No Fear in Carling Cup Final!

As a kid I fell in love with George Graham’s Arsenal. We were labelled ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ but not by our own fans, of other fans jealous of our success. We were tactically the best team in England, if we took the lead we usually won – leading to the the famous ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ chant. Even when Arsene Wenger took over we were a physical team, the midfield pairing of Vieira and Petit being feared by opponents for their aggressive approach to the game. Flair players like Henry and Pires did give us more to our game, but even though the invincibles played flowing ‘Wengerball’, they still had players like Vieira, Gilberto and Keown who were more than capable of winning a physical battle.

Adams & Vieira

Since Wednesday and the injuries to Fabregas and Walcott, I have heard complaints from fellow Gooners about Stoke’s approach. I honestly thought that we were past all that. A few years ago it was Sam Allardyce’s Bolton who were our bogey team, Wenger and our players openly criticised them for their approach to the game both in terms of their long ball and defensive tactics and their over physical approach. This seemed to me like an admission that we couldn’t handle opponents like that, it almost invited other teams to go into games with us with the same mentality. We saw teams like Stoke and Birmingham go into games with the intention of ‘roughing us up’ resulting in horrific injuries to Eduardo and Ramsey.

Fabregas and Walcott

This season things are different, we have centre backs like Koscielny (and Vermaelen when fit) who openly talk about loving the physical side of the game. We have Song as our physical presence in midfield and even the more creative Wilshere seeming to thrive on getting stuck in. We have come out of a number of physical battles (including Wednesday night) with three points and no longer need to fear opponents who approach games in this way. Now that we have sorted our issues on the pitch I feel that it is time for fans to cut out the moaning off the pitch. For those who cheered us on in the days of George Graham’s long ball and defensively organised sides and Wenger’s sides who were regularly bottom of the fair-play league, it is hypocrisy to criticise the likes of Stoke, Blackburn and co.

Wilshere

On Sunday we face Birmingham in the Mickey Mouse Cup final, they are another team who have tried to bully us in the past, the last thing we need is another game like Wednesday and another load of injuries. Mentally, if our players go into the game worrying about getting injured then there is every chance that we will lose. Going in half heartedly can also lead to more injuries. We must not have any doubts in our mind that if Birmingham park the bus, play long balls over the top or go out to kick us off the park, we can still win. We now have the players capable of winning games like that and should go into the game with NO FEAR!

Discuss the Birmingham game on the goonersworld forum!!!

Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona

First of all, apologies for the lack of match reports recently, I’m sure you won’t mind that this is a little late – it’s always fun to bask in the glory of a game like this, however long ago it was. Let me just refresh your memories.

The media had written us off. The fans had written us off. Managers of other teams had written us off.

Nobody really gave us a chance going into the game against one of the best teams ever, I think it’s fair to say.

However, in the Arsenal camp, among players and fans alike, there was a mood of optimism. Obviously people were nervous too – this was Barçelona we were talking about. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Andres Iniesta.. the list goes on. Nevertheless, people were still in high spirits about the game as we approached the 16th of February. The feeling was that if we put in a performance like against Chelsea, when we beat them 3-1, we were in with a chance.

The team was the same as against Chelsea, other than the goalkeeping position – Wojiech Szczesny played and not Lukasz Fabianski. Oh, and cult hero Emmanuel Eboue stood in for the suspended Bacary Sagna. Luckily we had first choice left back Gael Clichy, who seems to be recovering from a loss of form, to counter the threat of Dani Alves, with Samir Nasri on the left flank to double up against the flying wing back. Although of course there was still the small matter of the world’s best player, Lionel Messi – he has been playing centrally this season, in a “false 9” position like our Robin van Persie, yet still drifted out wide occasionally. Barça’s front line was completed by the mercurial David Villa and rising star Pedro.

Nasri had been categorically ruled out of the game previously, but recovered miraculously from his hamstring injury to face the Catalan giants. This meant Andrey Arshavin had to settle for a place on the bench.

Like in the semi final against Manchester United a couple of years ago, flags were given out pre-kick off, and when the teams came out of the tunnel, the noise was enough to give you goosebumps. We needed an electric atmosphere, and it looked like we had one.

Walcott was our main outlet early on. After four minutes he went past three players, gave the ball to Cesc Fabregas, who chipped a ball into van Persie. However, the red-hot striker slammed his shot at Valdes, who saved. It was a great chance.

