Arsenal v. Liverpool; liveblogging the first half

“Change of plans… LEG IT!” — Dave “Cinzano Bianco” Lister

Well, it snowed, a lot and the roads around my house are completely covered in a nice layer of snow, with a nice thick layer of ice as the base.

I’m going no where. :(

That said, I haven’t lost power and I have a line on a truckload of wood (that’s why god made Craigslist). So, I’m going to hunker down, watch the game on FSC and give my loyal reader (Hi Matt) a blow by blow. Get your mind out of the gutter, you cocksandwich.

Ahead of the match there’s some talk about Arsenal signing Andrei Arshavin. Now I know I promised not to talk about transfers, but you don’t understand. Just mentioning Andrei Arshavin, Andrei Arshavin, Arshavin,  Arshavin, gets me like eleventy billion hits.

But seriously, I will be very disappointed if Wenger gave £20m to that racist ass Zenit team for a cup tied Andrei Arshavin. There have to be equally good, better conditioned, non-cup tied players available for less money.

As everyone is pointing out, with the Villa win yesterday putting them in 3rd place, the Villa game upcoming on Boxing Day, and 4th place Man U a mere 2 points ahead of Arsenal but with two games in hand, this is the make or break match of the season.

Yeah, I know, if Arsenal slip 11 points behind Liverpool with a loss today, the boss will point out how the 1997/98 Gunners came from 11 points behind to beat defending champs Man U but in reality that seems highly unlikely. Someone on this team would have to break out of their shell and become PFA player of the year for that to happen.

Ok.. HEY! Good news, Rafa is still recovering from his kidney stone surgery and won’t be able to make it. Now, if only Gerrard and Alsonso and Mascherano could all be out…

I’ll be back when the lineups are announced.

Squads:

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Djourou, Gallas, Clichy, Denilson, Fabregas, Song Billong, Nasri, Adebayor, Van Persie. Subs: Fabianski, Diaby, Vela, Ramsey, Silvestre, Wilshere, Eboue.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Kuyt, Leiva Lucas, Alonso, Riera, Gerrard, Keane. Subs: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Benayoun, Babel, Ngog, Plessis, El Zhar.

No Mascherano but as I expected, Keane gets the nod… damn.

The guys lineup and shake hands, those grey Liverpool kits are about as ugly as a kit can get.

3′ — tense opening minutes, with both sides content to sit back and crowd the midfield.

4′ — Webb is inserting himsefl into the fixture very early. I think he’s called 5 fouls already, mostly in favor of Arsenal.

7′ — 10th foul, van Persie has a mowhawk. Unless you are 38 years old or older, you shouldn’t have a mowhawk.

10′ — the crowd is up and screaming as Keane is played onside by a wandering Clichy and lays the ball off for a Gerrard shot. Easy save for Almunia but disasterous communication on defense as Clichy makes his first gaffe of this game. Come on Clichy, get your head in the game.

14′ — Clichy wastes a great opportunity. GET IN THE GAME BOYS.

17′ — I think Arsenal is playing a 4-5-1 with van Persie playing a very deep, defensive role.

20′ — Keane gets a yellow for an over the top tackle. It could have been a red. Clichy is slow to get up. Would Silvestre come in?  Yep, he’s warming up in his goose down.

24′ — ROBIN! van Persie shows his class and strength as he fights off Carragher to win a Nasri pass, chests it down and powers in a shot with his Chocolate Leg.  Great goal, great goal.

27′ — Keane is giving everyone fits back there. He’s got a lot to prove and he’s really putting a physical stamp on this game. Also, ladies and gentlement, Expobill is is in the house!  Welcome, Bill.

30′  — mesmerizing play from Arsenal leads to nothing. Come on boys, have a crack! Also, I want to point out that Song is having a good game, watch him.

39′ — Sorry, I had daddy duties. Not much happened anyway. Denilson is having a tough match and Adebayor picks up a yellow card for a very light foul. That’s a Webb v. Arsenal yellow if I ever saw one.

42′ — Arsenal are struck playing their “8 men in the opponent’s box ball holdery bullshit.” And of course, it’s Keane. F*cking hell.

