Villareal 1-1 Arsenal; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Match Reports

Goal.com: Adebayor Wonder Goal Gives Arsenal Draw In Villarreal

The Independent: Adebayor scores wonder goal as young Gunners come of age

ESPNSoccernet: Adebayor stunner secures draw

Man of the Match – Marcos Senna

By every measure the most important player on the pitch was Marcos Senna. Yes, Adebayor scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen in the Champions League (my favorite is still Thierry Henry’s mazy run at the Bernabeu) but overall Adebayor had the kind of game that makes people hate him (officially he was only caught offside 5 times but it sure seemed like a lot more than that). I certainly cannot give man of the match to Adebayor for just one brilliant moment.

I must give credit where credit is due, Senna was brilliant throughout.

I’m not sure if Senna has some kind of freakish ability to find space — and not just any space, but the exact right space. Or if maybe Wenger was like, “don’t bother marking him.” Or if Senna has some kind of wormhole generator in his pocket and is able to warp space and time. But somehow he was always open, always there to keep the ball in the attacking half, always there to put in the tackle, available to break up play, and constantly putting in the exact right pass that freed Villareal’s attackers.

Oh yeah, and the crown jewel was that he also scored an incredible goal.

In short, it was a master class in the holding midfield position. Don’t even try to emulate it, just sit back and watch in awe: which is pretty much what Cesc and Denilson did all night.

The Good

What can you say about Adebayor’s goal that hasn’t already been said?

It was a great goal, but it was a great game as well. [The goal] was unexpected. At the start his body was a bit in the wrong position to score, but he managed to turn that into an advantage for him. — Arsene Wenger

It was probably one of the best goals I have seen in the Champions League, a special goal from a special player.  — Theo Walcott

I don’t even know how I scored, but the most important thing is the ball went in the back of the net! — Emmanuel Adebayor

It was all that. If you haven’t seen it yet (because you live in a cave?) you must click through to the Arsenalist and watch it again.

The Bad

When Senna scored, I got that sick feeling, in fact, for most of the first half I had that sick feeling. Arsenal looked like dog shiat in the first half. Villareal were playing these beautiful little passes, they were moving brilliantly with and without the ball, and they were slicing Arsenal’s defense open almost at will. Wenger credited their two wide players, and I couldn’t agree with him more. In that first half, Nasri and Walcott were criminal in their lack of gdtting back to defend those attacking positions. It seems like Nasri is allergic to defending and there are games (like yesterday) where he needs a half time kick to the balls to get him to track back. Which happened yesterday and, surprise, the second half was better for Arsenal.

The point is in that first half  I kinda suddenly knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the Arsenal treatment. They were passing us to death, running us ragged, and the players looked like they were chasing ghosts. They even had the whole “pass you to death but not score” thing down pat!

As for the Senna goal, Song gets the blame in all the papers, but if you watch the beginning of the video over at the Arsenalist, Song is busy covering Rossi who dribbles in toward goal. Senna then sees that both Denilson and Cesc stop running, so he makes himself available, Rossi passes him the ball and at that moment 2/3 of Arsenal’s central midfield just stop moving. Song is the only one covering anything and does his best to get to Senna (nearly gets there) while Denilson and Cesc shamelessly are standing stock still.

We’ll need better from those two in the next leg.

The Ugly

It looks like we might have lost two players from that match: Almunia and Gallas. Mooney suffered what Wenger calls “a recurrence of an ankle” which I believe means that he is growing a third ankle.  They’ve tried to use ankle remover on it, but it just keeps recurring. He’ll be out for two weeks while they burn it off with liquid hydrogen.

Gallas, on the other hand, may have a partial tear of his medial collateral ligament and be out for the rest of the season. Which is a huge loss if that’s true.

We’ll know more about that in the days ahead.

Conclusion

In some areas Arsenal could have played better and I don’t like relying on absolutely amazing goals from Adebayor in order to win competitions. I’d rather we marked out Senna and dominated the midfield, but if we must play poorly and have a moment of brilliance well then, so be it.  After all, a 1-1 draw away is exactly what I predicted and a good away result at this stage in the competition.