Barçelona had been quiet, when suddenly the diminutive Messi sprung the offside trap and sped through on goal. Szczesny stood his ground, and made himself big. Messi waited and waited for Szczesny, then dinked the ball over the goalkeeper. It looked destined for the corner, but it just drifted wide. Huge sighs of relief could be heard, but were covered up by nervous ironic cheers.

Barça continued to press, and Messi went close again. But then, break through for the men in… turquoise. David Villa was slipped through, and looked offside, but tucked away between Szczesny’s legs. It was a great finish, and it turned out Clichy played him just onside.

Barcelona Goal:
Arsenal 0-1 Barçelona
David Villa ’26

Arsenal responded well to the devastating blow we had just recieved. Midfielder Jack Wilshere charged through Barcelona’s midfield, finding the in-form Robin van Persie on the edge of the box, only for his effort to blaze right of Victor Valdes’ goal.

Barçelona then again found the back of Arsenal’s net.

Lionel Messi, who has yet to score away to English opposition, threaded through Pedro, whose shot was saved by Szczesny but the ball found the head of Messi and flew into the Arsenal goal.

Arsenal looked down and out. Until referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle for offside that is.

After the break, Arsenal looked determined to get a result.

We had a chance when Fabregas patiently found Robin van Persie, but the striker’s long-range curler was comfortably caught by Valdes.

Messi found the side netting of Szczesny’s goal, but the second half was all about Arsenal, though we were still one-nil down.
Until the audacity of one of our star players paid off.

A hard-worked one-two between Clichy and Arshavin, (the latter entering the pitch as Alex Song’s replacement), led to Gael dinking the ball to the onrushing Robin van Persie, the Dutchman struck the ball sweetly on the half-volley from an outrageous angle, and Arsenal had their equaliser. Amazing.

Arsenal Goal:
Arsenal 1-1 Barçelona
Robin van Persie ’78

What a bloody goal! Arsenal had shown fantastic resilience to level the score, but, as Arsenal learnt last season, taking a draw to the Nou Camp would make things very difficult.

4 minutes later however, Arsenal had struck again.

Fantastic vision by Fabregas led to Samir Nasri racing down the right wing, his footwork allowed him to hold the ball up for support, before passing across the penalty area for Andrey Arshavin to beautifully curl it past the Barcelona defence.

‘Dream Goal!’

Arsenal Goal:
Arsenal 2-1 Barçelona
Andrey Arshavin ’83

Stunned. Both Barçelona and Arsenal alike.

Sighs of relief after the 4 minutes of added time had ended. A famous victory for the gunners, against the best team in the world.

See you at the Nou Camp, Barça.

Written by Rockin’ Robin Massa of GoonersWorld forums: http://goonersworld.co.uk/forum/

Leyton Orient 1 – 1 Arsenal

After his outstanding performance against Barca (for which I apparently didn’t give him enough credit in my last blog) and already making 31 appearances this season, Laurent Koscielny was allowed some rest and put on the bench for this FA Cup tie. With Johan Djourou also out having hurt his back in the Champions League game, we saw Sebastien Squillaci start at the back. As if this sight wasn’t enough to fill fellow Gooners with dread, his centre back partner was an untested youth player whose hair style led some fans on the Goonersworld forum to liken him to Justin Beeber.

Miquel

Despite his boy band appearance, the 6’4 Ignasi Miquel looked assured on the ball (as you’d expect from someone who had spent five years training with Barca) he also wasn’t easily pushed off the ball and coped well with the physical side of the game. For the 88 minutes in which we didn’t concede the defensive partnership seemed to be doing its job. Unfortunately ‘Orient’s equaliser came as Jonathan Tehoue skipped between the two centre backs and spoilt what had otherwise been a solid defensive performance.

Until then it had looked like a very professional performance from Arsenal, who nearly won the game without ever breaking sweat. Arsenal had most of the play early on and both Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner had chances in the opening five minutes. Andrei Arshavin also seemed to have gained confidence from his match winner in midweek. Arsenal bossed the game in the first half but it was the same old story of plenty of possession and nothing to show for it. Even when half time came and went without a goal, the usual frustration that sets in amongst fans didn’t seem to materialise and just eight minutes into the second half we took the lead through a header from Tomas Rosicky. It is worth noting that the cross came from Nicklas Bendtner, who many (including myself) have stated does not play well in the wide role in which Wenger continues to play him. It was he who crossed for Robin Van Persie to score the third goal in the cup tie against Leeds and maybe Wenger is right to persist in playing Super Nik out wide?

