Liverpool v. Arsenal; it's up for grabs now!

Footyprints

Lots to get to today, including a story that could very well represent the biggest change to English Football since the Taylor report recommended abolishing terraces in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Unfortunately, I can’t devote any space to the story that a group of MPs have decided on their own that three of the top four teams are engaged in ‘financial doping’ and that English teams should adopt the 6+5 rule, irregardless of the fact that it’s illegal and immoral. No, I can’t devote any space to that because we have a full plate just dealing with today’s blockbuster away match to Liverpool.

Straight away into injury news. There’s some speculation that Adebayor is missing today’s game as a sort of punishment for his gormless performance against Chelsea on Saturday. This speculation is fueled by the previous speculation that he was being held out of the first team because he had put in a string of pathetic performances prior to coming up with a hamstring injury against Tottenham. Certainly, the fact that he was out for a month and a half and only came back into the squad after playing for Togo did nothing to quell this particular bit of fantasy. And more surely, Arsene Wenger’s recent statement that Ade “has a little hamstring alert and we don’t want to take a gamble on him” in light of the absolutely shameful match where he was subbed for Stumpy Bendtner against Chelsea will do even less to quell the rumors that Adebayor is in the dog house, if not on his way out.

Speculation aside, Adebayor and Robin van Persie are both left out of today’s match. With Wenger stating that the latter has an actual groin pull, which all footballers know is in some ways harder to recover from than the dreaded hammy pull that Adebayor is now constantly suffering. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see both rested even further than today and possibly the boss would go as far as resting them against ‘Boro on Sunday.

The good news is that Eduardo has been included in the team, and given the dearth of first team strikers, Arshavin will almost certainly get a chance to shine — and perhaps a chance to show the boss why he should have picked him in the FA Cup. I suspect Wenger will employ ye ole 4-2-3-1 with Bendtner holding the line, Arshavin on the right, Nasri on the left, and Cesc in the middle. This will be almost certainly be followed by Song and Denilson providing cover for a back four of Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, and Gibbs.  If things are going poorly, look for Dudu to come of the bench and the shape to change to a 4-4-2.

Without Steven Gerrard and with Wenger employing Cesc in the attacking midfield role, there will be two key battles today; Cesc v. Mascherano/Alonso and Torres v. the Arsenal defense. Don’t be surprised to see Cesc marked out of the game, Liverpool’s two midfield enforcers are incredibly difficult to beat. That’s where Arshavin will be called in to play a huge role. Also don’t be surprised to see Sagna/Gibbs play a more reserved role as the speedy Torres cannot be handled by Silvestre — as we all saw against Droggers on Saturday. The other thing to watch for is how the two bosses massage their lineups to exploit each other’s weakness. For example, if Sagna is being reserved Torres will move more toward the right and if Cesc is being marked out Arsenal might drop him deeper and create space between the fence and the defense (I just made that up calling the two defensive midfielders a fence, get it? GET IT???).

I’m really excited about the match and it should be a fun game to watch. Both teams have a lot of pride AND are both are playing for more than just pride. Liverpool need a win to keep their title pursuit alive and Arsenal are targeting a “top three” finish which is more than just symbolic: the top three teams get a birth in to the Champions League and fourth place now goes into open qualification. Open qualification means that teams like Arsenal are no longer seeded and thus no longer guaranteed to play uhhh…. teams like Twente Enschede and instead would face teams like Roma, Hamburg, Lyon, Valencia, and Panathinaikos. I don’t have to tell you that Roma in the first round would be a much sterner test than FC Twente.

Right, so the rest of the season is coming in to sharp focus now; Arsenal need just 10 points in their last 6 games to secure 4th and they pretty much need to win out to get 3rd. Will we be the team that is brushed aside in all competitions, broken at the end of the season with players leaving like rats on a sinking ship? Or will we be the squad that, though depleted by injury, fought for every point and maybe even won the Champions League?

The kind of team we’ll be at the end of the season is up for grabs now.

We haven't got time for the pain

It’s time to put the Chelsea game behind us, because tomorrow night Arsenal travel to Anfield and have to play a very tough Liverpool squad in the Premier League. Liverpool is just one point off the title (though EVERYONE keeps reminding me that United have a game in hand) and will be looking for three points. Similarly, Arsenal are only 7 points up on Villa (though we have a game in hand!!!) and need to get maximum points from their last 6 games if they have any hopes of winning the league (I’m kidding).

