Beşiktaş J.K. v. Arsenal FC: half the marbles

The first thing you need to know is how to say the name, it’s b’sheiktash, those little ş marks are pronounced ‘sh’. I learned this today watching video of their crazy fans on youtube.

That’s the second thing you need to know, the “J.K.” in their name doesn’t stand for “Just Kidding” there is no kidding around when it comes to their supporters. Check out this video:

It’s a small stadium, just 35,000 seats but the atmosphere is unlike anything many of the Arsenal boys playing have ever seen. Which is the third thing you need to know, Arsenal are playing in a Champions League playoff, a match worth £30m or more, in a hostile stadium with a bit of a bandaged together squad.

I can’t give you a squad preview for them because I can’t remember ever seeing them play. But I don’t have to give you a preview because Michael Cox already wrote an excellent one over on the dot com. Apparently they have Slaven Bilic as their manager, they like to play direct, they like to play two up top, and they have Demba Ba who is played in a second striker role. They also like to play physical and have two midfielders who are, from Cox’s description, basically destroyers. Arsenal have faced this type of team a lot over the years and it’s the kind of tie which gives Arsenal fans a case of leg cramps. In a way, I suppose you could think of this as Arsene’s first test against the way Jose Mourinho is going to play, except that Besiktas doesn’t have excellent quality players like Fabregas and Costa.

If there is a sniffy lining here it has to be that UEFA’s chief referee, Pierluigi Collina, has told referees to crack down on fouls, diving, and dissent saying “we want to have referees taking correct decisions when needed, even if a red card needs to be given in the fifth minute of a match.” And then later when talking to gathered referees he stated:

You must act in incidents where there is unsporting behaviour, if there is simulation by a player, or if there are acts of provocation. You must not accept a situation where you are mobbed by players, or if there is blatant dissent. In addition to protecting players and the game, you must protect yourselves.

I can’t imagine being the referee in this situation. A crucial match, worth millions to the clubs, worth so much pride to the players and the managers, in a stadium full of 35,0000 screaming crazy fans, between two clubs with (apparently) vastly different playing styles. That’s a nightmare situation all by itself, but then to have Collina breathing down your neck, telling you to stamp out dissent, rein in simulation, and give out red cards in the 5th minute must be just about the worst situation ever. This isn’t to (pre)blame the referee, a favorite pastime for some, but rather to say that I worry that this will be a fiery contest in a stadium roiling like a cauldron.

Arsenal’s players won’t have had much experience dealing with this kind of game. Especially not players like Calum Chambers, for whom this will be a huge test of his maturity. Arsenal have not purchased the required players in defense so they have no other option but to play Chambers and Koscielny. The former just 19 and the latter nursing a foot injury. That said, even if the club had bought new players, ideally we would want a back line who all knew each other well, what with 35,000 screaming fans making communication impossible. But that’s just not going to happen and wouldn’t happen if Arsenal have bought 20 center backs, all of decent quality and experience.

Arsenal are certainly the better team on paper, Alexis alone is probably better than any of their players, but quality aside this is going to be a tough game and I think a point or even a 0-0 draw won’t be a bad result because Arsenal should be better able to manhandle them back at home in the return leg. I’m not rooting for a point, I want Arsenal to win and I think with Giroud and Alexis starting up front and Aaron Ramsey bossing the midfield we should have enough quality to silence their fans.

Finally, I want to remind folks that we are doing a new feature called Match Day Photo of the Month. If you were at the game this weekend or really anywhere that Gooners gathered and have some photos you would like to share with your fellow fans, please send them to Photos can be as imaginative as you like! Jonathan Blaustein, renown photographer, will be selecting the best entries and doing a write up. I’m excited to see what this project brings up from the fans.

The game is on at midday for me and I can’t get away from work so I’ll be recording the game and watching it later and you won’t hear from me here or on twitter until later tonight.

See you then, up the Arse!



Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace: fear of leg cramps

When was the last time you woke up in the middle of the night with a cramp? You know what I’m talking about, you’re lying there dreaming of Arsenal winning the League at Old Trafford, the players dancing in wild abandon, the ticker tape falling all around, and maybe in sympathetic rhythm your muscles start twitching as you dream that you’re dancing with Koscielny. Then before you know what hits you your calf is harder than knotted pine and you’re wide awake, screaming and stretching, praying that’s the only muscle that will cramp.

If you’ve ever had a night cramp, the second night cramp is always worse than the first because somewhere between the actual knot and the pain there’s a moment of sheer panic, you know what’s coming and you’re helpless to stop it. And even worse is that for weeks after your last cramp, you wake up periodically from your slumber, scared you’ll get another cramp.

