1-nil to the Aveline! The Good, Bad, and Ugly

I don’t want to fail him, because he has given me everything in football — Cesc on Wenger and the captaincy.

The Good

Looks like Aveline’s new away romper worked! Arsenal got their first win in two weeks and a well deserved one to boot. The good here is that I got the romper a bit too big so she’ll be able to wear it for every match the rest of this season (I hope! She’s a really tall baby and already the 12 month romper is only slightly too big).

But seriously, a win is the perfect way to kick off Cesc’s reign as Arsenal captain and individually I thought he was just outstanding. He didn’t take over the holding midfield spot like I had hoped but he did play box to box and seemed to have tons of energy. Maybe it was the week off or maybe it was the fact that he had been given the armband (which he wore upside down for the first half) but whatever the reason he was certainly more energetic than I had seen him in a long time. In the first half the whole team was more energetic, in fact, at the 50th minute, Setanta put up an amazing stat: Arsenal had completed over 300 passes to Kiev’s 110 or so. That’s a ton of movement, folks, and Arsenal kept that going for nearly the full 90 minutes.

I say nearly because as the second half kicked off, Arsenal came out very flat and Dynamo looked like they were going to steal a goal through hard work and enterprise. But then Cesc picked up the game, started going back into the defense and put in a great tackle to turn the tide around. It was exactly the kind of subtle change that a good captain senses and pulls the team up from.

The cream on the top of Cesc’s performance was the fact that he laid on the pass that Bendtner lucked in for the goal. The young man started his tenure off with an inspiring win and got himself an assist against a team that had publicly stated they were going to play a defensive, counter attacking match that exploits Arsenal’s weakness of late.

The other good that needs mentioning here is that Arsenal used 5 (6, if you count Bendtner) youth team members in that match. Ramsey showed sparks of why the boss thinks he will be a future partner for Cesc. Vela showed the type of class, speed and touch that I haven’t seen from any of the starting strikers this season (save Adebayor when he shows up). And Jack Wilshere was just magnificent if you consider that he’s the youngest player to ever represent the club in Europe. I actually have grave concerns about the club’s ability to sign him when he turns 17. As slight as he is he could start for a number of teams right now, both lower-tier Premier League teams and Championship teams, which means he could be tempted to leave Arsenal by an offer of first team football: AT THE AGE OF 17.

By the way, if you watched Djourou and cringed whenever he got the ball on an overlap, don’t hold it against him, he’s a central defender and Wenger had him slotted out wide. It’s not in him to go forward, frankly, but he did a good job considering how far out of position he was played.

The Bad

Let me preface this by saying that I had the misfortune of watching the video of the first 100 goals by Dennis Bergkamp on Sunday and it’s fresh in my mind. Yes, it’s a highlight reel. No, I didn’t see all the misses, missteps, poor touches, fouls, and frustrations of the man but I did see all 100 of his first 100 goals and each one that came from the run of play was spectacular. Bergkamp was graceful, economical, and always knew what he wanted to do with the ball when he got it.

It is a bit unfair to compare anyone else to Bergkamp, because, as the song goes there’s “Only One Dennis Bergkamp” but I think it’s insightful to know that good players are graceful, economical, and know what they want to do with the ball before they receive it. Which is exactly, 100%, the opposite of what Bendtner and van Persie provide.

Robin van Persie, in particular, has lost a ton of confidence this season. In previous years I’ve seen him strike the ball on the first touch ala Bergkamp, but for some reason this year he seems to want to take one touch, two touch, three touch, dribble, touch, dribble, touch — when he should just SHOOT THE DAMN BALL! It’s almost as if the one guy who used to be our bold striker has succumbed to the Arsenal way of dribbling the ball into the goal. Robin, SHOOT.

And Bendtner, well, I think Bendtner is not good enough. If Cesc had played that same ball in to Bergkamp that Bendtner scored, Bergkamp would have shot that on the volley, when he was wide open. Instead Bendtner kneed the ball to himself, allowed the defender time to catch up, and frankly got very lucky with the near side shot. Bendtner would do well on a team like Birmingham, but he’s not Arsenal quality.

I don’t know if Gallas’ performance was “good” or “bad” but I’m sticking it here because I think he had a bit of a rough match. I mean, it’s good an all that he was able to overcome being stripped of the captaincy and that he came out and played hard and was unlucky to have a goal taken away for an offside. But when he gifted the Dynamo striker the ball in a moment of Clichy-like madness, he was saved only by the profligacy of that player. Further, when van Persie finally did have a shot on goal (after 20 minutes of dribbling around inside their box), he was the one who cleared it off the line for Kiev. It was a Senderos type performance and I don’t want to get down on him, because he is having a bad week, but there can’t be too many more of these types of performances before the boss puts Kolo Toure back in. A Kolo Toure who is now rumored to be looking for a move to Citeh due to his lack of first team appearances.

Arsene… uhhh… seriously… With Gallas being linked to AC Millan and Kolo linked to a move out as well that’s a defensive crisis of epic proportions: Havard Nordveit, ain’t going to cut it. I hate the phrase “get out the checkbook” (especially since it’s always in British and has a god-damned “que” in it) but I think that the phrase is appropriate here.

