Tag Archives: Andrei Arshavin is mentioned in this blog

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Arsenal v. Barcelona: what if?

You already know how Arsenal are going to play Barcelona: sit deep, hit them on the counter. It’s a plan Wenger has used against them for almost a decade and it’s almost worked each time, almost.

For example, 2006. What if Arsenal had held on to the 1-0 lead in Paris and won the Champions League in 2006? Despite being a man down, thanks to a foul by German keeper Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell put the Gunners ahead with a magnificent header off a Thierry Henry free kick. Arsenal then held that lead for 40 minutes, a man down, against one of the best teams in world football.

Even within that game there were so many what ifs? What if Lehmann had just conceded the goal instead of fouling Eto’o? What if Wenger hadn’t subbed off Pires and instead taken off Hleb? What if Thierry Henry converted from a chance right in front of goal after an Eboue cross? What if Freddie Ljungberg scored when he was clean through in the second half? What if Almunia didn’t allow Eto’o to score on his near post? And what if Almunia didn’t block Beletti’s shot into the roof of the goal? The entire course of Arsenal football club would have changed: Henry, Pires, Campbell, and Lehmann would have won the Champions League with Arsenal and that team would have been crowned the best defense in Champions League history.

Then in 2011, what if Nicklas Bendtner had scored when clean through on goal instead of dribbling into Javier Mascherano? The score was 1-1 after an own goal by Busquets and because Arsenal had won the first leg 2-1, thanks to this curling pearl of a goal by Andrey Arshavin, the Gunners actually led the aggregate 2-3.

Barcelona were playing with their now customary man advantage because the referee sent off Robin van Persie. It was perhaps the most annoying refereeing decision I have ever seen in my years of watching football: in the biggest match of the season, the referee issues a second yellow card to a player, for shooting after the whistle. The noise inside the Nou Camp is deafening. How, van Persie was supposed to hear the whistle is a mystery. And more to the point, van Persie was just doing what all players are told to do: play to the whistle.

But despite being down 2-1 (aggregate 4-4) Nicklas Bendtner was played clean through by Jack Wilshere and instead of taking a touch to his right, he dribbled right into the path of Javier Mascherano’s now famous tackle. If only he’d have taken the shot first time, or dribbled some other direction, he could have scored the winner.

What if Bendtner had scored? What if the referee hadn’t sent off Robin van Persie? What if Fabregas hadn’t back-heeled the ball to Iniesta? What if Szczesny hadn’t gotten injured and Almunia forced to play against Barcelona again?

And now we come to this season and Arsenal have to play Barcelona once again. This is a Barcelona team who have an even more deadly front three than the other times Arsenal have played them. Now they feature Messi (the best player in the world), Neymar (the best Brazilian player in the world), and Luis Suarez (the best player to ever bite someone in the world). And I’m left asking again, what if? What if Liverpool had honored the contract and sold Luis Suarez to Arsenal?

The Arsenal-Liverpool-Suarez story has created a lot of angst down the years. People say Arsenal should have bid more. People complain that the contract didn’t have a clause. Or that the clause wasn’t rock solid. Or that the PFA (who supported Liverpool in not honoring the clause) was doing the bidding of the club, not the player. People say that Liverpool owner John Henry was only bragging when he claimed that the clause was there but that they simply refused to honor it. But the fact in this case are plain, and as I have maintained all along, it was Suarez who got cold feet and refused to sue Liverpool to force the deal through. He didn’t really want to come to Arsenal.

You won’t believe me, so read Sid Lowe. There was a clause, Arsenal triggered the clause, Liverpool refused to honor the contract, and despite his publicly stating that he wanted to come to Arsenal, Luis Suarez was convinced by Steven Gerrard and Liverpool management that if he stayed at Liverpool he would eventually earn a move to his dream club, Barcelona.

suarez

There is still that “what if” though. What if Liverpool had been an honorable football club and respected Suarez’ release clause? Many believe that Arsenal would have won the League and I find it hard to argue against them. Suarez could be with Arsenal right now, winning things and challenging for the Champions League.

But Arsenal didn’t win any of those battles. They lost in 2006. They lost again in 2010 and 2011. They lost the Fabregas battle. They lost the Suarez battle. And once again, it looks like Barcelona come to London the stronger team, and it looks like Arsenal are going to get pricked by the Barcelona trident.

