually. The way Song and Verm pulled the Milanese with them to clear space for Kos…

  13. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1marek

    1. Milan in possession is no bad thing, so long as we pressure from the front. I don’t recall the last time Arsenal won the ball in the opposing half this many times.

    2. We can keep this up all night. Neither team is expending that much energy – mostly during the few Milanese counters. Tiredness should not be an issue.

    3. Arsenal in possession haven’t been able to crack Milan, though. Two set pieces (one following an individual run) account for 2/3 goals.

    4. Only two more goals are needed. This really can be done.

  14. +3 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Who’s the guy on the right trying to mark Theo? He’s shambolic. And we’re heroic…
    There was no reasonable excuse to have put ourselves in this position in the first place but regardless of what happens now, I couldn’t be more proud. Even without a history-making win, the squad have redeemed themselves with this gutsy show. Thank you, Arsenal.

      1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        @critic, Oh, right, I almost forgot. Ah, let’s see… Uh… Gervinho was SHIT SHIT SHIT! Szcz distributes balls like SHIT! Still look like nervous SHITS in defense! Song was SORT OF SHIT!

        You like that better?

        Come on, it was disappointing, but you’d have to be made of stone not to appreciate how much the team gave tonight.

  15. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    How important was the Ox? The minute he picked up that hamstring injury was the minute we never looked like scoring another goal. It wasn’t just his attacking courage. He also helped shore up the midfield, especially when Song decided to stay up front.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Yank Gooner MD

      @Bunburyist,
      I’d say he is very important to the drive of this team (from a very small sample size and just because I’m bored and wanted to look at the string of results we have had recently)

      Liverpool 1-2 AFC WIN… Ox comes on in the 80th and RvP wins it in the 90th
      Spuds 2-5 AFC WIN… Ox comes on and we win
      FA CUP loss to Sunderland… Ox scores own goal
      Sunderland 1-2 AFC WIN… Ox makes way for Henry to win the match
      1st Leg loss to Milan … Ox goes off ~injured? in 66th min (4th goal is later scored,
      which turns out to be deciding goal
      Draw w/ Bolton… Ox goes off in 69th min
      Blackburn destroyed 1-7 AFC WIN… Ox with the double* (1st prem goals)
      ManUre 2-1 AFC loss… Ox goes off

      Ok, I’ve lost interest and am starting to make things up

  16. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1NorCalArsenal

    Proud Gunner. Gave it a go. Ran out of steam. Hope the Ox has only a niggle.

    Tim hope you had a blast. Any Gunner would have loved to be at the last 2 matches.

  17. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1DF

    We should be proud of the boys; though when Milan shut up shop in the second half, they could not find any way in.

    Keep our fingers crossed that the Ox & Walcott do not suffer
    long term injuries because of this game; It would be a disaster if our fight for 4th is endangered by this game.
    Park & Chamakh proves their ineffectiveness again in this game.

  18. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1critic

    Proud.
    Logically speaking arsenal lost the tie b’coz of exact same reason that this result favors arsenal for rest of the season. Lack of squad depth.

    I hope OX will be back against everton.

    One thing which i didn’t understand why didn’t arsenal crossed(areally) more when chamakh came on. A combo of jenkinson and chamakh might have been more effective. But hindsight is bitch.

    Arsenal did lost offensive shape after park came on.

    Should be an exciting end of the season.

  19. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Alfred

    Extremely proud of the boys tonight. Gave it all they had. I really felt for them at the end when they were completely exhausted but really great to see the crowd applauding standing proud at the end there.

  20. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1critic

    Italian teams are shit on a good playing surface. This AC milan team is champions of italy having supposedly best striker of their league *self proclaimed prostitute* ibrhamovich.

    I want to say this to ibra that whatever shit that he learned by moving on *actually moved on by the clubs* RVP is better which he learned and harnessed at arsenal.

  21. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Simon Says

    Extremely proud to be a Gooner right now. Heroic effort. Left everything they had on the pitch today and thats all you can ask of them.

    That late Djourou penalty/Ibra dive is looking very costly right now. Also that terrific save that Abbiati made off Henry’s terrific flick to RVP.
    Hopefully the injuries to the OX and Theo aren’t serious. I wonder who were gonna field against Newcastle. Do we even have 11 fit outfield players?

  22. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Matt

    It wasn’t just the battle fought on the pitch but rather never giving up and the spirit to achieve the impossible… this is what AFC is about! So proud for the players, so proud to be a gunner.

    So for the matches Tim went to, only Arsenal players scored… coincidence or conspiracy?

  23. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ssinderias

    Proud to be a Gooner every day but how special today is, let me count the ways!
    It was closer than I thought it would ever get. Credit to the team on the clean sheet, means more than the three goals.
    Happy for Tim, I’m sure this was a memorable night for him

  24. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1JV Mauer

    Quick! Someone grab Tim’s passport while he’s passed out on the couch. That man is NOT to leave the country until the end of the season.

  25. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Tim, can you stay in the UK, please? Your presence there seems to coincide with heroic, winning efforts from Arsenal. I’d be willing to contribute a monthly living allowance, if that’s what it would take. Anyone else want to contribute? He’ll need food, underwear, and perhaps a travel stipend. Maybe socks, too.

  26. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Simon Says

    Its absolutely amazing that The OX played as well as he did and he had the flu. He was all over the pitch in the first half and to think he was sick? Incredible.

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