Rosicky and Bendtner

Despite warnings that ‘Orient might still produce a miracle, when Jonathan Tehoue came on with half an hour to go it seemed that the points were already in the bag. Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin both then had chances to further our lead and it looked as if we were still in control of the game. Arsene Wenger did not make any substitutions, the array of talent on the bench which included Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere didn’t appear to be needed. As the 88th minute approached I never really doubted that the game was won. I was about to go to the Goonersworld match day thread and post how impressed I was with Ignasi Miquel when Jonathan Tehoue scored. Whilst our two centre backs could have done better, many questioned whether Wojciech Szczęsny might saved the shot which went underneath Manuel Almunia.

The good news about the defeat is that the second leg might mean that Aaron Ramsey gets some playing time on his return from the loan at Cardiff City. It also means that our reserve players will get another run-out which I doubt that they will get at Old Trafford in the next round. Hopefully Wenger and the players have learnt from the Leyton Orient game that their place in the next round against Manchester United is by no means assured and that there is no room for the complacency that lead to the equaliser on Sunday. The good news is that we are still in the competition and that the quadruple is still on 😉 !!!

Our two youngest players run the show against Barca!

Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny were in my opinion our best two players on Wednesday. In a game where some of the best players in the world were on show, our youngest, most inexperienced players were the best two players on the pitch.

Szczeny came off his line almost Schmeichel like, his arms outstretched, making himself as big as possible (See the following times in the youtube video below 0.37, 1.18, 2.12, 3.25). There were a few one-on-one situations where I’m certain any other of our ‘keepers would have conceded. I have never seen a 20 year old goalkeeper look so composed, so confident, show so much quality. Usually at that age they are still making mistakes and sent out on loan to learn the trade.

In a midfield which contained Fabregas, Xavi and Iniesta, Jack Wilshere bossed it! He really did look the real deal. He looked composed when he had the ball and worked hard when he didn’t have the ball. There were plenty of times where he received the ball in difficult situations but still came out on top.

In the summer Wenger signed two centre backs, everyone was crying out for a goalkeeper. Szczesny seems to be ‘like a new signing’ and it looks like he could be our goalkeeper for the next 15-20 years.

Over the last couple of years there has always been a weak link in midfield. Song and Fabregas were usually joined by Denilson or Diaby or a more attacking midfielder like Nasri or Rosicky. Denilson and Diaby, whilst considered more physical, give the ball away too easily. Nasri and Rosicky are good on the ball, but are forwards, defending doesn’t come natural to them. Jack has it all, whilst long term he will have his eye on Cesc’s role, he is equally as good in the more defensive role that Capello seems keen to play him for England.

There were other noteworthy performances on Wednesday, Van Persie and Arshavin took their goals well and Koscielny has been receiving rave reviews. But for me, on what was a brilliant night for us Gooners, Wilshere and Szczesny stole the show. They have saved Wenger a fortune and are evidence that finally his policy of investing in youth appears to be paying off!!!

Any Chance of a Centre Back?

This blog is a summary of the twists and turns in our supposed search for a centre back. The links are to Goonersworld forum posts and Arsenal.com articles which seem to go daily from suggesting Wenger is searching for a centre back to suggesting that he has decided we don’t need one. Some changes of heart can even be seen on Arsenal.com in separate articles on the same day!!!

Vermaelen's Injury

On the fourth of January Wenger claimed that this January he would only sign a centre back if anyone.  Despite also saying that he would only sign a centre back if Vermaelen suffered a set back, the media jumped on his comments and they were pretty much translated to “I will sign a centre back”. We were linked to the likes of Samba, Mertesacker and Cahill, the type of centre backs I thought we should have signed in the summer!!!

On the ninth of January, an injury to Squillaci added to our concerns. On the tenth and eleventh of January Arsenal.com got our hopes up with articles suggesting that Wenger was looking to sign a centre back, only for Wenger to offer Miquel and Song as possible cover at centre back! Then on the sixteenth of January it was reported that Vermaelen had suffered a setback and was unlikely to be back until March. If Wenger was true to his word then that should have led to the signing of a centre back. Then, a day later, Arsenal.com announced that Vermaelen would be back in February! Call me a cynic, but this sounds like a bit of spin and possibly the club trying to back track when they realised that Wenger might not keep his promise! Wenger himself did more back tracking making statements like English prices are still inflated.
Wenger
On the twenty fourth of January it was reported that Squillaci’s imminent return meant Wenger wasn’t so concerned about signing a CB, before the next day saying that loaning a centre back could be the best option “because what do you do with five centre backs?” The best response to Wenger came from fellow Goonersworld poster CynicalGooner:

“What do you do with 5 centre backs? I don’t know, what do you do with 25 attacking midfielders Arsene my man?”