I get the sense that for some folks, watching Arsenal is like those few weeks after your last leg cramp. You sit there, watching the game with a feeling of doom “they are playing well,” you’ll say “but I know Arsenal are going to concede now, probably off a set play.” Or “well, there went the chance, this game is lost, the season is lost, Wilshere is lost, Sanogo is lost, it’s all over, leg cramps take me away!”

I know because I was like that. I was conditioned by the Cesc era Arsenal and that feeling of inevitability that whenever Arsenal were playing a team that we were “supposed” to beat something would happen, Denilson would switch off, and some player who hasn’t scored a goal since St. Swithins day would kick in a wonder goal and we’d be crushed. Chiek Tiote, all those players from Spurs, they were all garbage on legs and yet they all scored on us in some unimaginable fashion. And it seemed to happen so often that the unimaginable became real.

So, it makes sense to carry that sense of doom for a while when watching Arsenal. Just like when you had a cramp and for the next week you live in fear of that cramp coming back. But I wonder how long we have to live in fear of the next Arsenal collapse?

For me, I stopped worrying about Arsenal cramps a while ago. I tried to pinpoint when it happened and I think it was the Bayern Munich away match, where Arsenal scrapped their way to a 2-0 win and came within a goal post of their own unthinkable result: beating Bayern 3-0 in Munich and advancing in the Champions League.

I say all that knowing that Arsenal can still collapse in spectacular fashion. As much as I wish I could blot out those losses to Chelsea, Man U, City, and Liverpool they are always going to be with me. But as I sat there watching Arsenal on Saturday I knew the whole time that they were going to win.

I knew they would win partly out of that sense of calm that they have given me but also because my rational mind told me that this team is chock full of talent. Arsenal started with Yaya Sanogo, a hard worker but hardly a polished center forward. In midfield, there was the trio of Arteta, Wilshere, and Ramsey all of whom seemed to lack a little bit of sharpness. On the wings there was Alexis and Cazorla, with the former looking like he wanted to do too much and the latter looking well off the boil, spraying passes all over the park to no one. And at the back, Arsenal are bedding in two new defenders, which is usually a recipe for disaster because defense is a team within a team and disrupting half that team almost always has dire consequences.

I’ve just given you every reason to think that team shouldn’t win, and yet, I saw that collection of talent and thought that of course they were going to win. Alexis is going to take time to get used to the speed and power of the English Premier League but you can already see that he’s one of the most talented players on the pitch. He’s going to pull off something brilliant at least once a game. Which is what he did, sailing in a cross that dipped perfectly for Koscielny to score the equalizer.

And in Aaron Ramsey Arsenal have a budding superstar. I lost count of how many times the pundits have said that Arsenal need a midfield powerhouse, someone who can dominate the game in the middle of the park. And I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said that they have that guy already and his name is Aaron Ramsey. He’s a tireless worker: tackling, positioning himself to take an errant pass, running without the ball, demanding the ball, looking to move the ball up the pitch, and since last year he has decided to add “scoring the game winning goal” to his overflowing tool kit. That’s what he did on Saturday, he scored the winner. Like he did in the FA Cup Final. And like he seems to be doing with some regularity now.

Sure, it was only Crystal Palace and sure they were missing their manager who left the club on the eve of the kickoff to their season. But Arsenal, for their part, were missing their record signing, the creative force in midfield, their starting center half and defensive rock, their starting center forward, and many of the players who were on the pitch looked sorely out of shape and clearly lacking that telepathic communication necessary for a team like Arsenal, a team dependent on slick passing and fluid movement, to break down a team like Palace who sit back and have little interest in actually playing a game of football.

But that’s what made me so calm. They were missing all those players and yet, they still had a team full of talent in almost every position and a team with a self belief generated by winning tough games like the 2-0 over Bayern and the FA Cup Final. So, of course they won.


Man at the match; Chary: Just deserts to time-wasting Palace served up by Arsenal

A long three months have passed since your humble scribe last made his way to Ashburton Grove and how the mood around the club and its supporters has changed. News of ManUre’s home defeat to Swansea brought a spring to my step as the much lauded, by the British media at least, Loius Van Butt Head (any fans of MTV of the 80′s and 90′s will know) started off his reign in calamitous fashion.

Walking up Gillespie Road

Walking up Gillespie Road

This is in no small measure due to this very significant addition to the in-stadium signeage.

Shove your nine years up ...

Shove your nine years up …

Of course this has been up for a while yet for those of us travelling to the Grove for the first time this season it’s worth highlighting.

I took my seat in the North Bank lower and guess who was a few rows in front ?