45′ — Liverpool have belief, they are shooting from all over the pitch, Arsenal are in disarray.

The half time whistle couldn’t have come at a better time. Cesc limps off anf that has to be a concern. I know that Wenger wants to play “attacking football” but why is it that we need to attack with 8 men? WITH THE LEAD??? Maybe we could, you know, keep Sagna back or something? Or attack with 6 men, or play the long ball against them, you know, we have the lead.

Not any more. 1-1 and it could have been 1-2 if Gerrard had just a little better final touch today. So far, we’re seeing that “typical Arsenal” and I hope the manager has a solution at half time.

Second half over here.

Arsenal v. Liverpool Preview

The weather outside is frightful. No, really, we’re supposed to have one of those “once in a decade” ice storms that basically knock out all power and clog the roads. Different than the normal weather “predictions” which tend to be wildly inaccurate in this part of the world, I fear we have some real mess coming up starting tonight and heading into tomorrow.

Obviously, my local readers are the only ones effected by this news, but it’s important enough that I thought I’d mention it straight away because it means that many of us might not be able to watch the match tomorrow. If we lose power tonight, my first priority will be to keep the girls warm and then to head up to Doyle’s for the match.

If we don’t lose power, well, then I’ll see you locals at Doyle’s! So, let’s pray to whatever gods you believe in that the weather gives us a lamb rather than a lion tonight.

Ahead of the match, Arsenal have some good news, some bad news, and some funny news.

As I was scanning the news feeds this morning I had this ominous feeling. That sort of feeling you get when the phone rings in the middle of the night. So, right away I went to the Arsenal.com match preview and sure enough:  Howard Webb is refereeing the match. Evidently he’s become the go-to referee for any big match involving Arsenal, having already overseen Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Man U. You know, the match where he gave an incredible 6 minutes of extra time and every Ronaldo dive was greeted with a free kick while Scholes’ fouls were unpunished?

If it was just once, I wouldn’t be worried, but last season Webb oversaw an amazing 3 of Arsenal’s 5 losses, giving away an incredible 2 penalties against Arsenal and carried the ignominy of being the referee who most penalized Arsenal with yellow cards. An Arsenal team that was at the top of the “Fair play” league and by pretty much every standard imaginable are one of the least fouling teams to ever take the pitch.

I know, he’s a police officer, blah, blah. I’m not saying that he’s on the take, but just that for some reason, he oversees some of the most contentious Arsenal matches (the worst was the Carling Cup final against Chelsea) and statistically he tends to call the matches against Arsenal. That said, with the 2-1 win over Man U this year maybe Arsenal have figured out how to play with him on the pitch and we’ll see a turnaround. We can hope.

In team news, Arsenal will have the services of Samir Nasri while Liverpool will be without their talisman Fernando Torres. This should be great news for Arsenal as without Torres, Liverpool have struggled to get goals but I’m ambivalent about the announcement; Liverpool have Robbie Keane available despite his very public fall out with Benitez. Plus, Dirk Kuyt gets a lot of stick from Liverpool supporters but I think he’s their most dangerous player. He’s got pace, a decent footballing mind, and a workrate unmatched by anyone in the EPL.

Make no mistake, Liverpool will be very happy to use Xabi Alonso and Mascherano to funnel Arsenal into the middle of the pitch, allow them to play intricate passes. Then, when Arsenal inevitably cough the ball up, find an outlet and get an open goal.

Former Spud Robbie Keane would be ecstatic to score a goal on the break against Arsenal and he’s got the craft to do it too. So, while it should be great news to see Torres off the team sheet, I’m not getting too giddy.

As for Nasri, this is good news. Struggling with the physical nature of the Premiership he’s missed several games now with niggling injuries but he’s also been there in several crucial games and scored some really great goals. There’s no doubt of this player’s importance because when Nasri is out (and with Theo on long term injury) Arsenal are forced to use 4 central midfielders across the middle of the pitch and this is most directly responsible for Arsenal’s overly central, overly intricate, toothless ball-hold-ery. He he, ball-hold-ery. I swear that Arsenal would be happier if they could play with another couple of balls and an extra set of feet.