This is my favourite forum post of the year so far! When he should be looking for a centre back Wenger seemed to be more interested in attacking midfielders with a reported January bid for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a possible summer bid for Eden Hazard. As for the search for a centre back, today Wenger is saying that we can cope without signing one. I’m sticking to my policy of ‘expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed’ when it comes to Wenger and transfer rumours. Any chance of a centre back? Don’t hold your breath!!!

Is a lack of height part of the problem?

Cesc Fabregas said he wasn’t sure if Ipswich’s approach was ‘long ball’ or ‘rugby’. The press quickly picked up on the rugby comparison and this sort of statement from our captain does not help our cause. It wouldn’t wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t concede so many goals from balls over the top, which has been our downfall all season (and for a few seasons before that!) It is a weakness of our team, we can not defend balls over the top, but why?

Fabregas

I am known on the Goonersworld forum for liking tall players, particularly at centre back. Whilst Wenger’s tactics don’t help, I’d say the height of our lack of height throughout the team is a major issue when it comes to defending balls over the top and free kicks/corners. Our centre midfield of Song, Wilshere and Fabregas, out wide with Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin and Rosicky, at full back with Sagna and Clichy we lack height almost everywhere. Even Vermaelen, Koscielny and Squillaci all relatively short for centre backs. Our only height comes from Djourou and whichever player out of Bendtner and Chamakh is starting. I’d say that one of the main reasons that we look better with Djourou in the team is that his height adds something to our defence.

So when it comes to balls over the top, which might usually be met by a header from a centre back, we struggle. When it comes to corners and free kicks, when teams send their giants up, we struggle. We struggled last season with Gallas and Vermaelen, just as we struggled the season before with Gallas and Toure. Neither partnership had the height that I would argue is needed to survive in the Premiership and Wenger’s summer signings failed to address this issue.

Vermaelen’s injury has given Wenger another opportunity to sort this issue out. We have been linked to a number of centre backs who would add height to the squad. Christopher Samba and Per Mertesacker would be top of my wish list, but I’m not holding my breath!

Samba

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0

Arsenal vs Manchester City

One of the more crucial games this season with 2nd vs 3rd at the Emirates. The winner would go further in their title race, catching up with United, while the other would have their title hopes dashed.

Arsenal fielded the same lineup as against Birmingham City where we won 3-0, but this time it’s against tougher opposition, against opponents not battling against relegation but for the title. However it was one that promised goals in the match, and as with Manchester City playing the same type of attacking formation (4-2-3-1) it would not be a surprise if we ended with a high-scoring game.

The chances fell for Arsenal as soon as the ball was rolling. A wild scramble for the ball around City’s box created a chance for Arsenal, who really should have put it away. City went on the counter, Milner going wide, but then it was back to City’s side with Wilshere shooting at Hart, and Van Persie hitting the left post! Wilshere has another chance, and that was all only in the first 10 minutes, where we should had at least a goal or two to show for it.

Arsenal were closing Manchester City down well, with them unable to salvage any good chances, as their midfield was breaking down and therefore they were unable to get to Milner, Jo or Tevez.

After a period in which both teams had chances another move down the left began, seemingly similar to the one where Van Persie hit the post. Fabregas took a touch, venturing inside the box and pulled the trigger.

Hitting the same post with the same passing move. Walcott tried to get it, but also failed to hit the target.

Tevez then started an attack of his own, but his powerful shot isn’t accurate enough and goes wide. Yaya Toure’s chance a minute later was broken down by some almost lucky Arsenal defending, however you could definitely say the same about City.

Back to Arsenal’s possession tactics now. It’s working, at half time Arsenal hold a game controlling 62%, Another chance for Arsenal, a chance to make it 1-0, as Walcott dashes down the right, thinks about going for a shot but doesn’t shoot, and when he does it’s more of a cross and the ball hits De Jong’s arm. De Jong has been booked already, is this a handball???