Seriously, I expect tomorrow’s match to be a real battle and even though I’d rather Liverpool won the league, I’d much rather Arsenal follow up Saturday with a real blockbuster win. In the season where we are celebrating the anniversary of Arsenal’s 1989 league title, which we won on their hollowed ground, an away win at Anfield would be most delicious indeed. In fact, two-nil would be just about the most perfect win and Wenger is surely busy reminding the boys of that famous night. Though I hope he’s not showing them too much footage lest the makeshift Arsenal back four start thinking it’s OK to handle a back pass.

I don’t know what Arsene is saying to them to get them ready for this game but I do know what he’s saying in public; talking up Fabianski’s future.  I don’t expect anything less from Arsene, the kid had a rough day and we need him to be at the top of his game against the likes of Torres.

There’s no news on the injury front, but you can count on the fact that we’re not getting a whole new back four, hell, we’ll be lucky to have Sagna back.

Anyway, van Persie the statesman has put the weekend and the week ahead in a bit of context, saying

We are disappointed, but we need to get our stuff together and fight for the other two titles (uhhh, sic? ed.). We have to play the game against Liverpool on Tuesday now, whether you are happy or if you are not happy.

Yes indeed, Robin, yes indeed.

Arsenal 1-2 Cheslea; The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Poland international Lukasz Fabianski had a birthday to forget as his error gifted Chelsea a 2-1 victory in their FA Cup semi-final defeat of Arsenal at Wembley.

Sunday Express: DROGBA’S LATE GEM RUINS BRAVE ARSENAL’S CHALLENGE

Arseblog: There’s only one way to deal with a result like that and it’s to drink heavily. Well, there’s another way which involves a rampaging orgy of violence against anything in blue but experience has taught me that drinking is the best option.

Match Video

The Arsenalist:  still kicking out fresh jams.

Introduction

Arsenal is a club that relies on R&D for their success: Research and Development.  Chelsea is a club that relies on R&C: Resources and Checkbook. — FA Cup semi-final match commentator for Setanta.

I am disappointed. Most of the team gave 100% yesterday and truly did not deserve to crash out of the cup in that manner: beaten again by Didier Drogba, who, to be fair, is a huge diving cunt.

Moreover, it was so similar to the Carling Cup final two years ago that it’s not even funny: there’s the early goal by Theo, followed by the Chelsea boot boys getting away with things like shoving Arsenal players over, which raised tensions and nearly got Denilson sent off. All wrapped in a cellophane package of a club who have to buy cups the same way they buy and hand out flags for their “supporters” to wave around during the match. Once again it was a case of Chelsea’s superior checkbook making the difference and that’s hard to take.

Even still, I can’t really say that I’m surprised by the outcome, just like the Carling Cup final. No club can go into any match missing 4 of their starting back 5, and even missing several of their backup players and really expect to compete. So, it’s a testament to those players that they have competed over these last few weeks and no shame that Silvestre was beaten by a world class player like Drogba.

With that said, let’s get on with the show.

The Good

Kieran Gibbs was just brilliant. Whether it was going forward to garner the assist or his tireless defending at the back, Gibbs gave everything yesterday and proved himself to be a star for the future. His overlapping runs were a danger to Chelsea all day and they literally had no answer for him. I have to think that if he’d had a more active forward up front in Adebayor he would have been more effective going forward. As it was, he only notched one assist — then again, we only scored one goal!

At the back, for the second time in as many games, Fabianski made a huge error in going out of his box and Gibbs was called upon to perform the rescue. Make no mistake, this clearance was more than just youthful legs getting back, he also needed a pretty well honed defensive awareness to even be in position to make that save. And he’s done it twice now.

It makes Gibbs a bit of an enigma: is he more of an attacking player or more a defender? His current England captain solves that problem by playing him as the box-to-box midfielder. It’s tough to pigeonhole someone who is that talented but I can’t wait to see where Wenger plays him next year.

The Bad

Adebayor was a disgrace. Arsene’s late sub of Bendtner for Ade is all the proof Arsenal supporters need to see that Wenger was fed up with the performance he put in. Why else would you take off your most talented striker and put someone in who is not nearly as talented but is one of the  hardest workers on the team? Basically, Wenger crippled the team offensively when he brought Bendtner on, because he was that pissed at Adebayor. And the way Adebayor walked off the pitch and sat pouting in the stands spoke volumes about what he thought of being subbed.

