Category Archives: Chary

Man at the match; Chary: Early season Gunners reappear as Alexis to the rescue

Two contrasting pieces of class finishing from Arsenal’s early season saviour Alexis allowed a slightly shaky performance from the Cup holders to overcome Reading and reach a record 19th FA Cup final.

A sunny, but bracing and windy, mid-April Saturday took me back to similar conditions at last years semi-final against Wigan, however pre game there was no thought of it being as problematic today as it was then.

After a few lagers at the Green Man pub to settle the matchday nerves it was a meandering walk to my seat.

Drinks at The Green Man

After ascending many flights of stairs I took my seat and registered that Reading had taken up their full allocation, quite a feat when their average crowds are 14,000 on average, less than half their allotted seats.

Where did the extra 17,500 come from ?

Team line up wise there was no surprise in the Arsenal end when Chesney was in goal however a little surprise at both Gibbs and Debuchy usurping the incumbent full backs.

Red Actions match day banner

A bright start from the Arsenal saw Welbeck almost run onto a through ball successfully and bear down on goal.

The gulf in class between the number 2 premier league side and one from the lower reaches of the Championship began to show as Arsenal applied steady pressure and the Royals back line began to creak.

Gunners turn the screw

While Santi appeared to be having one of his less effective games the Arsenal midfield was palpably of higher quality than their Berkshire opponents with Özzy pulling the strings nicely for Alexis to rampage upfield with the only worry in team play were a few clangers from Gibbs, who was understandably ring rusty.

That aside the first half hour saw Arsenal retain and dominate possession to the extent that the Reading goal’s charmed life finally ran out of luck when a blur of speed from Alexis in the penalty box, after an exquisite floated pass from Özzy resulted in Arsenal taking the lead.

Alexis scores

Thus Arsenal score first and therefore the Gooners at Wembley could relax over half time.

The second half started with as little lethargy from Arsenal and the worrying aspect of both fullbacks deciding to maraud forward at inopportune moments – one such lapse forced Chesney into a poor clearance from a scuffed back pass which led to a throw in. From this throw in down our right came a lofted cross to the other side of the goalkeepers box where Gibbs failed to track Reading’s McCleary who slid in to volley an equaliser.

This woke the blue and white hordes – who to the casual observer would think purchased their home shirts from the English equivalent of a slightly up market Walmart, namely Waitrose – from their first half slumbers.

It was at this point the notion of changing 3 components of your back 5 from the start (which became 4 when the BFG was subbed off for Gabriel) would affect your defensive stability hit home.

Arsenal regrouped and carried on pushing forward and once Olly Giroud was brought on the Reading goal was under more and more threat. Olly’s first intervention was to win a clearance and get a free kick, although Welbeck worked hard he is still not at the polished level of our number 12 just yet.

Frustratingly a combination of the post/crossbar and some great saves by Federeci consigned the semi final to extra time which seemed to suit Arsenal more as our more potent attack would surely penetrate the opposition goal.

As the first half of extra time drew to a close wave after wave of shots and attacks were fruitless when, quite unexpectedly, yet another surging run from Alexis caught the Wembley crowd out.

From where I sat it seemed Alexis had run into a dead end with his back to me as he charged forward yet he turned around and wheeled in celebration. I looked to my fellow Gooners on either side of me, all of us unsure as to whether he had scored or not.

A pause and seconds later, it seemed Alexis had scored so we could celebrate going ahead, at a morale sapping (for the opposition) point – the last moments of the first half of extra time.

Now the Alexis’ chant, a choice which won’t please all I suspect, went up:

Alexis, Alexis babbbyyy

Alexis, Alexis , wooo-ow-oh-oh !

(to the tune of the chorus of “Don’t you want me” by Human League)

The second half of extra time had the supporters cursing our cavalier defending and Reading had quite a few big chances to score, which only a combination of their lack of quality forwards and luck prevented a second equaliser.

The openness of the game meant Arsenal should really have scored a third, with Theo Walcott providing late attacking impetus, however the long suffering Gooner nation were spared another FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot out as the whistle blew and we could look forward to returning to Wembley for the final.

