Porto v. Arsenal; let’s Nick it

Wenger’s press conference finally dropped this morning and you know, it’s like waiting for a baby to be born some times. I mean, this presser happened last night and for some reason it took 12 hours to post it. I suspect that the “real” press needed a chance to spin… I mean write their stories.

Anyway, Nicklas Bendtner was on the podium with Arsene yesterday and as usual when there’s a player at a presser with the boss it was a love in. Wenger was asked pretty much straight away about Bendtner and his fitness and why we didn’t buy a striker and answered in typical fashion that now was the time for Nicklas to pay Arsene back.

You wouldn’t expect anything less from Arsene, he’s almost always publicly supportive of the players irregardless their crimes, but I did get a chuckle out of the fact that Arsene compared Nicklas to Thierry Henry.

He is the best age now for a striker, at 22 you have to start to play at the top level but I would remind you that Thierry Henry arrived here at the age of 23.

On first glance it’s about as poppycock a statement as a manager could make. I mean, come on! I Henry’s first season at Arsenal he scored 26 goals, Bendtner scored 14 for us last season and 26 goals seems like a long way off. That said, there is something that happens to a striker around the age of 23-24 years old and the boss is right to point out that Nicklas should get better over the next year or two. So, the comparison may be wrong, I’ll eat my hat if Bendtner goes on to become Arsenal’s best ever scorer, but the point the boss is making (that the best of a player comes out in their 23-24th years) is spot on.

Wayne Rooney is proof of this concept, last year he had just 12 goals in 30 League games and this year he’s got 21 goals in 25 League games. Sure, part of that is down to the fact that Ronaldo and Tevez cleared out and Looney is getting more games as the sole striker. But Rooney’s never lit up the score sheet before in the way that he has this year and if he had been ready to take over the lone striker role don’t you think Fergie would have played him there?

So, while I disagree with the boss’ comparison, I agree that the best is yet to come from Bendtner and that for today’s match, he will be absolutely crucial. Funny enough, the press mentioned both his goal against Standard in the Champions League and the goal he scored against Portugal for Denmark in the World Cup qualifier’s this year.

The Standard Liege goal is important because he linked up with Diaby (who powers through their midfield) and sweeps in a goal right before half time, which gave the Arsenal the belief that they could mount a comeback after being down 2-0. It’s a good goal and you can see it here:

But the goal against Portugal is what we all would like to see more of from Bendtner. He just shucks aside his marker, controls the ball nicely, and hammers home the half-volley. It’s one of the best goals of Bendtner’s short career so far and if he can do more of this tonight we will most certainly be in pole position for the return leg in March.

Of course, Bendtner’s not the only player who is playing for Arsenal today and like I’ve said many times before it’s going to take a team defensive effort to really shine in this match.

At the back, Sol should help provide some defensive organization and grit and with a young keeper like Fabianski in the sticks that could prove crucial. Between him and Thomas Vermaelen we should have the strength and heading ability to deal with any set plays.

It’s up front and in the midfield, though, where Arsenal’s defense will be tested. Bendtner will run around harassing people no doubt, but it’s likely starters Nasri and Rosicky that will need to be nipping in and providing cover for Arsenal’s fullback. There have been times this season where Arsenal have been exposed because the wing forwards (what the hell are the two at the top of a 4-3-3?) were caught napping when the wing-backs got forward. Let’s hope they are up for the game tonight.

In the middle of the park, it’ll be interesting to see what the partnership of Diaby and Denilson brings to the table in terms of dealing with Falcao and possibly Hulk (there was some unintelligible question about whether Hulk would play tonight). I think they have their work cut out for them and especially Denilson. Frankly, I don’t care if he has a single foray across the half way line, as long as he finds a way to mark Hulk’s big mouth out of the game, I’ll be happy.

Happy? I’d be ecstatic! I love it when big mouths like Hulk talk a bunch of shite before a match and get shut down.

It’s going to be a real tough match today, Porto are really looking forward to progressing in the Champions League and their fans will be up for today’s game. I don’t really see a 0-0 draw from this game, Arsenal’s playing style isn’t set up for that type of game (love it or hate it), but rather something like a 2-2 draw. That would set us up nicely for the return trip, where Porto’s torrid away form should just about see us through.

The match is on Fox Soccer Channel here in the States and like I said yesterday, I’m going to be experimenting with a podcast of the match. So, if you’re in town come on down to Doyle’s and you might make the podcast.

If you’re funny.

Post Script

Oh hell, I forgot to mention that in yesterday’s column there was a lot of speculation about why Almunia was being rested and today we found out why: Almunia has been playing with pain in his finger for several weeks and he was getting injections in his finger in order to play through the pain.

Word is that he re-injured the finger in training on Monday and they finally said enough is enough and are giving him some time off, including this weekend’s match against notorious loud mouth Darren Bent.

I don’t know how much this will raise people’s opinion of Almunia but it certainly makes me think twice. A few weeks ago it was also revealed that Almunia is considered by many to be the hardest worker on Arsenal’s training ground.

I don’t remember ever questioning his commitment but if I did, I apologize to the player and want to go on record saying that I don’t question his commitment to the club.