It wasn’t. Another piece of the jigsaw going wrong for Arsenal as the ball was floated away. It went to Van Persie who tried a curler from long range, finding its target but held safe by Hart. And in the final minute of the first half Tevez shoots a dipper but it’s inaccurate and misses.

The first half created plenty of chances but no goals, and both teams would want one ball in the back of the net instead of ten balls around the net.

Arsenal again started the half well, creating chances through the pacey Walcott and winning corners, hinting that a goal would be on the cards. But however close we came, including a well struck shot far out by Van Persie that was saved by Hart, we couldn’t find a way to venture into their box and get a decent shot in. The absence of Silva and Balotelli was clearly evident as Tevez dropped back, creating a gradual change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-5-1 to 5-5-0.

It was a match to forget, with Manchester City playing defensive, dour, negative football repelling every attack but failing to push forward.
The game went from bad to worse, as after seeming frustration from not getting a goal, Sagna appeared to headbutt Zabaleta. The ref sent them both off, however it was an unfair decision towards Zabaleta, who didn’t appear to make any contact with Sagna at all.

Towards the end of the match, when even Tevez went off for Boateng, a DEFENDER, it was very clear that City were playing for the draw and not anything else. City not deserving of anything in this drawn match, but somehow salvaging a point in a game where on paper both teams were supposed to be attacking and at each other’s goals.

Frustrating? Yes. An anticlimax beyond any expectations, with Manchester City’s negative, ultra defensive play weathering the storm beyond all predictions, including an embarrassing red card at the end of the game finished off one of the boring performances I have ever seen, with 5 shots by City, but with ZERO on target. How that is achieved among a team with such attacking talent I simply do not know.

The real winner at the end of this game was not Arsenal, not Chelsea, not any other team except Manchester United, this draw and with Spurs and Chelsea losing puts the title race more and more into their hands.

Arsenal 3 Birmingham 0

The first match of the New Year was upon us, and Wenger sent out a near- full strength side similar to the one that beat Chelsea 3-1 a handful of days before. We would also want to win this match due to 2 points dropped against Wigan, and in anticipation of the flurry of matches in January- one against Manchester City, the FA Cup 3rd Round against Leeds (which beat Manchester United at the same round last season) and the Carling Cup semis against Ipswich.

As the game began it would be clear that this match would be an interesting affair, especially for Arsenal. Fabregas would be downed with a studs up challenge early on, going down and clutching his ankle in pain. The Arsenal faithful know full well what happened at this ground against the same team with the same type of challenge nearly 3 years ago. There wasn’t much in the first several minutes apart from that challenge, as Walcott stabs wide and an indirect free kick went Arsenal’s way, with Van Persie smashing his shot straight at Foster.

The first goal of the game was controversial, with Van Persie seemingly going down without being touched 20 yards out. He converted his free kick with a deflection, instead going to Foster’s right it went out of his range and into the bottom corner.
A few minutes later Van Persie seemed to have blatantly handballed the ball in his own box, penalty shouts going all over the ground but the referee went his way again waving play on. In this period Fabianski would be troubled with crosses that may have taunted him forcing mistakes in previous seasons but not this time, being firm between the sticks today.

However Van Persie’s luck with the game so far ran out. Just before the half hour mark he wasted a complete sitter in front of goal, and ten minutes later scoops another shot into Foster’s hands, both from 4 yards out. Had they gone in (and they both should have) Arsenal would have been 3-0 up with a hat-trick to Van Persie. Luckily for us though Birmingham did not look potent in front of goal, with them creating chances but with our defense holding strong, and with luck on our side as Johnson misses a really close chance. But the same couldn’t be said of the attack though, with the killer pass just not coming to us.
Half time came with the score 1-0 to Arsenal but with either side able to really gain a foothold in the game.

The second half began with some more wasted chances mostly coming from low crosses or passes into the box, and a great chance by Wilshere was passed up, him blasting a volley over the bar. A good way for him to celebrate his birthday too. Nasri a minute later goes clear but the Birmingham defenders pressure him enough to losing the ball on the edge of the box.

But disappointment from missing good chances finally went away. Nasri traded passes with Fabregas and shot from the edge of the box, resulting in a 2 goal lead to Arsenal. Somehow Arsenal score from nothing but screw up clear cut chances.
A few minutes later another goal cropped up to Arsenal again, this time an own goal from Johnson. After some good passing and fancy footwork from both Fabregas and Nasri Cesc blasted a shot at Foster only for him to spill it to Dann and then to Johnson where the ball trickles in. Almost directly after this Bowyer tries again to injure Sagna, his second attempt too, but with no booking even though he should have been sent off the first time.