Relieved Arsenal at full time

Final thoughts – we need to play better than we did today at the final if we want to retain the trophy but we every chance to regain our defensive shape until the final but I suspect the choice of goalkeeper may not be an easy one to make as Chesney didn’t inspire confidence today.

Still we are in the final and more silverware beckons while the season is still rising to a decent climax.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Man at the match; Chary: Birmingham Villa swatted aside by Mesut and Santi

A solitary first half goal, well taken by Olly Giroud from a sublime Özil flick, was no portent for the avalanche of goals in the second half as a very ordinary Villa side capitulated with four more conceded in the second half, the fifth the cherry on the scoring cake.

With Saturday’s results all going for the teams around the Arsenal the was no margin for error and an out of sorts Villa looked like the ideal opposition.

The Arsenal pre match warm up

The Arsenal pre match warm up

My seat in the North Bank lower was in front of the warm up area for the playing members of the squad where Chesney, while firing in corner kicks for Ospina to collect, seemed to have a chastened look on his face.

The away support were no doubt hoping for a repeat of the corresponding fixture last season where the resulting home defeat led to much angst amongst the Gooner faithful.

The Birmingham Villa contingent

The Birmingham Villa contingent

Selection wise the expected unavailability of Alexis seemed to cause less consternation than it would have done earlier in the season, a reflection of the current better squad depth with Theo and Özil starting and Monreal replacing Gibbs at the back – a very strong looking side and a healthy bench, with possibly only the substitute striker department being inexperienced, Welbeck instead of Chubby Akpom would have been preferrable.

Soon after kick off a chance fell to Theo and as is the case nowadays the modern day supporter displays schitzoid tendencies by screeching with derision when a player doesn’t bury every chance, as a voice from behind me indicated. To be fair Walcott did show signs of rustiness as later in the game he would race to the touch line to keep a ball in but he approached the ball from the wrong side to scoop it back in, a basic error.

Another voice would say:

“This lot are rubbish, we should be getting at least four against them”

In comparison to Theo’s awkwardness Özil was gliding around the pitch with his trademark panache and pretty soon a lofted ball from the centre landed in his ambit, then a sublime flick from Mesut and Olly collected then slammed home to open the scoring.

Long distance view of Olly's goal

Long distance view of Olly’s goal

With the number of crucial goals the big Frenchman has been scoring lately the English media will have to tone down their accusation of him being a flat track bully; yes it was against lowly Villa but the first goal in any game is crucial.

After conceding fairly early Vila had to step up the pace of their game and then Coquelin’s worth came into view – he provided a robust presence in the middle of the pitch which Arsenal have lacked for a while. His tackling was generally clean and on the spot even if he may concede a few fouls but in the hurly burly of any midfield this almost inevitable.

While Coquelin’s bustling presence was a new pleasure to behold, a not so new one was Santi’s dazzling close control, where he seems to pluck lofted passes to him out of the air and caress the ball with ease.

The only Villa players that caught my eye were for naughty infringements – Benteke (as slow and as lumbering a striker as you will ever see) barging Kozzer as he was about to head a Villa cross clear, and another barge from the rotund Villa number 5 on Ramsey as he was jumping into a header.

Özil continued to ghost across all areas and, with Santi, pick and tease apart Villa’s defence to the extent that as half time approached the Ashburton Grove crowd felt the Arsenal should have been two or three up, with only some good saves by the bald Villa keeper and the woodwork preventing the half time lead from being greater.

The Villa manager must have had the hair dryer out as for about ten minutes after the start of the second half the away team actually pressed forward with purpose and Ospina’s calm, composed keeping continued to shine through.

Every Villa cross, and forward foray, caused little concern amongst the home support as the feeling was that Ospina would deal with it – no panic, just unflappability.

This being the first time I’d seen our Colombian keeper I hadn’t heard the call from the Gooner support when he would take a goal kick:

Osss-peeeeeeeeee-na !