The Ugly

What the hell was Aliyev doing out there? First, there was the disgusting, shameful, and in my opinion straight red card for rolling around on the ground, trying to get the ref or Arsenal to stop play after he was dispossesed in his half, only to literally pop up and start sprinting when his team recovered the ball. Here’s the video, courtesy of the Arsenalist.

That’s shocking stuff, really. A caution is letting him off easy, that is just plain cheating and a player who is willing to cheat like that has no business playing the game.

Later, Aliyev was sent off… for shoving the ref. Not much to say here except that he really disgraced the game yesterday.

Conclusion

So, Arsenal get into the knockout stages of the Champions League, get Cesc off to a winning start as captain, sign some dude from the MLS to handle transfers, and there’s good news about the big three injured players ahead of Sunday’s game against Chelsea.

Now, all we need is for Chelsea to lose today, get knocked out of the Champions League, pick up some crucial injuries and roll over and let us tickle their tummy on Sunday. Then we’ll be right back where we want to be and I can say it’s a good week.

Late blog tomorrow owing to the fact that it’s Thursday in England or what we ‘Mericans like to call “Thanksgiving” and I’m sleeping in.

Oh, and just for Packy — “one nil to the Arsenal…”

Fabregas v. Dynamo Kiev

Best.Poster.Ever

Good morning Cocksandwiches, are you ready for some football?

The Fabregas’ take on Dynamo Kiev today at 11:45 PST with the match being shown live on Setanta here in the states. It’s a good chance to don your Fabregas strip (mine’s an away), pour a pint, order a sandwich, and cheer on your “new look” Arsenal.

Before I get into all that stuff I need to give credit to Gunnerblog for the poster above. The poster and the attached parody article made me laugh, and with all that has been going on at the club it was a welcome relief. Check it out.

OK, now, where was I? Oh yeah, the “new look” Arsenal. Cesc rolls out in the armband for the first time to the relief of many, many supporters. The more I think about this selection the more I like it. Disregard the supposed “curse” that the last few Arsenal captains have left nearly immediately after they get the armband: Cesc has already put that rumor to bed saying:

By becoming captain it shows how much I’m committed to the club, I actually feel I’ve shown commitment since I arrived here. Each year people talk about me leaving yet I’m still here and I want to be part of the future of Arsenal. I love the club and I’m totally committed to it. I’m not looking to play anywhere else.

The real benefit of Cesc as captain is that he’ll be allowed to play a little more unrestrained. Captains get away with heavier tackles, they get to complain to the ref, and they can defend their teammates — something Cesc was not really allowed to do when Lampard attacked Kolo during the Carling Cup final a few years ago. It’s that incident that stands out as his most captain-esque moment. Irregardless the fact that he wasn’t wearing the armband, when Lampard got in Kolo’s face Cesc waded in and sorted it out. So, in addition to getting away with a little bit more foul play, he’s also the guy expected to sort out the team. Despite what Arsene says about how unimportant the armband is, that’s what the captain does on the field and I think Cesc is perfect for that.

The other thing the captain does is “other duties as needed” which is why I’d like to see Cesc become Arsenal’s temporary enforcer: just until Wenger brings in Appiah (joke!). We shouldn’t forget that Cesc was brought into the club to be the holding midfielder and what a job the kid did, too. Who could forget what he did against Patrick Vieira in the Champions League run that eventually led to a final appearance? It was masterful: a box to box midfielder who tackled the ball away from Vieira, scored the opening goal, and laid on the second. Lately, he’s been playing a very forward role, which does suit him, but as captain, I’d like to see him revert to the dirty job in defense and let Denilson go forward. Of course, some of that depends on who Arsene puts in there. If Denilson, then my idea is fine, but if Song, well… then it’s Song and frankly I don’t know what to do with Song to make the team better.  The point is that Cesc needs to lead by example and right now this team needs a holding midfielder, who better to do that than the captain?  At least temporarily.

For the opponent’s tonight Wenger has a bit of a headache selection with Nasri and Diaby adding to the injury list of Adebayor, Kolo, Eboue and Sagna. Plus long term injured Theo, Eduardo, and Rosicky. If you are wondering why Gallas was included in the squad, you need look no further than an injury list that is 9 folks long. How many clubs could survive with 9 injured players? It’s an amazing number.

The Beeb is reporting that Wenger will pick from Almunia, Hoyte, Gallas, Silvestre, Clichy, Ramsey, Fabregas, Denilson, Vela, Van Persie, Bendtner, Fabianski, Song, Djourou, Wilshere, Gibbs, Lansbury, and Simpson. How you line that up is beyond my powers of prognostication. I would slot Silvestre on the right and play Djourou in the middle, but that’s just me. As for the pairing with Cesc, I would certainly start one of the youngsters — Wilshere and Ramsey both? I dunno. And up front… well… I don’t think I’d play Bendtner. Which means we’ll see Lansbury start next to Cesc, Bendtner and Vela up front, Djourou in the back with Gallas out right… you get the point.

So, that’s what we have this afternoon. Despite the recent struggles, the change in captaincy, the injuries, and the fact that 9 of the 16 included for the trip are youth team members I’m hoping for a really gutsy performance tonight and a modicum of revenge for the 1-1 draw away earlier. A win here would see the club through to the knockout stages and give us a big boost to go with our long rest ahead of the St. Andrews day clash with Chelsea. Plus, what better way to see Cesc’s captaincy kick off than with a win?

Come on you reds!