But.. what if? What if just this once, Arenal get the balance right as Wenger said? Arsenal finally have a world class goalkeeper. They have a starting back four who are experienced playing against Barcelona and Luis Suarez. Arsenal’s back four are also well versed in sitting deep against clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich — Koscielny has played in the side that has beaten both of those teams a combined three times. Arsenal also have speedy attackers: Walcott, Welbeck, and Alexis. Attackers who can be served up with long passes from Arsenal’s world class playmaker, Mesut Özil (don’t discount Özil’s long passing, he’s probably the best in the world at picking out a striker on the fast break).

So, what if?

Qq

Arsenal v. Dinamo Zagreb: quotidian quotidian

Quotidian quotidian. How many trusty old Arsenal chestnuts would you like to see roasted today?

Let’s see, we’ve got “should Arsenal lose this match or win this match?” There are basically three outcomes: win the match, win the next match and finish 2nd; win the match, lose the next match (or vice-versa), finish 3rd; and lose the match and lose the next match and finish 4th.

If Arsenal lose to Dinamo they will almost certainly finish the group at the bottom. Thus avoiding the Europa League and matches on Thursday. And there is a logic to this, as I said before: only Arsenal fans could wish that their team finishes 4th in the Champions League group stages and have legitimate, logical reasons.

Personally, I’m not sure how much Europa League matches will really matter. I know, I know, I’m saying that amidst an injury crisis at Arsenal and the Gunners don’t need more matches to twang more hamstrings, but the third place team goes straight into the knockout phase. So, while it’s the least desirable outcome of all three outcomes, the way Arsenal are playing in Europe at the moment isn’t exactly filling me with confidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got knocked out in the first knockout round of either Champions or Europa Leagues.

Plus, Wenger has admitted that he may need to buy someone in January to cover the Coquelin hole. What if the prospect of a run in the Europa/Champions League might force his hand? See? SILVER LINING!

Of course, that is pretty speculative and wildly optimistic on my part. After all, when has Wenger ever felt his hand forced to buy in January. Yeah, just that once, when we got Andrei Arshavin.

The other old chestnut is the doping and other scandals surrounding Dinamo Zagreb. I heard on the Guardian pod that Dinamo lost all five matches since beating Arsenal and I was going to start this blog with “what would you think about a team caught doping who went on to lose their next five matches?”

But when I went to transfermarkt to check their record, it turns out that Dinamo have lost five matches, out of the last 11 matches they have played, and three of those losses were in the Champions League. In essence, they have only lost all of their Champions League matches since beating Arsenal 2-1, while doping.

Then there’s the old warhorse about how Dinamo are going to approach this match. They are going to sit so deep they may even out West Brom West Brom. The secret to this approach, the thing that no one talks about, is that it’s a formula that works as long as you don’t have to win. If you approach the match assuming you’re going to lose, happy to get a draw, and hoping you get one or two good chances to win, you play this way. It’s especially effective if you have world class players who are guaranteed to bury most of their big chances, like Chelsea.

But yeah, Dinamo don’t have to win. They have nothing to lose by getting a 0-0 draw. So, the opposite tactic of this (giving them the ball and forcing them to play) won’t work. I guarantee they would be happy passing the ball between center backs and keeper all game. If Wenger wants to win (and he does) it’s going to be up to Arsenal to pick the lock.

One weird thing that often happens in matches like this is that the defensive team will come out and try to get a goal in the first 10 minutes before settling into their defensive sets. This often leads to a basketball style opening 10 minutes and Arsenal, being the better of the two teams, might be able to capitalize on that openness.

Which leads me to the final hoary narrative: who are Arsenal going to play today? Injuries, of course, have taken their toll on Arsenal as we lost our numbers 1 and 2 defensive midfielders to injury in the loss to West Brom last Saturday. Those injuries combined with Ox, Rosicky, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Walcott, have drained the spirit from the Arsenal faithful.

Arsenal do have Ramsey back but I wonder if he is ready to start. The last thing we (fans, players, managers, medical staff) need is another Ramsey injury so rushing him back seems foolish. But you can never tell with Wenger and his lineups and of course we have bingo information about Ramsey’s physical condition. So, instead of trying to guess what Wenger will do I would like to see what he does and then guess what that means.

