this guy is small but has the mental strength of a mountain

Come give me a kiss you big hairy man

I love it when I’m wrong. Not only do you all get to gloat over me and my negativity but when I’m wrong it almost always means that something unusually good has just happened. Yesterday, I was wrong. Oh boy was I wrong!

Granted, it was a very safe prediction to say that Wenger would play Denilson out right, rather than bring Vela on — it’s what he’s done time and again, so I wasn’t exactly going out on a limb there. But Wenger doubled down on the surprise lineup changes and handed Eduardo his first start since Martin Taylor nearly ruined his career — and I don’t think anyone seriously saw that coming.

What a difference that change made. Those first 20 minutes of the game were a blur. I can’t remember the last time I saw Arsenal get an astonishing 9 shots in the first 20 minutes. Every player on the pitch seemed revitalized, alive, full of piss and vinegar. In short, the Arsenal that everyone wants them to be.

I want to say that it was as if just having Eduardo on the pitch sparked the team into action but the reality is that Dudu made great runs against the Cardiff defense, opening them up in ways that we haven’t seen so far this season. He also linked play expertly, putting in nice little passes to his teammates that more than once should have earned Arsenal a goal.

And then, of course, after the flurry of shots came the moment that I will remember for a long time: Eduardo collected the ball on the wing, dribbled in to the center, played it out to a streaking Vela in support, who one touched the ball over two defenders as Eduardo lept up, floated for a moment, said a prayer, cured Eboue of his retardation, and nodded the ball back across the box and into the net. The sky opened, angels cried, grown men kissed, and the burden of a million dour Arsenal supporters was lifted.

It was a miracle and, truth be told, I nearly wept.

Some other stuff happened in the match, I think Bendtner got a lucky goal, and Eduardo added a third on a PK, and uh… van Persie capped the night off with a goal in the 89th minute but what I’ll remember is the goal. To come back after nearly a year out because some talentless hack got his timing wrong, and score in your first first-team appearance is about as special as it gets.

After the match, the boss was effusive with praise for his LaNS (like a new signing), saying

I am not surprised he played well tonight. I didn’t play him as a reward for his excellent work; it was because in training over the past few weeks he has done extremely well. He made a big step forward two weeks ago when he found sharpness in front of goal and in his runs and he got rid of his apprehension in the tackles.

Of course it is nearly 12 months out and he has been extremely strong mentally during that time, I could never see one minute of doubt in his mind or one minute where he said ‘no, I don’t want to do it’. He always wanted more and this guy is small but has the mental strength of a mountain.

He is intelligent, talented and he understands what is happening quickly. He responds very quickly to every situation. That is why he is a striker. He is a quiet boy. He is very, very quiet – he is focussed but of course very happy tonight

Of course he’s very happy, all of Arsenaldom is very happy tonight!

It’s funny, too, as I look over the day’s news stories, it’s as if that goal and that game shook the pillars of heaven and the shackles of negativity fell aside. Amaury Bischoff, one of the most contentious of Arsene’s signings, came on and got his first appearance for the club. Fabregas indicated that he’s only 10 days away from practice and absolutely itching to get back into the game, having shaken those blues of January where he claimed he was basically sick of football. Walcott is looking ready to put pen to paper and secure his Arsenal future for 5 years.  Atalanta beat Roma 3-0 heading into next week’s Champions League clash — their first defeat in 8 matches. Bendtner even denied the quotes attributed to him in the papers!

What the hell happened? Why am I suddenly so optimistic? Could it be that St. Eduardo’s Emirates Miracle lifted the dark cloud that has been hanging over the club for the last year?

Can one goal do that?

I don’t know, but it was a very special goal.

Arsenal v. Cardiff, Monday Night Football!