Three goals would seemingly be what Arsenal needed today, and we went back to passing round the box, hoping to get lucky sending in passes into the box while the ball gets thumped out again. Birmingham meanwhile looked to have their second defeat at home for the season, knowing that a loss would entrench them 19th on the table with 19 points.

And that was the way it stayed, 3-0 to Arsenal, Zigic having a late chance hitting the crossbar but overall both teams were lucky in a way, Arsenal with their refereeing decisions and Birmingham to not have conceded more and with Bowyer not being on his best behaviour today. The win puts Arsenal third 3 points clear of Chelsea and 2 behind both Manchester clubs.

Confidence, Consistency and Complacency

After being tactically outclassed by Ferguson just before Christmas, I was beginning to wonder if Wenger really knew how to set a team out to win. Our players often go out looking as if the only tactics Wenger provided them with was ‘go out and play your football’. That is fine when your back four are Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn who have been together for years or your forward line include world class players like Henry, Bergkamp and Pires. When your team isn’t full of world class players or experienced winners though, that tactic doesn’t work.

What impressed me with the Chelsea win was that we won the tactical battle. Walcott kept Cole pegged back, Djourou gave us height at the back and dealt with Drogba. For once, it looked as if Wenger had changed the team to suit his opponent. I was beginning to think that the United game had caused him to think a bit harder about tactics. It was commented on the forum that the team against Chelsea was ‘our strongest XI’, it is hard to argue with that, it was certainly the right XI to play against Chelsea.

Walcott vs Cole

With United dropping points against Birmingham the Wigan game became even more important. It was times like these last season, where we had a chance to make ground on our title rivals, where things fell apart. The Chelsea game really had inspired us. Djourou and Walcott, who hadn’t been regular starters both through injuries and through being low in the pecking order, came out of the game full of confidence and I thought they were two players who would definitely start against Wigan. The team that beat Chelsea should have had no problem beating Wigan. Unfortunately, that team didn’t play against Wigan, in fact only three players (Fabianski, Koscielny and Sagna) from that team were selected on Wednesday. On seeing the team selection, I posted “What a daft team selection. I have a bad feeling about this!” on the forum and my fears were confirmed early on as we conceded a penalty.

Wigan game

Dropping Walcott and Djourou who were both on top form and have only started 10 and 7 Premiership games respectively this season was a mistake, they need playing time and to build on their confidence from the Chelsea game. Eboue at left back was another mistake, there will be games when Gibbs returns from injury when Clichy can be rested, until then he must play. Others on the forum have commented how the combination of a right footed left back (Eboue) and a winger who doesn’t know how to defend in front of him was a mistake and that is a logical argument.

Walcott and Djourou

In central midfield, we found out a long time ago that Denilson isn’t good enough to deputise for Song. Neither Diaby nor Rosicky can be relied on for defensive duties, they are both attacking midfielders and we struggled defensively. Song and Wilshere are our only defence minded midfielders, at least one of the two must start in every game IMO. If they both needed resting then one should have been rested on Wednesday and the other on Saturday. This is a position that should have been strengthened in the summer as we still don’t have adequate cover for Song.

Song and Wilshere

With Bendtner and Chamakh up front I thought for a minute we might be playing a 4-4-2 formation, with Rosicky and Arshavin as wingers. I had hoped that after playing as a winger ‘to help his development’, I’d never see Bendtner in that role again. Even on the side of a front three I can’t remember super Nik ever having a good game out wide. He is a target man and that is the only role he should play. I wondered if maybe Chamakh would play out wide as he did for his previous club, but unfortunately it was 4-3-3 and Bendtner was playing on the wing.

Say what you like about the referee or the timing of the substitutions against Wigan, it was our starting eleven that cost us two points! If players needed resting, then rest some on Wednesday and others on Saturday. Don’t make eight changes, we need consistency on the pitch, we need to build the confidence of players like Djourou and Walcott and we need to guard against complacency that can ensue if we put out team selections that suggest we are underestimating our opponents!

