Arsenal Hits Chelsea For 5

October 30, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

Robin van Persie now has nine goals in five matches.

Mindblowingly awesome.

I speak of course of the massive and totally unexpected Arsenal 5-3 away victory over Chelsea on Saturday. Chelsea had not lost a game at home this season. Arsenal found itself racking up its worst string of away results since 1992. But the stat junkies must now officially hit reset. And update Robin van Persie’s tallies for 2011 to 28 goals in 27 matches. He has notched 9 in the last 5 and he just scored the second hat trick of his career.

Every match is about scoring more goals than the other team, but the Stamford Bridge showdown took it to another level. The players celebrated afterwards as if they’d just won the domestic treble. And though it was just one game, three points like any other, I felt exactly the same, staring at the TV in disbelief. In recent memory, only the 2-1 victory over Barcelona last spring and last December’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea compare in terms of sheer jubilation.

When I ended the match preview on Thursday with, “Van Persie has scored six goals in the last four league games. Hopefully he’s saved a few for the Blues.” I never thought anything like a hat trick possible. Or John Terry tripping himself and faceplanting from out of nowhere to set up the easiest goal van Persie will ever score. Terry is innocent until proven guilty, and the allegations of a racial slur against Anton Ferdinand are yet still allegations, but you have to imagine the brothers Ferdinand will save that match on the DVR for months to come. I wouldn’t mind looping that clip into a continuous play video myself.

In fairness, Chelsea did not play their best match. As expected, both defenses lacked solidity and leaked goals. If not apparent before, Mourinho has truly left the building, even though many of the old guard remain. As with Arsenal, Chelsea’s game plan mandates scoring more than they concede, because they look ever ready to concede.

Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and of course van Persie had outstanding performances. For the opposition, Juan Mata played excellently for the Blues. He is very much the one who got away. Linebacker Romelu Lukaku opted for a different approach, that of launching an NFL tackle on Andre Santos. Interesting tactic, and apparently not card-worthy in the eyes of the official.

Fernando Torres, the £50 million man, did nothing, and I mean nothing, of any consequence whatsoever on the pitch. He did catch a point-blank ball to the face, though, which was fun to watch. At Liverpool, he was incredible. Those days seem increasingly long ago.

Santos had a terrible first half, but he emerged from the tunnel a new man in the second. He defended much more effectively and scored his second goal in seven games with Arsenal. To compare to a recently departed Arsenal left back, Gael Clichy scored 2 goals in his 8 years at Arsenal. Just saying.

The team unity at the final whistle was a great sight to see. Thomas Vermaelen, Gervinho, Arteta and Santos looked ecstatic. And van Persie, for all the speculation of his moving on to pastures greener, looked a happy Gunner. After the match. Chelsea supporters called Yossi Benayoun “Judas” for complimenting his current loan club on the victory over his home club. One wonders if the hecklers considered the Israeli irony of it all… Yossi, you can kick it with us. Forget about the boo boys in Blue.

I would venture that the team has still not “turned a corner,” but Arsenal definitely took another step in the right direction. Eight in nine, now. Of course, Arsenal drew Manchester City for the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup on Saturday, so we might be out of that competition quite soon, but one step at a time.

Tottenham, third is now yours for the taking.


Arsenal: From Bolton to the Bridge

October 27, 2011 — by Rob Kirby2


Arsenal travels to West London for the early match on Saturday to face off against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (7:30AM EST on ESPN2). It’s the sternest test since the desperately needed improvement of late, and the result will reveal whether the team has finally shaken the pernicious monkey off its back or if the Red and Whites really are a defensive shambles with only one dependable goalscorer.

Van Persie has scored six goals in the last four league games. Perhaps a few left in the tank for Stamford Bridge?

It’s not a make-or-break match, per se, but the result carries more weight than simply three points. Arsenal has finally cobbled together a string of results in the league, in Europe and most recently in the Carling Cup, but all that could soon come to a screeching halt. Most people are expecting to hear that ear-splitting screech. However, if Arsenal can emerge with a draw or perhaps lose but put in a convincing performance, things really could be looking up. A win would cause half of North London to flip out, undoubtedly, but at some point one needs to be realistic.

To start with the positives, Arsenal top their Champions League group at the midway point and have only Olympiakos away, with Dortmund and Marseille set to travel to the Emirates, where Arsenal has racked up the majority of its wins. The team has clawed its way to seventh place after an abysmal start to the season (1-1-3). Robin van Persie is still far and away to go-to man for goals, but Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin have started scoring a few themselves, in addition to some excellent assists. Gervinho played an outstanding match against Stoke, involved in all three goals, scoring the first off an incredible chip from Ramsey. Meanwhile, many positives emerged in the 2-1 Carling Cup win over Bolton on Tuesday. Of which more right now.

For starters, Thomas Vermaelen captained the side on his long-awaited return. Steely-eyed and solid as ever, he commanded his area as if he never left. His recovery means that all the center halves are again fit. It’s surreal to even write that. As any statistician knows, the last time Arsenal had all its center halves fit is a month and year that does not translate in modern alphanumerics. Heady times. Even backup center halves Ignasi Miquel and Sébastien Squillaci are fit (both of whom played Tuesday, and Squillaci wasn’t even half bad for once).

After the match, news broke that Vermaelen may have suffered a calf injury. Cue Bacary Sagna leg-break despair. But then he declared himself fit again (rejoice!), which could put him in the frame for Chelsea. One would forecast the bench as his most likely destination, with the Mertesacker-Koscielny axis in good working order at present, and rested. But Vermaelen is our best defender, and Chelsea away is when you’d like to have your best defenders. It would also free up Laurent Koscielny for right back. Wenger definitely has some decisions to make.