I don’t want to put too much pressure on the boys but if you look at the draw for the next two rounds, you’d certainly have to favor Arsenal to get into the semi-finals of the FA Cup. If they get past Cardiff today (11:45am PST) they get to face Burnley and play for the right to play one of Hull or Sheffield United, which if they win would put Arsenal in the semi-finals for the first time since 2005. Which just so happens to be the last time Arsenal won a trophy. Coincidence? Most likely…

However, look at the teams ahead of us. Burnley knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup, Hull got a famous win over Arsenal at Emirates and their manager got to do the Pardew shuffle in front of 60,000 Goonahs, and I’ll never forget the night that Arsenal lost 1-0 to Sheffield United on a pitch that looked like a cow pasture, with Phil Jagielka deputized as keeper for 1/2 an hour, in the match that was supposed to see Arsenal secure 4th but instead had all the pundits claiming that Arsenal would finish the season in 5th place — which they would have if not for the grace of some foul lasagna. So, getting a win over those clubs would feel extra good to me.

But before I celebrate those wins, the boys have to get past Cardiff, which they completely failed to do just a few weeks ago, and (worse) they are going to have to do it with a much deeper injured reserve than last time. This time Arsenal are without Adebayor, Eboue, Arshavin, Diaby, Silvestre (thank the Gods we signed him!), Theo, Cesc and (of course) Tomas Rosicky — that’s the kind of injury list that would make any manager cringe.

Worse than the injuries is that the reserves aren’t performing very well either with Arsenal having only scored one goal since Jan 17th. Throw in the fact that Cardiff haven’t conceded a goal in that same period and Arsenal have a bit of a mountain to climb here today. How Wenger plans on climbing that mountain is, as always, a bit of a mystery.

The one thing we can say for sure is that fan whipping boy Eboue is not going to start on the right, which gives Wenger a selection headache right from the start. Up till now, every single time Eboue’s been out this season, Wenger has played Denilson in that spot — to little effect. I’d be surprised if Wenger changes course now, he likes having a “defensive” minded player on the wings, but I really wish he would change course. If for no other reason than the fact that Arsenal cannot progress without a goal and the whole world knows that Cardiff are going to be happy to sit back and wait for the chance to nick a goal.

To get the Arsenal goal, I would start Vela left, Nasri right, Denilson and Song in the middle, van Persie and Bendtner up front, and the back four picks itself.  If that’s not working, then Dudu comes on in the 60th minute for Denilson or Song, Wilshere comes on for Vela (moving Nasri left), and in desperation in the final minutes of the match, I put on Almunia in Bendtner’s place because he’s been shite all match.

But that’s probably not what’s going to happen. I suspect the boss wants to give Rambo a chance to redeem himself after the whoopin’ in Wales and so he’ll start centrally with Song and from there, Wenger’s team picks itself: Denilson “wide” right, Nasri on the left, Bendtner and van Persie up front and a leaky sieve at the back. Which from here on out shall be referred to as “Vintage Arsenal 2008/2009.” From there, Wenger will start throwing on “strikers” in a desperate attempt to get a goal. That’s all a big IF. IF Wenger sticks to his recent plan of attack.

Anyway, regardless of the lineup to start the match, I would be shocked if we don’t get a little Dudu today, which would mark his first appearance on the team since Martin Taylor tried to end his career. This should give all Goonahs (hell, all football fans) a cause to celebrate.

Let’s just hope it’s not the only thing we have to celebrate.

For you locals, a few of us are going to be at Doyle’s for the kickoff (11:45) so come on down, raise a pint, and cheer on the Arsenal. See you there.

All we need is a 13 match win streak and 4th place is ours!

As I sped through the newsfeeds this morning, picking up no new word at all on Arsenal, I thought to myself “Gee, another day off from the blog!” And started to get excited about what I might post. I could do a “Season in pictures” post, but thought I might save that for later — after all Wenger keeps saying “judge me at the end of the season” which is exactly what I think I’ll do.

I have a couple other articles I’ve been thinking about; who is our closest rival in the Premier League and an article about my belief that the English Premier League is in a bubble.

The first is an article about how Arsenal are in 5th place and how there was a ton of optimism about potentially overtaking Chelsea for 4th when the Blues got a draw in their last EPL match and promptly fired their coach.  But after looking at the schedules, the goal differential, and the amount of points we need to make up in the last 13 games, I’m unsure Arsenal will take 4th place from anyone.