A tad childish, but good fun and also something that may make Chesney grimace at the thought of how popular his counterpart has become so quickly.

As Villa saw no way past the twin shields of Coquelin and Ospina a breakaway attack led to Olly threading a ball through to Özil who calmly slotted home for the second. One goal and one assist already and our record signing looking well on the way to a return to form.

With his mid field partner in wizardry, Santi Cazorla, Özil weaved a spell on the Villa players that left them chasing shadows to the extent that somehow the BFG on one occasion found himself driving into the Villa penalty box and slotting over a cross that just eluded the Arsenal strikers – Beckenbauer-esque !

Santi and Özil bamboozle

Santi and Özil bamboozle

Again Santi found another perfect through ball and Theo ran onto it and finished instinctively, the best way for our number 14 and the match was safe at three nil to the good guys.

As expected the same voice who admonished Theo for fluffing the early chance was singing “Theo, Theee-oo!” the loudest of all just then.

With the game won a flurry of substitutions saw Tomas “Rockin” Rosicky and Chubby Akpom come on, the latter to replace Giroud who was by then visibly wincing from a first half collision with the Villa back line.

Having seen little of Chubby it was interesting to see what he brought to our attack. On the basis of today’s cameo a more controlled version of Sanogo’s energy maybe.

That drive saw him latch onto a pass into the penalty area and to my eyes he appeared to take a heavy first touch but somehow the Villa keeper was deemed to have fouled him after he lost control of the ball. Having had more than our fair share of penalties denied we were all happy to take one that probably wasn’t deserved.

Up stepped our man of the moment Santi (who had received the PFA player of the month award before kickoff) and to rub salt into the wound the Villa keeper got a hand to the penalty but only succeeded in parrying the ball onto the post and seeing it ricochet into the net, four nil.

A cheeky chap in the big screen video control room then showed a close up of the Villa keeper kicking the post in frustration after Santi wheeled off in celebration to much mirth in the home support.

A final flourish was the fifth goal, where after the usual Arsenal succession of probing passes around the penalty area a pass allowed Bellerin to run onto the ball in a line towards the goal and it seemed he’d decided, “enough of this fannying around, I’ll slam this one”.

Hector makes it 5

Hector makes it 5

A well deserved debut goal and the BFG’s usual applause for the crowd was in the upbeat mood befitting a thumping five nil victory.

The BFG thanks the gooners

The BFG thanks the gooners

While the opposition was not especially testing it was a resounding win that sets us up nicely for a trip to the swamplands of the Middlesex reprobates next weekend.

Last word to a couple of Villa fans overheard in their high-pitched whingeing Brummy accents in the queue for the station:

“I thought they’d be shit without Sanchez”

One man team? Emphatically not.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Man at the match; Chary: Green shoots of Arsenal recovery ?

A pair of braces from a rejuvenated Giroud and a resurgent Cazorla eased the pressure on a team seeking to erase the memory of the Stoke defeat with a comfortable win against a Newcastle side that traditionally don’t travel well.

Long distance Toon army

Long distance Toon army

On the first wintry day of the season a Christmas shopping delayed departure from home to the match meant there was no time for a pre match alcoholic relaxant and given our previous League result it seemed some beer would have been necessary.

It would be fair to say most Arsenal supporters looked at this fixture in the light of Newcastle’s form with a fair degree of trepidation given they last week banished the pathetically premature talk of Maureen-Yo’s Invincibles (his 14′ers compared to “THE” 49′ers) with a win over the diving specialists of the Premier League.

Under The Invincibles banner

Under The Invincibles banner

That trepidation may have increased with the news that the recently returned from injury Debuchy would be forced to play (right) back due to Kozzers injury and Chambers’ suspension.

In the North Bank lower there was talk of protests that had not materialised and word of “Wenger out” placards being confiscated however there was no definite sense of unease as the game kicked off.

From the off Newcastle tried to match Arsenal’s high energy start to the game and this was to be applauded. Too many times at Ashburton Grove we see away teams with 10 men behind the ball and looking to frustrate, however what was apparent that their midfield pressing was being let down by the below par performance from Newcastle’s front line.