For example, he could play an experimental lineup and test out partnerships in midfield. Maybe something like a Ramsey-Chambers center mid pairing. He could go ultra conservative and stick with the lineup that probably should have won against West Brom. That means Cazorla and Flamini in midfield with Joel wide right and Alexis wide left.

Given that Wenger said “the task is very clear, let’s go and win our games” I’d guess conservative. But hey, you never know and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s dreams.

I started with quotidian quotidian, which means “mundane daily”, but Wenger often surprises me just when I expect him to be conservative. Which is a funny way to end a blog. Basically I’m saying “I know *&*^ all about what Wenger is planning for today’s match. In fact no one knows what he’s planning for the match, except that he wants to win.”

So, there you go. He wants to win. Let’s win one then!

Qq

I'm thinking that this might be where Cesc's leg was broken, just maybe.

Arsenal 2009/2010 Season Review: a warning from the past to Wenger present

I’m going to tell you a little story about heartbreak. One of my regular readers bought me the 2009/2010 Arsenal season review DVD and it is, in a word, a story of heartbreak.

Arsenal went into that summer hoping to keep top striker Emmanuel Adebayor but after a mega offer from Man City turned his head, Arsenal were forced to sell. The Gunners also sold Kolo Toure to City, though that was planned and Wenger brought in Thomas Vermaelen as his replacement.

Vermaelen was Wenger’s only buy in the summer. The logic behind not buying anyone, despite losing Adebayor’s 10 goals, was that Arsenal already had a young, world class, striker on the books in Robin van Persie. In fact, Arsenal’s strike force was amazing on paper; van Persie was deployed as the tip of the lance in a three forwards formation and Wenger had his choice of Nicklas Bendtner, Андрей Аршавин, Theo Walcott, Eduardo, Vela, and Samir Nasri to either play as the center forward or either of the two wide forwards next to him.

In midfield, Arsenal also boasted some of the best young players in England. Cesc Fabregas was not only captain but ran the Arsenal offense and ended the season with an amazing 15 goals and 13 assists. Diaby had his best season in an Arsenal shirt, Alex Song developed into a top defensive midfielder, Denilson started the season well for Arsenal, and a very baby-faced Aaron Ramsey even contributed 3 goals and 3 assists.

It was also a season when many players were returning from injury. Eduardo was returning from having his leg snapped in two by Martin Taylor and Tomas Rosicky returned from an 18 month layoff. Neither player would regain their former glory, though both had a part to play in the season.

And Wenger seemed vindicated in his vision for the club as Arsenal raced out to a crazy start to the season. On opening day, the Gunners beat Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park and followed that up with a 2-0 win over Celtic away in the Champions League qualifier. Then in the home opener, Arsenal beat Pompey 4-1, only conceding when Kaboul jumped into the Arsenal keeper, Manuel Almunia, and the referee allowed the goal to stand.

What was remarkable about that opening run of games was that goals were mostly coming from defenders and midfielders. Eduardo was the only forward to score in that run, the 6th against Everton, and the remainder of the goals came from players like Thomas Vermaelen and Diaby.

Vermaelen scored 7 goals for Arsenal that season, with 5 of them coming before October. He scored in his first match of his Arsenal career, making him the 84th debutante to score. He was an instant hit among fans who loved his tenacity, marveled at his leaping ability, and loved seeing their center back bombing forward to score — a habit they would just as quickly grow unfond of.

The first big controversy of the season came in the fourth game. Arsenal beat Celtic 3-1 but it was the opening goal which stirred the villagers into grabbing torches and pitchforks. Arsenal had been struggling a bit to break down the resolute Scottish defense but in the 28th minute Eduardo collected the ball on the edge of the box, drove straight past the defenders, and forced Celtic’s keeper to come out. Eduardo went down, the referee awarded a penalty, and Artur Boruc and the Celtic team claimed that Dudu had dived. Eduardo stepped up and scored from the penalty spot and Arsena went on to win the tie 3-1, 5-1 on aggregate.

Replays showed minimal contact and the British press went into full witch hunt mode. The Daily Mail started a campaign against diving and bowing under enormous pressure from Celtic and the collected outraged media, Eduardo was charged with diving and given a two match ban. Arsenal appealed and won. Thanks largely to the referee who saw the video replay and told the judges that he still would have given the penalty. The UEFA official statement read:

“Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees’ assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to our satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty.”