First, I’m ruling out Chelsea as a close rival, Villa’s our closest rivals based on goal differential (yeah, I know it’s not perfect but it’s a good measure of the power of the team) and they are 7 points ahead of Arsenal right now. Basically, given their relative goal differentials and club rosters I see Chelsea punching below their weight and Villa punching above. You can argue with me on that assumption, but as I like to say, you’d be wrong.

So, if Villa is our closest rival then Arsenal need to find a place to pick up 7 points. And, again, if Villa is the rival, then given the relative schedules of the two clubs, the next 7 matches will be decisive: in the next 7 games Villa will play Chelsea, Liverpool, United, and Everton while Arsenal play 7 in a row against teams like Sunderland. Given that Arsenal’s last 6 games are mostly against top four clubs and Villa’s are against the bottom teams, this next 7 is absolutely crucial if Arsenal have any hopes of taking 4th place.

Basically, we need Villa to get draws or losses in each of the four matches against big clubs and for Arsenal to win 7 in a row. Arsenal did do a 7 game streak last year, against similar competition, but given all the injuries to the squad right now I’m not exactly hopeful. The only glimmer of hope is that Theo and Eduardo are both raring to go and, of course, Arshavin has been training with the club and gaining fitness. If there was ever a time for Arshavin to cement himself as a hero at this club it would be now: if he comes in to this team and sparks a win streak that nets us 4th place it would be a legend of Tevez proportions.

Regardless of whether Arshavin becomes our Tevez, that’s how I see the season playing out: we’ve got to take 4th in the next 7 games and then hold it for the last 6. I want to warn you of something though, I’m a bit of a curse. Well, I have two curses actually. The first is that almost every time I buy a player’s shirt, they leave at the end of the year:  Vieira, Bergkamp, Henry, and Flamini have all left immediately after I bought their shirt. The only exception to this rule is Cesc. I have decided this year to buy a Walcott away strip, and as you know, his contract negotiations are not progressing as quickly as we’d all like. I’m buying the shirt anyway because I’m not actually a superstitious person. If I was, I’d buy an Eboue strip. The look on the clerk’s face when I order it would almost be worth it alone, much less the idea that I could somehow control transfers by buying a strip.

The other curse is that every time I’ve gone to see Arsenal in person,  they win the game I’m at, and then their season promptly falls apart. The first time I went, I watched Charlton get crushed 3-0 and though the team went on to appear in the Champions League final, then needed some foul lasagna to ensure a 4th place finish. In ’07 when I went to see them play Reading, they won a close match 2-1 and then when I got home were unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League by an Alex powered PSV Eindhoven. And last year was possibly the worst of all… I went to a Monday night match and watched as my boy Senderos scored the opener and my other boy Adebayor put in the finisher in a 2-0 win over Blackburn. When I got home, Arsenal were destroyed by a seal dribbling Man U in the FA Cup and within two weeks had their season torn to shreds by the studs up lunge of Martin Taylor on Eduardo.

So, don’t color me too hopeful that we’ll be in 4th place at the end of the season. Arsenal need a 7 game win streak, they need Villa to lose or draw 4 of their next 7, and they need to hold on in the last 6 matching Villa point for point in all those matches while Villa have the schedule advantage in those final 6.

Basically, Arsenal need to be looking for a 13 match win streak. Throw in the curse of the Flambino and the chances of 4th place are looking pretty dim.

Whelp, looks like I won’t get to the Deloitte report and football’s bubble as I have successfully blogged about something I didn’t think I could make a whole blog about! If you’re interested in the details of the report, download it for yourself and plow through, there’s a lot to read. I might write about it at a later date but not today. I will mention that there’s a nugget in there that most people aren’t talking about; one source of Arsenal’s revenue is television rights (which you all know) but that revenue is dependent upon a team’s place in the table. The top four clubs get a larger share of the television pie and could possibly be another financial hit should Arsenal’s stingy summer and winter spending find us in 5th place. THANK GODS WE HAVE £93m IN RESERVE INSTEAD OF A REAL MIDFIELDER.

Anyway, “Match Preview” of Arsenal v. Cardiff in the morning, President’s Day, see you then. I’m off to run around like a barbarian in tights after I scoff breakfast. ARRRRRRRRR — See you tomorrow!