Category Archives: Chary

Arteta free kick

Man at the match, Chary: Bridge hangover as chances squandered

A vaguely disappointing nil nil failed to quell the feel good factor derived from the Arsenal’s heroic high octane defeat of the Siberian oligarchs team last Saturday.

As the match drew to a close I recalled the target of four points from the two games against the French champions set by Wenger and was able to assess the performance and result in that context. Arriving at Arsenal tube station I was, as usual, “treated” to some singing from the Bouches-du-Rhône region, initially unintelligible but as the away supporters followed me up to the ticket barriers I could eventually pick up:

Mar-seille allez, Mar-seille allez, allez, allez, chante!

To the tune of “Oh my darling clementine” as sung by Huckleberry Hound a lot clearer than last night’s version.

The atmosphere for a mid-week evening kick off at Ashburton Grove is altered by that claustrophobic feel that the darkness that descends in London in November gives to the journey to your turnstile from the stadium environs.
The team line ups as announced before kick-off revealed our Captain was being benched to give the Park a start and that there was a welcome return to the starting line-up for the Verminator.

My seat was behind the Clock End goal, lower tier, so I had the away support a few blocks to my right. Inside the stadium they were fairly vocal as most away crowds tended to be on European nights — louder than Porto’s, quieter than Dinamo Zagreb’s, from memory. To their credit the complete 4 block allocation was full and animated.

Kick off

Kick off

The early exchanges showed that Marseilles had pace all over the pitch if not skill, with the full backs making light work of Gervinho and Theo’s attempts to pull apart their back line.

Chesney showed himself to be a goalie of supreme confidence when he took on a Marseilles forward; even from the other end of the pitch I could see him dummying and dribbling around him and while there was much mirth in the crowd in reaction to his skill and confidence I would have preferred him not to be put (or put himself) in those situations and that he just takes the safety first option – a hefty hoof up field for example.

Defence wise the Verminator slotted straight back into the team as if he’d never been away and Mertesacker showed the calm authority we’ve come to expect but without the missed headers that he needs to eliminate from the game.

“Jenks” has quickly become a fans favourite with his work rate and never ending drive to push on whether defending or getting forward, conversely Santos was seen differently, a capable and experienced defender who is probably not 100% match fit.

Marseilles pushed forward for the first half hour and for an away side that was quite brave however their finishing was as bad as ours turned out to be.

There were few alarms and no one especially felt we would concede at any moment – a feeling we definitely had in matches during the closing stages of last season. Encouraged by their support striking up the Huckleberry Hound song, Marseilles continued to press and a few shots on Chesney’s goal resulted which were on target, and many more off target.

As time went on however the Arsenal then gained more possession which resulted in whistling from the away support.

It’s clearly a continental thing to whistle when the opposition has the ball, in the UK it tends to be done to register displeasure at a bad refereeing decision or the opposition not kicking the ball out if one of your players is injured. If that happens in a continental game what would they do then as an alternative to whistling? If they just whistle more, how could you tell what the crowd was irate about if it’s just more of the same?

Anyway gripe/observation over.

Despite the extra possession Arsenal had as the first half drew to a close it seemed that Park was lacking that “something” as things just failed to happen for him; maybe he needed a bit of confidence that would result from a few more of his one twos working or having some decent shots on goal?

We clearly need a stand in for Robin but at the moment Park is not the answer, I sincerely hope he will be part of the answer at least and the sooner the better.
Gervinho seemed to be having one of those days also where things didn’t quite come off and when they did the resulting shot was wide or well saved with Aaron seeming a touch jaded also.

The extra possession Arsenal gained as the game went on was as a result of the Song-Arteta axis establishing a metronomic understanding in the centre of the midfield.

One gets the sense that Mikel is loving being on the European Cup stage, a chance a player of his quality and experience should really have had earlier in his career. One of our more palpable chances was an Arteta free kick, which on another day would have drifted in rather than swerved away from the top left corner of the goal.

Arteta free kick

Half time came and with it the news that the Russian’s from the bus stop in Fulham were one nil up against the mighty Genk.

No substitutions from either side at half time but as time went on and the Marseilles defence held firm it seemed it was only a matter of time before changes would have to be made.

Robin and Arshavin had been warming up as soon as the second half had kicked off, Robin being the benefactor of a standing ovation from the Clock end.

