Tag Archives: Arsenal

Man at the match, Chary: Fabianski ushers Arsenal into the FA Cup final

A helter skelter match ended on penalties after full time and extra time couldn’t separate the Arsenal from the conquerors of Manchester City in the previous round, when Fabianski held his nerve to save the first two of five penalties so that four successful spot kicks from the good guys were enough to book a return trip to Wembley in May.

After a gap of over fourteen years between my last visit to Wembley to see Arsenal play and today I was hoping to see a victory for the Arsenal and although the build up to the game in the media and the Arsenal blogosphere ensured nerves kicked in a few pints at Mannion’s pub near the south entrance to Wembley helped settle those nerves.

Also plenty of Arsenal songs, not fit for a family blog, ensured a degree of alcohol induced bravado stayed with me till I took my seat in the upper tier behind the south goal, to the right of the managers dug outs.

As expected Wigan failed to sell their quota of tickets and many pockets/blocks of empty seats were visible in the Wigan end

In (some of) the blue corner - Wigan

In (some of) the blue corner – Wigan

Before kick off was the moments silence, although I heard applause also, to commemorate the tragic loss of life at an FA Cup semi final 25 years ago at Hillsboro, with 96 seats(to remember the 96 fatalities that day) kept empty.

Hillsborough 96 remembered

Hillsborough 96 remembered

The line up changes that were most significant were the addition of Rambo and Monreal (with the latter stepping in for Gibbs who was only fit enough for a bench place) and the replacement of Sanogo for Giroud, as seems to be the case for the FA Cup team selection with Fabianski the designated cup goalie.

From the start it was clear that Wigan’s form was on the up and Arsenal’s spluttering with no Arsenal player really catching the eye in the first half, except for flashes of Rambo’s tenacious drive with the ball when surging through the midfield. It was obvious the team have badly missed his forward motion in the midfield as without him it all looks very pedestrian, as several moans about our slow paced attacking attested to amongst the Arsenal supporters.

Something that did come across was that moaning about the team is not an age related thing or the preserve of the “I want it now” generation of youngsters. A pensioner next to me was totally negative all the way through the game and had decided we’d lose after seeing only ten minutes of the game; needless to say not one word of encouragement or singing for the team left his lips all the way through the game.

While Arsenal did create chances in the first half not too many clear cut chances were made, except for the cross that led to Sagna’s sliced shot over the bar, Wigan themselves looked hard working but not especially dangerous.

At the start of the second half as usual the boys in red and white upped the tempo and more free kicks corners accrued from the Ox who was growing in confidence or Santi who had seemed subdued in the first half.
It started to look like it could be one of “those days” when either the woodwork or a bit of good goal keeping was bound to keep the shots out when Arsenal appeared certain to score.

Inevitably a bit of controversy arrived to gift Wigan a goal, a foul on Monreal was not given and with the Arsenal players expecting a stop in play Wigan took advantage of the hesitancy to push into the penalty box and lead to the BFG making a penalty kick worthy challenge.

Indignation swept through the red end of Wembley due to frustration at the referee for not blowing for the foul or the injury and also slight annoyance at Wigan for not having kicked the ball out.
Monreal was taken off injured to be replaced by Gibbs and then eventually Gomez took a virtually unstoppable penalty, which Fabianski came close to keeping out, 1 nil to the Championship team.

As seems to be the case nowadays the Arsenal support is schizophrenic in that anger and dejection at the penalty was replaced by cheers at the restart trying to pick up the spirits of the players. However the jeers quickly returned when the Pod was subbed off when everyone thought the exasperating Sanogo would make way. The Pod had a quiet game while Sanogo seemed to show touches of skill which made you think “Where did that come from?” and then clumsy touches that would be maddening.

Olly came on and was greeted with, to the tune of the Van Judas “She said..” song:

“She said yes Giroud, she said yes”

While it’s hard to say he’s a top line striker it was immediately obvious Olly was better than Sanogo and his hold up play and flicks was leading to more and more dangerous attacks, including a header off the crossbar.

Finally a ball launched into the Wigan penalty area was diverted towards the BFG who bundled the ball into the net and atoned for his earlier penalty kick inducing mistake.

The relief was such that even the moaning pensioner stopped cursing he team although what he thought of my “F**k you Wigan” chant while the BFG celebrated in the goal in front of me, I’d rather not know.

Wigan heads dropped and they held on till full time despite Arsenal pushing for the winner in normal time, the Ox hitting the post and an acrobatic mid air goal line clearance from a Wigan defender when the red end were about to cheer the Gunner’s second goal.