And the football gods have a sense of humor as well. In the very next match, Arsenal played Man U with Mike Dean the referee. Arsenal were denied a stonewall penalty when Fletcher took out Arshavin on the edge of the box. And of course, Man U were awarded a penalty when Wayne Rooney clashed with Almunia in almost the exact same way that Eduardo had clashed with Boruc. Arsenal lost 2-1.

Rooney must have been listening to Dio

Arsenal also lost the next match against Man City 4-2. It was another controversial match, the third in a row for Arsenal, but this time it was controversial because former Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor stamped on van Persie’s face and then when he scored, ran 100 yards to celebrate on his knees in front of the away fans.

Watch where you put your face!Van Persie, however, scored in that Man City match and whether it was Adebayor’s boot to the face or something else that goal kickstarted a scoring glut from Robin. From that City match until mid November, van Persie scored or assisted in 9 consecutive matches, including two goals and an assist* against old rivals Tottenham.

Arsenal reaped the benefit of all of these healthy strikers and in the first 19 games of the season, Arsenal scored 55 goals, almost 3 goals a game. Wenger’s transfer dealings and faith in his young players to come good looked genius. Then came the international break and Chiellini’s challenge on Robin van Persie’s foot.

Robin van Persie would spend almost the remainder of the season out. He returned to play for Arsenal in April but didn’t score again until the final two matches of the season. In theory, Arsenal should have been able to survive Robin’s absence but in practice none of the strikers listed above were able to step up and take over the center forward spot. Arsenal scored 55 goals in the first 19 games but 60 goals in the last 36 games of the season: dropping from 2.9 goals per game to 1.7.

After the international break Arsenal played Sunderland, Standard Liege (Champions League), Cheslea, and Man City (League Cup). Arsenal scored 2 and conceded 7 in those 4 games.

If you watch the season review DVD, this is where the real heartbreak starts to set in. That first part of the season was magical and if you didn’t know how the season ended you might be tempted to wonder why that Arsenal side didn’t win the League. But as you watch the second half of the season unfold it becomes clear that Arsenal lacked the depth to challenge.

Wenger struggled to find a keeper he wanted in goal, dropping Almunia and replacing him with Mannone. Wenger also couldn’t find a viable starter in the center forward role, trying Eduardo, Bendtner and even Arshavin in the role and getting precious little in return.

And then injuries started to take their toll across the pitch: Walcott was in and out, Rosicky was off the boil and still recovering, Eduardo struggled for fitness, and ironically it was Diaby (the player most known for a history of injury problems) who played more games than any other Arsenal midfielder, playing a whopping 38 games that season in all competitions. And Wenger angered everyone when he refused to buy a player in January, taking former great and imposing center back Sol Campbell on a free. At a time when Arsenal needed a forward, Wenger took a center back, on a free.

There was a lone bright spot of the season. Arsenal made it to the second round of the knockout stages of the Champions League and had to face Barcelona. This was the Barcelona side which had just won the Champions League and who would win the Champions League the next year. Arsenal was playing against peak Barcelona.

Arsenal notched a moral victory over the Spaniards, holding them to a 2-2 draw at home. After conceding two goals to Zlatan, Wenger took off Sagna and put on Theo Walcott. Walcott almost immediately scored. Barcelona were a bit shell-shocked and so when Fabregas burst into the penalty area to fire in a shot, Puyols fouled him and the referee had no choice but to award the Gunners the penalty. Cesc stepped up and struck the penalty well, giving Arsenal the 2-2 draw.

In the process of scoring, or perhaps because of the Puyol tackle, Fabregas suffered a fractured leg. There couldn’t have been any more perfect way for Arsenal to end their season  Bereft of their leading scorer and now shorn of their leading playmaker, the Gunners finished the season with just 2 wins in the last 7.

Arsenal supporters have seen a lot over the last 10 years or so but none so heartbreaking as the 2009/2010 season. And when Arsenal fans complain about Wenger’s lack of transfer business this summer (2015/16) and him relying on players returning from injury, hoping that all his players will stay healthy, and banking on “team spirit” I wonder if it’s not this season that they are remembering. A season that promised so much, and delivered so little.

Qq

*He was awarded an assist for Cesc’s goal since he was technically the last one to pass him the ball.

P.S. I want to say thank you to the reader who bought me the DVD from my Amazon wishlist. As hard as it was to watch that video I think it was an important thing for me to do, to remember. Thank you.