Captain fantastic & the meerkat

Robin Arshavin subs

The pattern of the second half followed the latter half of the first in that Arsenal pressure was repelled or the final ball was poor or the finishing was not quite there.

The referee had a fairly good game and wasn’t buying the feigning injury Marseilles started to indulge in, with Mathieu Valbuena seeming like a refugee from a dwarf throwing/diving competition; the sort I imagine being held in deepest Tennessee by some good old boys. Perhaps the midget Mathieu was giving the crowd a preview of his bid to be part of the French 2012 Olympic diving squad? However the referee did seem a bit too keen to book that well known midfield destroyer Rosicky for his first challenge, having come on as the second sub with Robin on shortly before.

Then an exchange of dwarfs – Valbuena off, Arshavin on to try and provide a creative spark and feed Robin for the goal that would seal a Round of 16 qualifying victory.

The game seemed to peter out with a few more attacks by Arsenal at the North bank end and try as Arshavin did to make something happen by the last third of the game Marseilles had decided to settle for the draw and their initial attacking intent evaporated.

Final Whistle 0-0

Final Whistle 0-0

Overall, not a disastrous result, just as long as a victory against West Brom on Saturday can be won before another wretched interlull/nationalism break before hostilities resume a fortnight later.

Just to cheer up the Gooners emptying Ashburton Grove news filtered through that the European footballing powerhouse of Genk finished their game level with Chelsea to extend the team “led” by John Terry’s winless run to 3 games.



Man at the match, Chary: Robin’s twin strikes send Bolton to the bottom

An unusually mild late September afternoon saw Arsenal’s third home game of the season take place in what the media would like to say was an air of apprehension amongst the support.

First off – that tabloid generated assertion was way off the mark as the feeling in the bars and streets around the N5 area of London was certainly not apprehension. The mood was that of expectancy and quiet confidence that the real Arsenal would show up today.

Your humble scribe found himself in the Upper tier of the Clock End where conventional wisdom would assert there would be a soporific feeling generated amongst the support, only slightly less lack lustre than Club level.

Second off – not true either; the support was surprisingly vocal and while my less than complimentary remarks about Cyril Davies (when he replaced the anonymous Ngog) were still met by inquiring looks from pre-pubescent Gooners, irregardless (c. Tim) from where I sat Block 124 backed the team as well as the rest of the home support did.

From this view point the Red action section of the North bank could be seen passing around the giant club flag.

Red Action flag

Red Action flag

Once all the crowd had arrived it seemed the stadium was around 90% full with Bolton’s support taking up around 80% of their allocation

Prior to kick off we saw a rather cheesy “huddle” from the Bolton players – that’s so 1990’s; who does on pitch team huddles anymore?

Cheesy Bolton huddle

Cheesy Bolton huddle

After a slightly nervy start, where Chesney pulled off a great one handed save from an early Bolton attack Arsenal settled into their passing game gradually although nowadays it is more customary to highlight our defence. Chesney is without a doubt the leader of the defence – for such a young man he commands his back four like a seasoned pro, not someone who was keeping goal for Brentford the season before last.

Apart from the early shot on our goal Bolton offered very little going forward in the first half and in that respect the defence seemed to settle. There was the odd hic cup, where a hoofed Jaaskelainen goal kick would bounce a few too many times before our centre backs cleared their lines however no groans were to be heard.

What we still heard were the odd groan when our forward would not shoot early enough, although that was harsh on us as the Bolton 4-5-1 line up was basically two banks of 4 close together with little room for manoeuvre, hence the probing for an opening prior to shooting.

Early impressions on the new players were that Arteta looks very much like a player used to the hurly burly of a rumbustious quality of a premier league midfield and at home there. There were a number of efficient forward passes he made that although not Hollywood, eye catching long range passes, kept our attacks ticking over nicely.

Mertesacker looked a gentle giant rather than an orc-like animal of a defender in his style of play, but I saw a clever cut back to nutmeg the Bolton left winger and keep the ball in play and pass forward as well as several passes in the opposition area which progressed attacks nicely. This suggested some finesse and skill – I wager he’ll fit in nicely. I suspect as his game time grows he will become that big lump in the centre of our defence that we have needed ever since “Big Tone” (TA06) retired.