Happy New Year

It seems a shame to end the year and the first half of the season on a negative note. There have been so many positives this season, the emergence of Jack Wilshere, our more physical approach to games, still competing in all competitions and being two points off the top of the table despite already playing away games to our three main title rivals (yes, I’m including Citeh who we beat 3-0 at their place). Don’t forget we have been without our main striker (RVP) and best defender (Vermaelen) for most of the first half of the season. Hopefully when the business end of the season comes around, RVP will be in his best form and Vermaelen will be back to sure up the defence. I wonder if there might be some additions in January, there look to be a few fringe players on the way out (possibly Nordveit, Denilson and Vela). Anyhow, happy new year everyone, here’s hoping 2011 brings some silverware!!!

Arsenal 2 Wigan 2

After beating Chelsea 3-1 at the Emirates a two days earlier and with Wigan languishing around the relegation zone on paper before the match it looked like another win for Arsenal.

But when the line-ups were made public there was a sigh going around, half our first team from the Chelsea clash was dropped for basically a must-win game, even against Wigan. The DW Stadium is a bit of a graveyard for the so called ‘Big Four’, as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool had lost here last season but things looked to change this time around. Wigan also had not lost at home for 3 months, so history was well and truly against Arsenal.

Arsenal in essence played a 4-2-3-1 that had been doing well for them throughout the season including the win against Chelsea, but this time Diaby, Denilson and Rosicky had the main midfield roles, with Arshavin and Bendtner playing in wider positions- completely different from the start of the Chelsea game.

Arsenal didn’t start well, and I have to say the same for Wigan. Defensive errors were part of Arsenal’s defense in the opening minutes, with Rodallega coming close and Arshavin for Arsenal. Wigan launched successful counter attacks while Arsenal couldn’t even venture into the final third, hinting that Wigan would be the first to score.
They were. Arsenal gave away a controversial penalty maybe just on the edge of the box, maybe on the line, and Foster was to take it. He buried it into the bottom left corner, 1-0 to Wigan and Arsenal hadn’t even started yet.

This game had very few highlights throughout, with many shots going astray and not troubling the goalkeepers, and it was really not a match to remember. Arsenal didn’t really pick up following the goal conceded and the final result didn’t look promising, as we couldn’t venture into Wigan’s final third and create clear cut chances. Diaby was injured half way through the half and was substituted on for Wilshere.

But as with Arsenal, things are never as it seems. Chamakh went down the right, rolled it to Bendtner who shot, and was saved by the keeper. However the move wasn’t finished, Arshavin attempted an acrobatic volley to score the equalizer on the 40th minute mark.

Arshavin’s magic run wasn’t finished yet however, as minutes later an energised Arsenal scored again through Bendtner, who was assisted by Arshavin and Lady Luck, guiding the ball through for Arsenal to retain the lead at half time.

After half time we would expect the same but it wasn’t to be. Chamakh had a good chance but that was about as far as it went, Arsenal seemingly only having 5 minutes of magic and the rest minutes of dullness. The passing was too risky as the one touch passes kept going astray and giving Wigan chances to score again. Arshavin had the chance to score again but his shot was well saved by Al-Habsi who quickly dove to his right to deny the Russian. Wigan had chances through N’Zogbia, who was later shown a red card for headbutting Wilshere; it looked nearly the same as the Zidane headbutt 4 years prior and we hoped that with this red Wigan would have lost some firepower up front and would not score.

With 10 minutes to go the game was uncertain as ever, and Wigan got a corner. The ball was floated wide, headed back into the centre and Squillaci’s head was pushed onto the ball by the Wigan man into the goal. 2-2 a piece, and with 10 minutes to go against an Arsenal that only looked lively for 5 minutes.

Arsenal the realised that we could drop points against a team battling against relegation and we had some close chances that went wide, mostly through desperation. Wenger finally came to his senses and subbed on Nasri and Walcott just after Wigan scored (and not earlier) but the goal many were hoping for didn’t arrive, the Arsenal goal train didn’t stop at the 90th minute.

We were hoping for a result to push us second and compete with United at the New Year, but it hasn’t happened. We were hoping for points to keeper Wigan in the relegation zone and move further away from Chelsea in decline, but that hasn’t happened. We were hoping for Wenger to show some sense, but that hasn’t happened. And we were hoping for a good performance from our players, and that hasn’t happened.

As it stands, Arsenal are third and Wigan are 16th. Not the result that we would want to carry on from beating Chelsea at all, as the trend of inconsistency in the Premier League continues.