As the teams trundled out the only minor surprise was the selection of Sanogo ahead of Olly and as we attacked the Clock End goal away from me I saw very little of Sanogo’s efforts but he did appear to be a touch ineffectual.

Callum Chambers, however, confirmed his composed performances in the Emirates Cup were no fluke; whether he should be third or fourth choice centre back is the question for the rest of the season.

Very quickly it became apparent in the stands that the Palace manager’s hastily devised team tactic was ‘everyone behind the ball and defend in two banks of five.’ The Pulis stand-in’s dishevelled appearance on the touchline wreaked of a man who’s barely started the job and is in a bit of a muddle.

Smart manager, scruffy manager

Smart manager, scruffy manager

While Wenger was in a smart suit his counter part decided to try the “Brit on a beach holiday abroad” combo of t-shirt and shorts, nice.

As the Arsenal started to make inroads into the massed ranks of the opposition defence Alexis’ was the major threat with his quick starting, darting runs from deep. Granted, he sometimes overshot the final cross/pass but I could almost see the brown trails showing on the shorts of the opposing defenders. That’s what having pace in your attack does – it stops opposition defences sitting back as we no longer have to endlessly dilly dally laterally on the pitch.

Barely twenty five minutes into the game and Speroni, the Palace keeper, decided he would take his goal kicks with all the urgency of a baboon with hemorrhoids. This, allied to the 8-1-1 formation told you all you needed to know about the attitude of Pullis’ successor.

As expected with virtually their first upfield excursion, towards me in the North bank, a misplaced pass amongst our left flank defenders resulted in a corner which Palace duly scored from.

There was some talk around of me of why was Alexis marking the leviathan that is Hangaland however the team and supporters dusted themselves down and got on with the business of getting back into the game.

Arsenal pressed forward, predominantly on the right hand side where Debuchy and Alexis were combining together in the manner of team mates who had playing together for a season and not just a few weeks. it reminded me of our previous right sided partnership of Walcott and that French bloke we signed from Auxerre; what was his name again ?

On the stroke of half time a well deserved equaliser was headed in by Kozzer (from an Alexis free kick), who is popping up with important goals time and time again so the tone of the half time break would then take on a different flavour. I’ve always found the North Bank lower to have more than it’s fair share of pessimistic Gooners so it was good to hear that most felt confident of a winning goal coming up in the second half.

Soon after the second half kicked off Gibbs was subbed and Nacho came on; those saying he should be shipped out should take note of just how often Gibbs is injured and therefore why we need him as experienced back up. To my eyes he went on to have a good game and in fact our attacks on the left started to get better from his introduction onwards.

Soon after the initial flurry of attacks it became apparent that Palace were planning to hang onto the draw by slowing down play by a combination of Speroni’s slow motion goal kicks and assorted defenders collapsing with cramp to eat up more time. Sadly the referee was not keeping a lid on the time wasting and he let it go.

Other things worsened the mood of the home support, for example Arsenal were awarded a free kick they wanted to take quickly but as the referee turned his back a Palace midfielder kicked the ball away – a yellow card all day long, something the lino should have flagged to the referee but didn’t.

Something else that summed up Palace and their approach was when another delicate defender of theirs, Dann I think, was being subbed off, instead of walking straight off the pitch(of course he was proceeding at funereal pace) he not only didn’t take the shortest roue off the pitch, but he arced his walk as he approached the touchline and walked parallel to it so it took even longer for play to restart.

Earlier on just as Arsenal were about to take the corner the Pulis stand in decided to bring on a sub just then ! No waiting for a later break in play as is customary.

As full time approached Puncheon finally got his second yellow after a number of niggling fouls and we got the huge advantage of playing against ten men for a couple of minutes of normal time plus injury time.

Due to the time wasting already seen the five minutes of injury time flagged up was the minimum expected and Arsenal kept on pushing forward, but with renewed urgency.

Another attack resulted in a cross that Olly flicks on and just in front of the North Bank goal, yards from me. I can see someone swivel round to latch onto the flick. Next thing I know Speroni parries and somebody else has tapped in the rebound.

What relief and total justice that Palace concede a goal scored in injury time that their time wasting created.

The winning goal

The winning goal

Through the sea of arms I can just make out Rambo rushing to the corner flag to celebrate, the thing I notice most vividly is his fists pumping in triumph, fist pumps of vitality and strength, not the “couldn’t break a wet paper bag” fist pumps of our dear manager.

By now my row of the North bank lower has taken on the character of a thrash metal mosh pit as the delirious celebrations resulted in yours truly being hurled several seats to the right.

How sweet an injury time winner is and how different the mood at this seasons opening fixture compared to lasts.


By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)