Now, whether he’s just not good enough for the team is an entirely different debate. Who knows, maybe Arsene will find a way to point out that keepers at age 32 are not quite in their prime.

5 Arsenal players fingered ahead of Porto match

Good ole Manny Pickledickle picks up a finger injury. He'll probably miss out on the World cup for England

Everything was going along swimmingly this morning as I waited for Wenger’s presser ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League clash away to Porto. The dot com was running lovely stories about how the Arsenal reserves beat the Chelsea reserves 2-1 with goals from Freeman and Sunu on either side of half time. And then there was this little picture special of all the players practicing at London Colney on a foggy day before jetting off to Porto…

I’m flipping through the photos and.. hey look, Sol Campbell! Sol hasn’t played in a Champions League match since the final against Barcelona in Paris where he scored the go ahead goal. I love Sol.

You know, Samir Nasri really DOES look like a lesbian, those cats from the It’s Up For Grabs Now Arsenal Podcast are right. Hmmm…

There’s Denilson, must have recovered from his injury.

Huh, why does Lukasz Fabianski have such a shit-eating grin on his face? And why is it that he’s posing for the camera, that’s odd.

And then it happens, Arsenal announce the 18 man squad for the match: Lukasz Fabianski, Mannone, Bendtner, Vela, Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Ramsey, Rosicky, Diaby, Jesus, Clichy, Vermaelen, Eboue, Silvestre, Campbell, Traore and Bacary Sagna. This is followed by a brief announcement about why each of Almunia, Gallas, Song, Eduardo, and Arshavin are out for the match tomorrow: finger, calf, knee, hammy, hammy. Arsene was his usual jokey self when it came to the injury hit squad:

William Gallas has a calf injury. Alex Song has a knee injury. Andrey Arshavin has a hamstring injury. Manuel Almunia has a finger injury, and the hand is quite useful for goalkeepers. Eduardo has a recurrence of his hamstring injury. We tried to push him through.

A lot of folks have been saying that Gallas would pick up an injury before the year’s out, and sure enough here’s his first. Funnily enough, I’m not too distraught by his injury, Sol Campbell just makes me feel that relaxed. Sure, Sol is 32 and the quicker forwards will give him trouble, if he gets caught out, which I don’t expect him to do. In fact, when Sol starts (and let’s not even think for a moment that Silvestre is going in there so he can give away 4 goals) it will mean a bit of a tactical change by the boss. Less wing-back play and more direct football. Which, with Bendtner healthy, is not a bad thing.

With Eduardo we’ve got a similar case to Diaby who was basically in and out of the team for two years after Dan Smith broke his ankle. So I don’t expect Eduardo to play much between now and the end of the year. It’s a bit sad too because I think Wenger really saw him as our main Champions League striker and now it looks like he’s not even able to get into those games.

Arshavin we all knew was not coming back, the player ruled himself out last week and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s out for the match against Sunderland as well. He’s put in a tremendous shift as the lone striker over the last few months and a little R&R is certainly acceptable. Though if he were Thomas Vermaelen he wouldn’t let a little thing like a tight hammy stop him from slaying Premiership beasts left and right. You’ve no doubt seen that TV5 has got a massive bone bruise and he’s still playing. What a guy… If you’re interested, Tommy, I’ll be in my office covered in Taramasalata.

Song was always a question, though I tweeted yesterday that he was a good chance for today. Guess I got that wrong! His absence means that likeanewsigning Denilson will probably pair with Diaby and Jesus in the midfield. Let’s hope Denilson has one of his classic good games and shakes off the rust which seemed to be shackling him the last month.

But it’s the finger injury to Almunia that’s got the conspiracy theorists out today with many saying that the finger injury is probably BS and the Boss dropped him in favor of Fabianski. I know a lot of people who have gone from support to distrust to outright actively calling for Almunia to be dropped but I can’t see Arsene doing that right now. If he was going to be dropped wouldn’t it have been ahead of the Liverpool game when he was having howler after howler? He could barely even put a back pass out of play in the Chelsea match, hoofing howlers over the end line and conceding corners. In fact, my friends and I joke about “pulling an Almunia” when any one of us hoof the ball and it doesn’t go anywhere near the intended target. So, yes, he’s been crap but he’s been crap for a while, why now?

None of which addresses the fact that Fabianski has looked far from Arsenal’s goal-keeping savior in his few appearances this season.

Yes, I will admit that a “finger injury” seems a bit… pussy-ish, professional basketball players and footballers play with finger injuries all the time — they tape them together or whatever. But the fact is we don’t know the actual extent of that finger injury: he could have nearly lost it. His misses could have cut it off and tossed it out the car window and it could be missing on the M4. He could have a wicked hangnail, I know I wouldn’t want to go up against the Hulk with a infected hangnail.

The way I’m looking at it, this is a good thing for two reasons: Fabianski gets the shot so many want and now the press can stop asking about Theo’s chances of making it into the English World Cup squad and start focusing back on Alumina as the future England #1:

So, Arsene, is this finger injury to Manny Pickledickle yet another huge blow for England’s World Cup hopes?