I’m also heartened by the team’s second half performance. Wenger went in, kicked some arses, and the club came out and looked much better.  More performances like that second half and these kids will certainly be lifting some silverware in May.

Villareal v. Arsenal; Key Matchups

cesc3 Cesc v. Senna senna

Spain teammates Marcos Senna and Cesc Fabregas will face off tonight in the Villareal half of the midfield. Expect to see Cesc “in the hole” or “off the shoulder” however you want to say it (calling positions in Wenger’s system is very difficult) basically he’ll be leading the attack in the midfield. This means that he will be marked closely by Marcos Senna: the man who single-handedly handcuffed Andrei Arshavin in Euro 2008.

Neither player is 100% fit, both coming off injuries, so neither player has an advantage there. Senna has a ton of experience which will serve him well, but Cesc is Cesc and his guile, vision, and ball control will serve him well. The one thing we don’t want to forget is that Senna also starts the attacks and can get forward himself, even scoring some great goals. Cesc will have his work cut out for him on that front. So, I’m calling it a draw.

The problem is that Cesc is so important in the creative role that even a draw in this battle is a win for Villareal.

pires Bobby v. Sagna sagna

Pires is well past his prime but that doesn’t mean we can just write him off. If the press is to be bellieved he’s hungry to show Arsene what he missed by offering the 33 year old just a one year contract (he’s 35 now) after the bitter disappointment of the Champions League final. Bobby’s being very diplomatic but it has to hurt that Wenger sacrificed him instead of Ljungberg on that day, and I have to think that he’ll want to stick the knife in.

Physically, I have no doubt that Sagna can handle Pires. But Pires isn’t going to try to blow by Sagna, rather, he’ll use his experience and inherent guile to get into problematic spaces and take shots. Mentally, Sagna better be on top of his game, there’s a reason why Pires was called the Fox in the Box. You can bet your ass if there’s a shot, Bobby’s taking it.

One thing Sagna can do is get forward and force Pires’ old legs to work extra hard. Tired legs make mistakes.

Irregardless of Sagna’s youthful vigor, Pires’ desire and guile give the advantage to Villareal.

adebayor Adebayor v. Godin godin

You never know which Adebayor you’re going to get. Adebayor can be a beast or he can be a mouse. It’s no stretch to say that Arsenal need Emmanuel Adebayor to work hard, keep his head, and (most importantly) take his chances: in short, he needs to be a beast tonight.

I think he will be up for the game, it’s a big match and he’s talked about how hungry he is to win a trophy, moreover, Wenger will leave him alone up front in the 4-2-3-1 and when he’s up for the game, he thrives as the lone hit man. Still, it’s his aerial ability which will likely net him a goal so, look for him to harass the back line, win corners, and I’d bet he gets a goal off a set piece.

Advantage Arsenal.

gallas Gallas v. Rossi rossi

Arsene Wenger will look to his former captain and best defender to lead the line against Villareal’s big Italian (via America) striker. For Rossi, service from the midfield will be crucial as to whether he will have the kind of chances that he needs to convert goals. So, Arsenal’s two-headed stopper (Denilson and Song) will be employed to soak that up.

If Arsenal manage to stop service from midfield, then Villareal will probably try a more direct approach. In which case Gallas’ speed and awareness will be needed to slow down Villareal’s top goal scorer.  I’m counting on the former, and thus Gallas’ role is crucial to keeping Rossi out of the sticks.

Gallas has another advantage; he scores goals. In all competitions, Cappy has 6 goals this season, half of which have come in the Champions League. It’s an impressive haul for a defender and a huge threat to Villareal. Watch for Cappy to get an equalizer if Arsenal are down late in the game: he loves scoring those late goals and being the hero.

Advantage Arsenal.

Conclusion

I see a 1-1 draw here, Villareal will be up for the game and their fans will make life uncomfortable for the Arsenal. Both teams will be tentative to start and Arsenal need to use their speed on the counter to try to open Villareal’s defense.

