Fabianski 2-1 Campbell; down but not out

(AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Much like the night that Arsenal lost to Barcelona in Paris after a boneheaded mistake from Mad Jens saw Arsenal reduced to 10 men only to get the go ahead goal from Sol Campbell and go on to lose 2-1, last night was a day that will live in Arsenal infamy. You will always remember where you were when you saw the 11th minute blunder that allowed Porto the first goal and you will forever remember the name “Fabianski” as the keeper who threw away an easily winnable game against a very average Porto side on their home patch.

I was at Doyle’s and due to some things I was taking care of at home ended up rushed to get there on time and set up for the experimental podcast. I got there, had the Guinness poured and before I could really get set up the match was underway. Moreover, there was hardly anyone else in the room and frankly I felt very self conscious about talking into a microphone to myself in front of such a small crowd. I had it built up in my mind that there would at least be one other Arsenal fan there, or maybe Russ (Doyle’s publican) and I could shoot the breeze with them as we watched Arsenal beat up on Porto.

My nerves though got the better of me and I quietly slipped the microphone away and settled into watching the game. Had the microphone been on it would have went something like this:

Great tackle there by Sol Campbell to save from the onrushing Porto attack. Despite the fact that Sol was wrong-sided, he managed to time the tackle perfectly and swept the ball away. That’s what experience brings right there. Well, experience and greatness, there’s no denying that Sol is pure class.

… (some play happens, and then Clichy is skinned alive) …

Fuck, Clichy what are you doing? Fortunately, that’s a rather tame cross and there’s no Porto playe…

[thud, as my forehead hits the table. thud. thud. thud.]

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING FABIANSKI???? That wasn’t just poor from the keeper, that was clown shoes.

And then I would have turned the microphone off anyway in utter disgust.

Immediately after that, Sol stepped up (the whole team did) and we clawed our way back into the game and got the crucial, crucial, crucial away goal courtesy of a header from Sol Campbell who was left unmarked directly in front of goal as Arsenal (for once) won a series of headers to get the ball back in to him.

This was followed by a period of real belief in the Arsenal side. Sure, Denilson had a poor game and Diaby’s passing was suspect at times, but we simply kept fighting and kept trying to win this game. Determined to fight through the kicks at our heels, the Arsenal side looked to have a real desire to silence everyone with a second goal.

Unfortunately Martin Hansson stuck to the league memo and denied Arsenal one of the clearest penalty shout outs you will see all season when Thomas Rosicky was taken down in the box. Rarely do I think that an actual conspiracy exists but I’m convinced that UEFA and the FA, stung by the rebuke over the Eduardo “dive” incident, have decided that Arsenal are not to get a penalty unless the offense is so egregious that actual physical bodily harm happens to an Arsenal player, in the 6 yard box. I’ve seen far too many clear penalties denied this season for this to be just a coincidence.

But irregardless the poor penalty call, what happened next was just unbelievable. Cesc is reported to have called it “schoolboy” but I’m not sure even a schoolboy would have done what Arsenal and Martin Hansson did in that match at the 51st minute because what unfolded wasn’t schoolboy as much as a comity of errors.

First, Sol is chasing the ball back, shielding it from the attacker. When he looks up and sees Lukas Fabianski acting indecisive. At that point, I would expect a player of Sol’s experience to just kick the ball out of play and then have a quiet word in the ear of the keeper. But instead what he does is sort of half-heartedly nudge the ball toward Fabianski. At that point I would expect any player with half a brain in his head to kick the ball out of play (see, we’re developing a theme!) But instead, Fabianski picks the ball up. Martin Hansson, who is, to be fair, one of the worst referees in the world, seizes upon the moment to make himself the most important man in the match and calls an intentional back pass.

Then, the Arsenal defense simply give up and start bellyaching about the call. Campbell grabs his head in disbelief, Vermaelen starts flapping his arms about, and worst of all, Fabianski flips the ball to the ref and turns his back on the play to have a moan at the sideline official. At which point, Martin Hansson, perhaps to atone for the fact that Thierry Henry once played for Arsenal and that he failed to see Henry’s handball or perhaps under some directive to try to knock Arsenal out of the Champions League for the Eduardo incident then does something I have never seen: he gives Porto a quick free kick in the box, all the while acting as a screen for Sol Campbell who was the only defender who could possibly have known that the kick was going to be given.

So many things went wrong there my mind boggles: Fabianski should have held on to the ball, Sol should have stood on the ball, the referee shouldn’t have given a quick free kick in the box, and Vermaelen should have marked Falcao.

I am aware that the referee has the right to award a quick free kick but referees are also supposed to have a sense of judgment. Did that infraction warrant the award of what was essentially better than a penalty kick? I don’t think so.

There are a lot of writers out there right now who are reveling in that fact that Arsenal have been done in this manner. The Spoiler and the Daily Bung(hole) are two who love to generate clicks with their anti-Arsene Wenger/anti-Arsenal headlines and they have stepped up to the plate and quickly pointed out the supposed hypocrisy of Arsenal being the beneficiary of two quickly taken free kicks (against Villa and Chelsea) and yet “Arsene Whinger” points out that he’s never seen a quick free kick taken in the box.

But here’s what I hope happens: despite his insane refereeing record, Martin Hansson is going to the World Cup and I hope he referee’s whatever national side those writer’s support. And I hope he gives their opponents the free kick which sees their national side kicked out of the World Cup. I bet cash money that their tune would change mighty quickly, the cunts.

It was a shocking bit of refereeing and a shocking bit of goalkeeping to go with a shocking defensive meltdown. I am gutted. We deserve more for all the hard work we’ve put in this season than to throw it away with clown shoes keeping like that. The away fans who traveled to Portugal and risked the abuse of the Porto fans deserve more. Cesc deserves more for all the kicks he took. Wenger deserves more for all the faith he’s placed in these kids.

That said, there are some bright spots to this. First, we all know why Almunia is our #1 keeper now. That should end the debate until Summer when we can all beg Arsene to buy a serious goal keeper. Moreover, there’s no option now but to get behind Almunia and try to pump him up mentally, unless you like watching Arsenal lose.

Second, we got an away goal. I really wanted and thought we were going to get the 2-2 draw but it didn’t happen but we got an away goal. Porto travel like shit and the last time we played them at Emirates we handed their asses to them. Sure, it’ll be a bit chippy I suspect but I also suspect that Arsenal will dominate them and want a huge measure of revenge. That said, a simple 1-0 win will put us through to the next stage.

And third, it’s three weeks away so hopefully Arsenal can get some of the first team players back in and show what a fully healthy Arsenal side can do to a team like Porto.

Like I said, we’re down, but not out.

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…