In fact, Adebayor’s whole game was a huge mystery. Whereas in the last match he was offside at least 6 times, I don’t think he had a single offside yesterday. I have to wonder if Wenger didn’t dress him down after his chronic offsidedness and his reaction was a sort of petulant, lazy, temper tantrum. I’m obviously just speculating about that and Wenger will probably never say what happened, but it was a very strange game from Ade, a strange sub by Arsene, and a hideous reaction by the Togonator. We may yet need his skill before the end of the year so let’s hope Wenger patches this up enough to keep Ade interested until the end of the year.

I’m not going to rip Fabianski. He’s only 24 years old and his mistakes were the stuff that young keepers do. I like his aggressiveness in the area and hopefully he can learn to trust his defense a little bit more and not to come too far out of the box too soon. You know, keep his hands in the game so to say.

And finally, as for individual play, I thought Eboue had a nightmare. He looked kind of fat and slow and didn’t show any defensive awareness.

Maybe he wasn’t match fit? I saw him not tracking back on one play and pull up rubbing his back. Maybe he just never plays with the defensive practice team? I don’t know how else to explain his rather poor defense of what should have been an easy ball to deal with but that rather found Malouda who nutmegged Eboue and beat Fabianski to the near post. Folks are blaming Fab for that goal but I think he left the near post open because he saw Eboue had it covered. Eboue was 80% at fault for the first goal and whether it was because he wasn’t fit or because he was properly prepared, I don’t know.

That said, the big mystery of the day was the team selection. The back four selected themselves of course, but the rest of the team selection was just fucking bizarre. I like Denilson, he’s one of my favorite players, but he’s more in the mold of Cesc than of Gilberto. I like Diaby, he’s got so much potential, but he’s more like a Felliani than a Vieira. So, Wenger picked a super offensive side in Diaby and Denilson and Cesc in the middle, and three strikers up front (Theo is a striker). Of course, Wenger doesn’t see it this way and he explains the team selection thus:

Alex Song has played many games and I believe when you do that you need rest. I am not sure he would have stopped the ball in the air on the second goal, but it is difficult. We know they are dangerous on set-pieces and we are a bit short. Plus they have some tall boys who make it physical in midfield and we needed a player like Diaby to be capable of fighting against them.

As well I wanted to rotate it a bit because Nasri was sick last week and he looked a bit tired. We played with three strikers – Theo, Robin and Adebayor – and I couldn’t play with four when they had three in midfield.

The logic is sound but the application is completely wrong. Why not Diaby and Song at the back? Because you are resting Song??? For what? Tuesday’s game against Liverpool? Very strange.

And then, of course the huge question as to why Arshavin was not in the game to start or, at the least, subbed earlier. Denilson was having a poor game and Cesc was ineffective in the hole, so even if you don’t start Arshavin in the hole, at the least I would have brought him on for Denilson at the 60th minute, moved Cesc back and see if the Russian’s class could have sparked some life into Adebayor and company up front. I think Arshavin had pretty much Arsenal’s only shots in the second half, in his brief stint. That’s how much he could have changed the game, given a chance.

In the end, it’s easy to sit here and second guess the manager. The reality is that Arsenal were winning and ended up conceding two goals. Maybe our first choice keeper would have stopped those, maybe not. Maybe Sagna would have headed that over the top ball to Malouda out, maybe not.  Maybe Gallas would have been stronger in the challenge and had better wheels to catch Drogba on the second goal, maybe not.

It doesn’t really matter what I think might have happened, because in the end, Arsenal were simply outplayed.

The Ugly

If Wembley is the crown jewel of English football, then that jewel has a serious flaw in it; the disgraceful pitch. I honestly don’t know what they are going to do for today’s match. That pitch needs to be torn up, replaced, and allowed to settle in for about two years before another match is played on it.

I’d rather have a plastic pitch with gridiron football lines on it than one where the ball bumbles along like it did yesterday.

Conclusion

The game is over, Chelsea won and though we’re out of this cup, we’re not done for the season. Arsenal have Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday and we need to regroup and focus our attention on keeping 4th place in the league. Then, in two week’s time we have a Champions League match against the Devils which is a series that Arsenal most certainly can win: especially a 100% fit Arsenal.

And yes, while it’s hard to go out to a bunch of classless cunts who celebrate a semi-final win by spraying each other with Champagne, as if they’d just won the cup, Arsenal have targets still to achieve and possibly even exact some revenge against Chelsea in the Champions League.

I honestly believe that this team has the talent and heart to win the Champions League. And if they can just get 100% healthy, they will be very dangerous.  I can’t wait to see it, but let’s start with a famous win at Anfield on Tuesday!