It soon became apparent after the substitution of Ngog that K Cyril Davies is indeed an odious individual – he took less than two minutes to commit a foul after coming on and his whole repertoire of football skills consist of backing into the defender and falling over to win free kicks.

As half time approached I realised that I didn’t feel nervous after a goalless first 45 minutes; partly because although we were feeling our way back in our attacking play Bolton offered very little goal threat and their “strategy/tactics” consisted of nullifying our attack by making sure Robinson hacked Theo at every opportunity and Wheater grappled with Robin, the way in which Vidic is allowed to WWF-style-lee, whenever we had a free kick in the Bolton half.

Half time was spent by of me kicking myself for not getting any pictures of “The Carlsberg girls” who were around the stadium concourse posing for pictures with supporters before kick off; as a middle aged chap I naturally felt uncomfortable asking for a picture with the trios of twenty somethings, however there’s always next time to rectify this omission.

At the restart the stadium big screen showed a close up of Arteta and Gervinho on the centre spot pointing and discussing how to get the second half underway – whatever they said, they could quote Hannibal Jones in saying “I love it when a plan comes together” as Ramsey fed Robin onto his hammer left foot seconds later who then buried the shot bottom right past Jaaskelainen who had, typically, been repelling Arsenal’s attacks almost single handedly.

A minor miracle was Clattenburg playing the advantage when another Bolton ankle crusher took out Gervinho in the build-up to the goal – and another miracle, after the goal was scored he booked the offending Bolton player (Steinsson)

The Bolton fans who had, up till then, contented them themselves with chanting “Champions League you’re having a laugh” fell silent so we returned the favour by shouting back “Premier League, you’re having a laugh!”

Arsenal gained confidence and the attacks became more fluid and Theo more influential, with another one of his central runs leading to Wheater, taking time off practising his half-Nelson on Robin, deciding – by way to hack him down.

DOGSO – red card and flash forward to Coyle bemoaning how even the game had been up till then (excuse me, you were one nil down and camped in your own half) in the post-match press conference and how the red card was the turning point.

Despite being hacked relentlessly Theo kept ploughing forward and another run from centre to right set up Robin for his 100th goal for Arsenal with a deft flick from the Dutchman who now has 26 goals in 31 games for 2011. His thanks to Theo visible even from my distant viewpoint.

The blow Gervinho took earlier probably accounted for his replacement by Arshavin ten or so minutes from time and Robin was taken off close to the end so he could get applause for his brace and 100 goal achievement. There was still time for Theo to set up our Russian enigma with a shot he rifled against the side netting, Andrey’s guile and craft will be needed on Wednesday night as we look to gain points in the Champions League.

Sadly Theo, after having missed an easy opportunity when put through by Ramsey, then pulled up with hamstring trouble as a Bolton corner led to a through ball to him that should have made him one on one with the Bolton keeper. A sting in the tail of this match that we could do without and we await medical bulletins on the extent of the injury.

As the full time whistle approached the early departees were punished by a late Song strike, a rising drive into the top of the net as Arsenal attackers pulled apart the tiring Bolton defence.

All in all a satisfactory win and, at the very least, a platform to build on.

A satisfying final scoreboard

A satisfying final scoreboard

Is this result the start of a change in our wretched form to date – who knows? Gooners world wide will be hoping it is.

Man at the match, Chary: Arsenal’s season distilled

Those hoping for a rousing send off by the team for our last home game found themselves sorely disappointed by half time.

Typically, by then, Arsenal had three shots on target and zero goals, while Villa had two shots on target and two goals. Now if that doesn’t sum up our defensive frailties and our lack of striking efficiency in one 45 minutes segment of play nothing will.

A crazy first twenty minutes of defensive tomfoolery let a chipped pass to an unmarked Darren Bent tap in for a goal preceding another where a Vermaelen slip let a pass across the box arrive at his feet again and he duly converted and repeated his rather muted goal celebration, perhaps (and I have this on good authority, an acquaintance of his mother’s) because he is a gooner.  

Wind backwards to a couple of hours before kick-off and your humble scribe wandered to the starting point of the “You are my Arsenal” procession in Blackstock road where a handful of police and a film crew were stationed.

The mood of the assembled crowd there was just like that of any other pre match crowd in the vicinity of the Grove however the occasional chant of “We want our Arsenal back” was proof of simmering discontent as well as a smattering of supporters in their colours of yellow and black.  