Seriously, Wenger will be doing a press conference here in a bit and I suppose we’ll have more information about the injuries then. Until then, it’s just guesses. I am a bit worried about the injury situation, to be honest. If Bendtner goes down, we’ll have Theo playing alone up front. If Vermaelen loses an appendage then we’ll have a real octogenarian back line in Silvestre and Campbell. So, yes, it’s a bit of a worry to see five players go down. Fortunately, the squad is big enough that we can still name 18 and there’s still a bunch of quality out there. A 1-1 draw or even a 0-0 draw (Porto drew 0-0 to the worst team in their division in their last match) will set us up perfectly for the home leg, which I am going to be at!

So, while I’m nervous, I still think we have the quality to get something from this game. Touch wood.

Right, like I said yesterday, the match is on Fox Soccer Channel and our friends at Doyle’s are going to be showing the game live at 11:45am (PST). I was thinking about doing a liveblog, but instead I think I’m going to just record myself and the others who are watching the game and then you all can get an edited version of our match commentary the next day.

IF it’s any good!

Later…

Monday’s Fiver: Zidane, Queensland Road, Cole, 4th place, and Cascarinoed

Rectum? He nearly Killed em!

I’ve got a great fiver for you today, well, at least I think it’s great. So let’s get kicking!

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

This is a treat.

Following on the heels of yesterday’s post where you got to see Rohan Blair-Mangat’s magnificent piece, A Night At The Emirates I am excited to show you all the film which inspired Rohan’s piece. I found the link over at 200% so credit to them for finding Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait.

It’s not in HD, but it’s the full movie and for most of you it’s the best shot you’ll get at seeing this great film. If you don’t know about the movie the directors set up a bunch of cameras and microphones around the Bernabeu and followed just one player, Zinedine Zidane for all 92 minutes of just one game.

They cut the footage together and set it to a Mogwai soundtrack and the result is spectacular. It’s 92 minutes long, so make sure you set aside some time to watch it.

Anyway, enough of me blabbing on about it, here it is!

Queensland, the road to riches or perdition?

The Dot Com announced that Newlon Housing Trust has signed on to the Queensland Road project in order to help build affordable housing and continue Arsenal’s revitalization of Islington.

I will admit that I’m fascinated with this whole stadium project. As an American I’m used to sports teams basically holding cities ransom for new sports stadiums every 10 years.

Here in Seattle the Mariners and the Seahawks used to play in a stadium called the Kingdome. I saw both teams play there and while it wasn’t anything as nice as the two new parks it was functional. But the Kingdome had a problem: not enough luxury boxes. And luxury boxes, where corporate types rub elbows with stars and whatnot are the big money makers at stadiums: they are the reason Arsenal built the Emirates. It’s considered “losing money” if a team could possibly sell more luxury boxes and they don’t have the facilities for it. So, before the bonds that Seattle issued to build the Kindgdome were paid off, Seattle blew up the Kingdome and built two new stadiums at a cost to taxpayers of nearly 1 billion dollars.

It’s fascinating to me, then that Arsenal are not only paying for their own stadium but are actively developing Islington. Not only that, but they didn’t just blow up Highbury, but turned it into condos and even might make *gasp* PROFIT off that endeavor.

It hasn’t been easy. I know a lot of people are mad as hell that Arsenal haven’t had much money to invest in the squad and our prudent financial planning prevents us from even getting a big name player on loan. But it’s all tied together: the Emirates, the salaries, the luxury boxes, Highbury, and now this new Queensland road project.

Frankly, I don’t know whether Queensland Road will turn a profit. I do think that Gazidis, the board, and Arsene Wenger are going to go into this next project with the struggles of Highbury and the anger of the fans in mind and will be doing all they can to make this painless and ensure that the football operations are not harmed.

As Goonerholic pointed out in his column about the Queensland Road project back in October, the club is hoping that they can parlay Arsene Wenger’s footballing genius into making Arsenal into one of the richest clubs in the world.

Not bad if they can do it.

Stay Classy Chelsea

It’s getting to the point where I’m actually starting to care about International football, if only so I can stay tuned to the sexcapades of England’s team.

In this week’s episode we have Ashley Cole taking some of the heat off Chelsea and England teammate John Terry by getting exposed for the second time in a week texting nude photos of himself to a woman with fake chesticles.

On paper, this should be England’s strongest World Cup team in years. In reality, they can’t help but self destruct it seems. I trust Capello will sort this out, he seems a no non-sense sort of fellow.

An idea so dumb I’m surprised that Platini didn’t suggest it

What’s the point of the 38 game season if you’re going to have the 4th through 7th place teams play a round robin tournament at the end of the season to determine the final spot for the Champions League?

Oh wait, I get it, the point is to make more money off extra games. Hey, maybe this can be the 39th game abroad?

Remember kids, if Tony says it, do the opposite.

In Tony Cascarino’s column today he recons that “Arsenal do not have too many goalscorers in their team with Robin van Persie out.” Arsenal have had 16 different goal scorers in the League, Man U have 16, and Chelsea have had 11.

What is different is that Arsenal don’t have a striker like Drogba (17 goals) or Rooney (21) but that’s not exactly a revelation, Tony.