The first chance of the match came to us with a header (I couldn’t see who it was from) off the cross bar and this was to set the tone for the game.

Sadly the next incident was a brutal one as I saw a scuffle for the ball in the midfield end up with high kicking legs and our super Chilean collapsing holding his stomach. It was hard for me to see how much contact there was, but the word around me was it should have been a red card for whoever the miscreant was.

The Newcastle number 28, all gangly legs and comedic/uncoordinated running style, failed to connect with many through balls and one of his fresh air swipes at the ball caused much mirth around me in the block behind the North Bank goal.

While the Arsenal were attacking the Clock end in the first half, at the other end of the ground from me, even my Mr Magoo standard eyesight enabled me to see that Santi Cazorla was engineering plenty of forward passes and creating time and space for Alexis and Welbeck to run onto.

Another aspect of the midfield play was the The Ox’s rambunctious ability to fend off the opposition midfielders attempts to push him off the ball, to this end Colback stood out(not just for his bright ginger hair) as having the most energy in the midfield battle ground.

Newcastle’s open/attacking strategy was bound to play into the Arsenal’s hands when another driving Alexis run to the bye line let him loft in a cross which Olly met with a thumping “towering” header.

At last, a goal from a cross, something we’ve needed to give our attack variety.

With that goal the tension seemed to fall away and even a goal mouth scramble, when Chesney had to make a double save following a Newcastle free kick, couldn’t reduce the positive feeling.

Olly song then rang out and soon after it seemed Welbeck had scored but the celebration was cut short.

Half time saw a pitchside interview with our first super swede, Anders Limpar, with replays of some of his best goals on the big screens. By this time the toes of Arsenla supporters must have started to numb with the plunging tempartures.

The second half saw no change in the away teams open, attacking approach and wave after wave of Arsenal attacks orchestrated by Santi and the attacking charges usually being led by Alexis (and occasionally Welbeck).

Free kick

Free kick

The performance of Bellerin was appreciated, not just for his help in setting up, and joining in, attacks but his tenacious defensive tackling and composure when pressurised, whenever I have seen him play live he has not looked out of place.

Another attack saw Santi weave his way into the penalty area then, stumbling, lift the ball over the diving rookie Newcastle keeper to make it 2 nil.

Santi scores

Santi scores

No sooner had the crowd started relaxing completely then a cross from our right saw Olly flick in the third goal and again his song was sang – how we missed the big Frenchman’s presence up top.

A feature of the match, many fouls on us being unpunished and first infractions by us leading to booklings, manifest itself with a soft free kick being awarded against us.

A groan from the home support told me Newcastle had pulled a goal back yet a 3-1 lead looked safe given the lack of quality in the away forwards.

This didn’t change the tempo or direction of the game and Arsenal carried on attacking with Welbeck in particular not letting the Newcastle keeper nor defence settle with the ball that long.

Santi orchestrating

Santi orchestrating

It was Welbeck’s pressing that let him run onto a pass that set him up for a driving surge, in my direction, to the goal where I could see the clumsy barge that led to the most stone wall of stone wall penalties you will ever see.

Being just five rows from the front I was hoping to have a good view of the penalty and as I saw Santi, like in the FA Cup semi final, wait to take the penalty, but as soon as he started his run all I could see was a sea of raised arms. Luckily the cheer told me we had four and we were mirroring Tuesday’s score line.

Make that two

Make that two

At this point the same voices around me who were critical of the manager pre match were singing:

“One Arsene Wenger”

In the context of what went before I was unable to process this turn of events or make sense of it.

In any case a happy home crowd cheered at the final whistle and Flamini joined the BFG as one of the few players who thanked the crowd before disappearing off down the players tunnel.

The BFG

The BFG

Two wins after the soul destroying defeat in middle Earth at the previous weekend was all that the team could do and one hopes this means the teams form is on the up, or at the very least the fragile recovery is starting.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)