Police-Marchers face off

View from the marchers side

View from the marchers side

According to the press release from the organisers the march was due to leave at 3pm however they left ten minutes early, for reasons unclear.

At that point I was at my regular pre match watering hole a few hundred yards up the road and to my dismay I saw the march stream off early and, as far as I could tell, in relative quiet. There were certainly no chants of “Wenger out” from the crowd, which I estimated from my vantage point to be around two or three hundred at least.

As I took my seat in the North Bank lower tier ten minutes before kick off the atmosphere was one of nervousness and as Elvis struck up a red headed girl in front of me held her black scarf above her head to show her allegiance to the demonstrators I’d seen earlier.

Our team started as they normally do with the usual suspects looking good (Jack and Robin) but our defence barely communicating each other even with Vermealen back, who is one of our more vocal defenders. 

Even after the second goal went in our back four hardly spoke, normally when a goal is conceded the back four would at least ask questions amongst themselves as to who was at fault and how to rectify the error, here the space afforded to Darren Bent.

Large gaps between CB's

Large gaps between CB's

The north bank lower tier could see what Bent was asking for “Float the diagonal ball over to me” – a tactic which our back line couldn’t counteract.

Once we went two behind a dose of urgency did enter our play and even from my distant view point the barge on Ramsey in the Villa area was as blatant a penalty as ever yet the referee was happy with the challenge and another recurring feature of Arsenal home games – ”The anti-Homer” referee – showed itself, namely the one who makes a conscious effort to favour the away side.

Sadly on the half time whistle a chorus of boos rang out, although it could be said the crowd were angry at the referee for his decision rather than the lackadaisical performance by our defence and attack, or even a mixture of the two.

One of the weaknesses many have seen in Wenger’s match day tactics is the reluctance to make early, decisive changes when things aren’t working and the half time substitution of Squillaci (who was being jeered by the home support for his granting of space for Bent) for Chamakh was a sign that Wenger thought the efforts made by the team in the first half were wanting.

The second half did see the crowd encouraged by Arsenal’s attacking play having a bit more bite and our forwards being more likely to shoot with the introduction of Bendtner for Arshavin (who tried hard but was having no luck), of course greeted by more jeers. To my eyes Bendtner did seem to drive forward more than our team had been earlier and we all thought Chamakh had pulled a goal back, until the anti-homer effect from the referee of a fair challenge by our number 29 being deemed a foul worthy enough to rule out the goal.

Prior to that Robin hit the post, as he seems contractually bound to in every match. Just to compound the injustice Bendtner was booked for showing frustration at the disallowed goal. 

To further rub salt into the wound Petrov should have been given a second yellow a few minutes before he was subbed and received only a talking to after another foul, on Theo if my memory/sight is correct.

Collision in Villa box

Collision in Villa box

Another cross into Villa box

Another cross into Villa box

From the moment the first goal went in the Villa fans were bouncing all the time, celebrating their lead and when Robin finally got his 20th of the season for a few minutes at least they were motionless.

Luckily for them all it took was a bit more time wasting from their defenders (in feigning injury to use up the time) and Brad Friedel (taking slow motion goal kicks) and the four minutes of injury time soon went and their joy at gaining three points at our expense segued into jeers and cat calls from the home crowd. Numerous calls of “Six per cent, you’re having a laugh” were shouted at the director’s boxes as the Arsenal bench sat motionless and stoney faced.

There was still booing when the players came out for the lap of appreciation and they first came over to where I was; luckily the “We love you Arsenal, we do” singing drowned out the booing and the lap went ahead without any of the ugliness I thought may have happened after a home defeat. 

Lap after full time

Lap after full time

Both Cesc and Wenger had faces that showed their disappointment however I take it as a good sign that Cesc did NOT wave (as in goodbye) to the crowd but Bendtner threw his shirt into the crowd, perhaps good news for his detractors if they read that as a sign of his imminent departure.

Cesc and others applaud crowd

Cesc and others applaud crowd

B52 sans shirt

B52 sans shirt

At the moment the dissenting voices, while in the minority, are vociferous and if the significant changes which virtually every other supporter you talk to says are needed don’t happen, then these dissenters will become more numerous and, it may be argued, they have good reason to gather other supporters into their fold.

A chilling thought as I hurried into the underground station on Gillespie Road a few hours after the final whistle and felt a similarly chilling wind whip up.