Arsenal piling on the second half  pressure

Arsenal piling on the second half pressure

Annoyingly the referee blew for full time just when Olly was through and appeared to be held back by a Wigan defender which, if it had been an arsenal player doing the holding back, would have been a red for a professional foul.
Nonetheless the momentum was still with Arsenal and for both halves of injury time it was mainly Arsenal attacking, with Källström almost scoring with his first touch.

As with his appearance against Swansea Kim seems to have something about him that showed today also, a strength and precision in midfield that is probably what we need right now when, Flamini aside, our midfield is a tad lightweight and powder puff.

Wigan held on and the spectre of penalties came, the news that they would be taken in front of the Wigan end(the majority of photographers had been stationed at my end as it was the end Arsenal attacked and they scurried round the pitch to get to the other end) were greeted with moans of:

“We can’t even win the toss for the penalties!”

Beneath the raging tension in me I felt deep down there was a smidgen of hope in the calmness and authority Fabianski had shown in the game so far; an inkling that he could be the hero of the moment.

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

The Championship side took the first penalty and although I was not a great penalty it still had to be saved, the Wigan player sinking to the ground in defeat, something even I could see from the other end of the stadium.

First up for the good guys was Arteta, who was coolness personified with a regulation, text book penalty.
Wigan again tried to score in the shoot out and failed again, a slightly better Fabianski save this time and the Arsenal support dared to hope again.

Källström converted our second penalty with the minimum of fuss and pressure was back on Wigan who finally managed to notch a successful spot kick.

Even though Olly’s successful spot kick was preceded by a second successful Wigan kick all it needed was for Arsenal’s fourth penalty to go in and it would be all over

Up stepped Santi, he scored then scurried to the corner to celebrate with the team, out of relief more than anything and only then could Arsenal supporters in Wembley breathe again.

Santi celebrates deciding pk

Santi celebrates deciding pk

An incredibly hard fought game ended with the Gunners victorious and a date at Wembley in May meant we can now sing the following in earnest:

“What did she wear ?
She wore, she wore,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
In the merry month of May!
And when, I asked,
Oh why she wore that ribbon,
She said it’s for The Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!
Wembley,Wembley,
We’re the famous Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!”

By 17th of May with more injured players returning, especially Özzy, and Rambo getting back to his best we can expect a better performance than today with confidence also returning bit by bit.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Man at the match, Chary: The ecstasy and the agony – last gasp Flamini tragedy

A horrendous ricochet in the Arsenal goal mouth in the last minute of ordinary time allowed the Swans to grab a draw after the Arsenal took the lead with two quick second half strikes, following a first half goal for the visitors.

A re arranged fixture, from February, saw Arsenal try to regain some League composure after the annihilation suffered at the bus stop in Fulham at the weekend.

A bigger environmental difference there couldn’t have been compared to the previous home fixture, the Saturday lunchtime FA Cup draw which was played out in spring sunshine and warmth.

On this occasion a bitter wind blew around Ashburton Grove and was felt by me especially in the upper tier, Clock End where I took my seat and looked to gauge the mood of the crowd.

The general consensus was that only the FA cup and a fourth place spot would be enough to prevent serious disquiet amongst the fan base, an opinion voiced by various voices up and down the Holloway road, after the match, whether by the door man at The Bailey pub or the girlfriends of Arsenal supporting blokes trying to rationalise what the season had become.

The Welsh contingent of supporters we’re largely quiet until they scored, quite odd for supposedly hard core away support; and when they did sing it was in their native tongue which no one else understood or wanted to understand.

They came from the Valleys

They came from the Valleys

The home side started the first half with tentative moves attacking the goal at the Clock End however it was clear their confidence had been shaken by the effects of the previous game.

Santi corner

Santi corner

The corners that were gained came to naught, even Santi was affected by this hesitancy as many of his deliveries failed to pass the first man.

Another predictable side effect of the previous game was whenever Gibbs got on the ball the “Come on The Ox” calls were heard.

From virtually the first Swansea attack a lofted cross resulted in the opening Swansea goal, to my eyes it looked like the BFG was out jumped and that Chesney was rooted to his spot by the subsequent header; two poor pieces of play one might say.

Cue the Welsh corner waking up and time wasting from the Swansea goalie.

It was gratifying to see that the home crowd whistle at any suggestion of time wasting by the opposition goalie as was seen soon after the Swansea goal which has not always been the case. This seemed to have some effect as by about the half hour mark Vorm’s time wasting seemed to have been curtailed.