That said, an early goal from either team will force their opponents to attack and could lead to a huge scoreline. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the longer the game goes without a goal the more tentative both teams will become and the less likely to score. It’ll be boom or bust I tell ya!

Of course a million things could happen but I see a momentary lapse of concentration (Clichy?) leading to a Pires goal (PK?) right after the start of the second half and then the Arsenal onslaught to ensue which will lead to a late goal from Cappy or Adebayor off a set play. 1-1 would be a good result, as it gets us that crucial away goal, to take back to Emirates where we can seal the deal.

If you’re in town, see you at 11:45. If not, wherever you are, get out the kits and let’s cheer these boys on!

Villareal v. Arsenal; a Preview Full of Question Marks

Injuries

Arsenal will release more information this afternoon on injured trio Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, and Samir Nasri but Wenger spoke very hopefully about all three yesterday. Wenger said that van Persie was 50:50 to pass fitness, that Samir Nasri’s tests looked good, and that “Theo Walcott should be all right.”

I look forward to this afternoon’s press release and I will update this section when that’s made public. No news will be forthcoming on Diaby, Eduardo and Rosicky as they are all 100% ruled out for the trip to the Spanish coast.

Update: Nasri and Walcott are in, van Persie out.

On the other side, Marcos Senna is being included in the team but is a question mark to make the game. I’m going to say that he’ll be fit and that Villareal’s manager is just trying to keep Arsenal guessing.

As I said yesterday, Cazorla is out for the season, suffering a broken leg in Villareal’s complete loss to Almeria. How complete a loss? They finished the last 30 minutes with 9 men after Cazorla was injured and Pires was sent off. Fingers crossed that they have heavy legs tomorrow!

Contracts

There’s a lot of column inches being devoted to the two or three supposed  contract/transfer stories swirling around the club. Is Cesc leaving? Adebayor? Robin van Persie? Will there be a wholesale clear out?

I don’t know.

No one knows. What we do know is that if Arsenal lose this match and the one against Chelsea on Saturday then our hopes for any kind of trophy this season will be severely diminished. So it’s best to stay focused on these two matches rather than a bunch of shit stirring.

I also know that this “five years without a trophy” story is seriously getting on my nerves. If van Persie leaves because he wants to win a trophy, good luck to him. I don’t know where he thinks he’ll go where he will be guaranteed to win something: as far as I can tell Man U don’t need another perpetually injured striker. But irregardless, have fun in Italy or Spain or wherever will have you, Robin, oh and you’re welcome for the years that Arsenal stood by you while you spent months upon months in the infirmary. Honestly, if Robin leaves it will particularly chap my ass, but if he leaves then f*ck him.

I also know that, like Wenger, all this speculation and chitter chatter about stuff we have no control over just serves to get people amped up over nothing. Moreover, talking about contracts and Cesc leaving, despite the fact that he has been unequivocal about his future every year (including this one) that he has been at the club, distracts the players from what’s important: Tuesday’s Champions League match against Villareal and Saturday’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea.

So, that’s my final word on this speculation. I’m not devoting any more column inches to bullshit rumors and shit stirring by cunts like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, etc. etc. No one is leaving the club this week so speculating about what might happen this summer is pointless.

Good bye yellow brick Pires

Robert Pires has admitted that this Champions League match up is very emotional for him, and that especially the return leg to the Emirates will be like the testimonial he never had.

I agree, and I will be very sad to see Pires, at 63 years old, limp around the pitch and get dumped out of the competition by a very hungry, young, and fit Arsenal. I will be sad for a moment… then I will be happy!

The first leg kicks off at 11:45am (PST) and unless you’re going to watch the match alone at home on ESPN Deportes I’m inviting all locals to join us for Setanta’s broadcast at Doyle’s Public House. I can’t have a pint because I will be caring for my lovely daughter after the match but I will have one of their state of the art sarnies. They are delicious.

See you there and remember: UP THE ARSE!