Given all that, I’d bet that the story of tomorrow’s match goes like this: Nasri scores and Webb awards a penalty for a Robbie Keane dive which Gerrard converts. A 1-1 draw and no movement in the table for Arsenal.

Speaking of dives, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Arsene Wenger’s “dive” accusation against Babel in the Champions League match last season. Well, it was a dive, true, but I wonder why he mentions it? I highly doubt it will change Webb’s mind to our favor and might make him even more likely to call against us. Moreover, comments like this tend to focus the commentators on “whinging Wenger” and then they get to point out time and again thatArsenal get these kinds of calls too — like the offside that went against Chelsea.

Whatver happens, what remains clear is that Wenger is no Fergie when it comes to pre-game manipulation. I mean come on, if Fergie had a ref with such an obvious bias he’d have a go at the ref, not Ryan Babel.

Ok, that’s about it for today. I’ve got to go get some wood in case all hell breaks loose over here. I’ll see you at Doyle’s if possible — let’s hope for a good match tomorrow and UP THE ARSE!

Lady Nina Strikes Back

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Following on the heels of Peter Hill-Wood’s vanilla announcement about “board restructuring” yesterday, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has made a little statement of her own:

I’m in total shock and very upset about the appalling way I have been treated. The board have no manners whatsoever and my views were ignored on many occassions. I can’t understand why I have been removed in such a ruthless fashion. I have had no proper explanation as to why they wanted me out so much. It is very difficult to accept especially after what my family has done for Arsenal for so many years.

The board removed her and she doesn’t know why? I hardly believe that. What did they do, wait for her to go to the restroom and vote her off the board?

Quick Pete, Lady Nina’s in the loo, let’s vote her off the island!

No, this sounds more like someone posing as the injured party so that when she sells her shares she can make a statement about her heavy heart and how she disagrees with the way the company is being run and wants to spend more time with her family, etc. I could be wrong about this, she did say that she has no intention of selling, but it is a mysterious statement.

Whatever the motivation, the facts are that more shares now exist outside the board than inside with Usmanov and Lady Nina holding more of Arsenal than Stan Kroenke and Danny Fiszman.

Frankly, this makes the board look increasingly hostile and insular. They fired two board members in two years and took an awfully long time to appoint Gazidis as the replacement for David Dein, the first casualty in this boardroom battle. An insular, disconnected, and hostile board is very concerning. No one knows what they are really fighting over with speculation ranging from  selling shares to the appointment of  Gazidis but whatever the issue(s) lets hope they settle them quickly. The last thing this team needs is disarray off the pitch — they suffer enough on the pitch.

Wouldn’t it be funny if the board were fighting over new signings? Honestly, given the vociferous debate here, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Champions League Draw

UEFA held their Champions League draw and Arsenal got paired with Roma. You’re going to have to forget about what happened last time Arsenal met Roma (4-2 on aggregate) because this Roma team is in top form. Roma have won 8 of their last 9 matches in all competitions, dispatching Chelsea 3-1 and Bordeaux 2-0 in the Champions League along the way.

This will be a hell of a clash and Arsenal will need to be in top form to move forward in this competition. But we knew that. This is the part of the tournament where every team is pretty damn good and some are downright frightening.

Transfers

Until the transfer window closes on February 2nd I will be keeping with my summer policy of not speculating or reporting on speculation. 99% of it is stupidity anyway, just look at what Valencia is asking for David Villa: £120m. Arsenal will never, ever, ever pay that much for any player, much less an overrated player like David Villa.

On a related note, this means I’m not going to be talking about whether Arsene should or shouldn’t “strengthen the squad” or any other Football Manager type of stuff. Frankly, it’s tiresome to hear the same things over and over and I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing me say the same things in response. I think we’ll all be happier if we stop arguing over who Wenger should buy, if he should buy, when the sky will fall, and all that pap until we see what actually happens this season.

I’m going to save it for the summer, when there isn’t any actual football to watch. You all feel free to argue away in the forums, I’m not participating.

Tomorrow there will be a preview of the Liverpool match. See you then.