Going into half time, while Arsenal probed and pushed for an opening the frustration was kept in check even though there was a short burst of booing on 45 minutes that could not be dismissed.

With the start of the second half Arsenal seemed to be knocking at the door of an opening and the Swansea goal lived a charmed life due to good saves from Vorm or threaded through balls just failing to find Olly or whichever of the midfielders had dared to go forwards, usually this would be Rosický was the most attack minded.

Whilst the Ox was having a mixed game, occasionally looking dangerous and then trying some heart attack passes, he was surprisingly taken off not much later than 10 minutes into the second half and replaced by The Pod.

Lukas soon made an impact as just as the frustration at the over-elaboration of many attacks was starting to peak a quick advance by Gibbs, running towards the North Bank, was followed by a cross the pod latched onto and scored the equaliser.

The relief all around was topped when, seconds later Olly poked home to put the home side in front and stun the away support.

A nervy win looked on the cards so then on came Källström for Rosický and in the short time he played he seemed to keep it simple, intercept well and make some no nonsense clearances as well as some clever medium range passes. It would’ve have been great to see what his set piece delivery was like as the team are in dire need of someone who can hit a decent free kick.

As some of the early departees set off with the score at 2-1 it looked like the Arsenal were pushing for a third yet the vulnerability of a counterattack was there.

Swansea were happy to take long range strikes and one shot from Shelvey, his bald shining pate glistening in the floodlights, arced away from goal three quarters of the way through its flight, so the warning signs were there. There was no shortage of quick passing and energetic bursts forward from the Swansea attackers as they fought for a way back into the game.

A late break down our left flank, which appeared to follow a straight channel in the line of my sight, saw some neat passing result in some penalty are space for a Swansea forward; a misunderstanding between BFG, Chesney and Flamini saw a combination of unlucky deflections guide the ball into the Arsenal goal. On no, I thought, a Desmond (as in Tutu/2-2), horrendous.

In the moment Flamini’s head dropped, as he realised we’d dropped two points, the pathos of his reaction made me realise how much it hurt him, and I felt sorry for him.

I admire his street fighting, terrier-like tenacity and he’s the last player I’d want to suffer such a crushing piece of bad luck.

A body blow and the chap in the row in front of me, who had seemed to be developing a migraine with the frustration of watching our play deteriorate during the game, whacked his chair shut in frustration as the net rippled below us.

The nature of the crowd was a touch more schizoid than in previous games because, for example, at the restart after the equaliser and seeing 4 minutes of injury time being signalled there was a surge in crowd volume urging us on to score a third yet when forward play broke down groans and unhappy declarations of a players, or the whole team, incompetence rang out all through the game.

Despite the clear need to score the Arsenal pressure failed to be decisive in the final third; this highlighted the need for a top line striker to scare opposing defenders with his trickery. Olly is not that type of striker and despite his goal on the night replacing him with Sanogo did not change the attacking threat.

At the final whistle the away team were still looking dangerous on the counter attack but the score stayed at 2-2 and some kind of fracas kicked off amongst the Swansea players and match officials.

Final whistle melee

Final whistle melee

Plaintive chants of

“Wemb-ley, Wember-ley”

intermingled with murmurings of discontent as the Arsenal supporters filed out at full time and slowly, and fitfully, merged and dissolved into the chill night air.

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

I also won the Charity Shield; NEVER FORGET!

Chelsea v. Arsenal: the special one thousand

Like Goofus and Gallant, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger are a study in contrasts. Goofus Mourinho is known for a pragmatic style of football. Often choosing to “park the bus” in big games, sit deep, and rely on his meaty defenders to keep the sheets clean while trying to hit the opposition with swift counter attacks. Gallant Wenger is known as a footballing aesthete whose teams kept possession for large portions of the game and has often complained when opposition teams defend for 90 minutes calling the tactic “anti-football.” But ironically, both managers may switch roles tomorrow as both teams look for a crucial win in this tightest of Premier League title races.

Mourinho’s Chelsea are the best defensive team in the League. They have only allowed the opposition to score 23 goals in all competitions and just 9 goals at home. In the last meeting of these two teams in the League, Mourinho set up to frustrate Arsene’s Arsenal and ended up honors even with a 0-0 draw. Frustrating the opposition’s attack is Mourinho’s fallback position. He won the Champions League with Inter Milan and Porto using these tactics and his teams have become synonymous with the term “park the bus.”

It was Mourinho who coined the term “park the bus” when, in his first tenure with Chelsea, he played against Tottenham Hotspurs in 2004 and the Tiny Totts played a defensive game for 90 minutes:

“As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal. I would have been frustrated if I had been a supporter who paid £50 to watch this game because Spurs came to defend. There was only one team looking to win, they only came not to concede – it’s not fair for the football we played”

But when Mourinho led Inter Milan out to a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 2010, Inter took just 12 shots to Bayern’s 21 and the Italians took the cup through a stalwart defensive display that neutrals dubbed “one of the ugliest finals ever”. And Mourinho has employed this tactic 10 times in meetings against Arsenal, winning 5, drawing 5, and losing 0. He may have once complained about the valet service, but now he’s the head parking attendant.

And Arsene Wenger is the exact opposite, or at least he has been since 2006. During the Cesc Fabregas era at Arsene’s Arsenal, the Gunners were known for their possession brand of football. Dominating the ball for 60 or even 70 percent of the game through slick passing and constant movement. But they were also known for breaking down against opposition teams in this system and being caught out on counter attacks when the opponents hit their high defensive line with a hopeful punt up field to a speedy attacking player.

During that era when Arsenal were synonymous with attacking football no lead seemed to be safe. A two goal advantage could evaporate in seconds. Even four goals wasn’t enough once, though the circumstances required to create that freak result could fill a dozen books. Still the idea that Arsenal could sit back and defend a 1-0 lead for 90 minutes would have had most Arsenal fans in stitches. But that’s exactly what Arsenal have been forced, or have chosen, to do this season and they have done it with aplomb.

Setting aside the cliches for a minute, this Arsenal team have scored less than any Arsene-led team since the 90s, have taken less shots per game than any Arsene led team since I started tracking those stats, and have allowed the opposition to shoot more than any Arsene led team since I started tracking those stats. They are 5th in possession, they are tackling more than ever before, clearing the ball more than ever before, forcing the opposition to take more shots from distance, and more generally just seem to play more defense.

Last weekend provided the perfect example of all this. Against Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal got off to a 1-0 start in the first minute of play thanks to a Tomas Rosicky screamer. As soon as the goal went in, my Arsenal instincts kicked in and I assumed that Spurs were in for a thrashing. But Arsenal conceded posession and tried to hit Spurs on the counter. Tottenham only threatened a couple of times and Arsenal could have won that game 3-0 but for some profligate finishing on the part of the youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who found himself one-on-one with the keeper and fluffed his shots.

Ironically, Arsenal parked the bus against the team that Jose Mourinho, the guy who loves to park the bus, first complained about a team parking the bus. And this wasn’t the first time that Wenger has done that this season: Arsenal have a league leading 13 clean sheets. They park the bus a lot.

Despite his history of post match interviews decrying the opposition’s defensive tactics, Wenger has adopted defensive tactics in the past. When Arsenal won the FA Cup on penalties in 2005 against Man U, the Gunners took just 5 shots and Man U took 20. It was an incredible match and Phillipe Auclair claims that Wenger vowed never to play like that again, that he felt like he’d only earned a victory “of sorts”.

But Wenger seems to have a new-found pragmatism with Arsenal this year. Is it the result of having hired Steve Bould as his assistant? Steve Bould was a member of the old George Graham Arsenal team which was so well known for their defensive displays that opposition fans would chant “boring, boring, Arsenal”. And given the way we play these days, Bould’s fingerprints seem to be all over this Arsenal defense.

But in many ways, tomorrow’s match is going to be one of the toughest matches of the season for both teams. Neither team can afford a loss if they want to win the League. Arsenal are four points behind Chelsea who are top of the table and are very much the underdogs as Jose Mourinho has never lost a home match while Chelsea manager. Arsenal are also without their best four players in Mesut Özil (leading playmaker), Aaron Ramsey (midfield dynamo), Jack Wilshere (back to front threat), and the player I thought would be Arsenal’s man of the season, Theo Walcott. Chelsea will very much miss Ramires and Willian for their diving and nasty tackles but it’s not quite the same to miss two dirty cheaters versus Arsennal missing their leading scorers and playmakers, now is it?

Still, I think if Arsenal can dig deep and channel some of that 2005 FA Cup winning spirit they might be able to get a result on Mourinho and Chelsea today. What better way to celebrate Arsene Wenger’s 1000th match at the club than to beat their closest title rivals, win their first game over Mourinho in 11 attempts, break Mourinho’s astonishing home unbeaten run, and silence all the critics who think Arsenal aren’t in the title race?

As the famous chant goes: one-nil to the Arsenal!

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