Underdog Arsenal Match Report: Tail Between Legs

October 2, 2011 — by Rob Kirby


If you write an optimistic match preview and it just doesn’t pan out, it’s never fun writing the post-match report. Such are the perils of wishful thinking. You have to walk back to the discussion with tail firmly between legs, no one’s fault but your own.

Kyle Walker proves the match winner.

Put simply, Tottenham earned the 2-1 win today, not only because Arsenal’s defense was again found lacking but because the attack didn’t have nearly enough attack in it. Van Persie didn’t get adequate service, Walcott, Gervinho and Arshavin were flat, and the midfield opposition repeatedly outmatched Arteta and Ramsey.

That said, as much as it’ll make a bad week for any interactions with Tottenham supporters, it was no mauling. At 1-1, losing was not a foregone conclusion. Tottenham were the better team on the day, but one would hardly herald them as the new Barcelona. As for individual or collective errors, none came close to catastrophic shake-one’s-head moments on the order of calamities past.

On the positive side, Song, Szczesny and Coquelin all acquitted themselves well. Before a month ago, few Gunners would even have recognized the last name in that trio, but the Academy product never looked inexperienced or out of his depth. In Song, Frimpong and Coquelin, we have three solid defensive midfielders, all brought through the ranks of the youth system. And during a time when we only have one fit central defender, Song slotted in seamlessly and didn’t look like a man played out of position.

Ramsey did not quite resemble the crafty creative midfielder who captains Wales, but he scored well, although Song deserves the majority of the credit for a point-perfect cross.

Arteta’s pace underwhelmed and he stayed pretty anonymous, but I chalk it up to an off day. I saw nothing that for me spelled doom, in his performance or anyone else’s. If one compares today’s match to those against Manchester United, Blackburn or Newcastle, one has to admit improvement, even if the failings are all too familiar and continue to rankle.

Going forward, I would really like to see van Persie partnered up front in a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1, however you choose to call it). Not saying forever ditch the 4-3-3, but switch it up more.

I understand Wenger’s decision not to play Oxlade-Chamberlain or Miyaichi in a contentious away match like the North London derby, but I’d like to see more of them, and Park as well. When Walcott, Gervinho and Arshavin look flat on the day, bring out youth wingers with speed.

Overall, losing (particularly to Tottenham) is a total drag, and not at all what the team needed, but compared to some of the disappointments of the recent past, it’s not the end of the world. Seeing Sagna stretchered off the pitch, to me, was far and away the true casualty of the day. Arsenal can bounce back. Arsenal will bounce back. (Delusions sometimes never die.)

And Adebayor didn’t score, so prediction wrong on that count. Plus, he comported himself well. All things considered, this is an incarnation of the lanky one I can deal with.




Coach Larry Previews Barcenal vs Arselona

February 16, 2011 — by Larry

Firstly, from the Xavi interview, speaking about Spain, but easily parallels Barça:

“Paraguay? What did they do? Built a spectacularly good defensive system and waited for chances – from dead balls. Up it goes, rebound, loose ball. It’s harder than people realise when you’ve got a guy behind you who’s two metres tall and right on top of you.”

I think we all know that Arsenal totally incapable of playing like Paraguay.  Also from Xavi: “But now I see Arsenal and Villarreal and they play like us.” That said, certainly Wilshere’s remarks about “getting nasty” indicate a plan, though Xavi suggests an alternate route, “Yes, but this year they’re much better. I think it’s a disadvantage for us that we played last year. They had [too] much respect for us. It was as if they let us have the ball.” So keeping the ball, Arsenal’s preferred routine in Engerland, would do them better according to one of their opponent’s key players.

Realistically, of course, given Nasri’s injury especially, we know both Song and Wilshere will play. In fact, there is little reason to suspect a different line-up than the one that played against Wolves on Saturday (which was, including substitutions: Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Alexandre Song, Jack Wilshere (Pereira Neves Denilson, 77), Andrey Arshavin (Marouane Chamakh, 72), Robin van Persie (Nicklas Bendtner, 72)).

Koscielny and Djourou will have their hands full with Pedro and Villa, but the Gunners must rely on those two as Song, Wilshere, and even Fabregas must neutralize the trinity of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. Clichy, of course, must await Alves at his front. Arsenal should consider assigning Wilshere to Messi always and everywhere. Now if Pique decides to get in the mix from the back, van Persie will struggle to help, but at least that places the ball much farther back in the formation. Little will matter if Arsenal’s third-string keeper can’t handle free kicks.

Barça’s shape does provide some opportunity. Sagna must take every chance to get forward and exploit the absence of a true winger on that side. Naturally, this will help push Arshavin forward to provide a link and partner to RvP. What, isn’t that Walcott’s side? Well, certainly, the two have switched flanks, allowing Walcott all the room Alves has vacated, particularly if Wilshere and Song can lay some longer diagonals in front of him.

Should be an interesting match despite every commentator essentially writing off Arsenal since the draw.


Weekend Highlight Reel: Arsenal Blow a 4-Goal Lead; Joey Barton Still a Thug

February 8, 2011 — by Suman

Cheik Tioté: From the Ivory Coast to Belgium to Newcastle Hero

The much-hyped Chelsea-Liverpool game Sunday of course didn’t live up to the hype (a surprising but desultory 1-0 victory for Liverpool)–but there was a bunch of exciting action over the weekend. Let’s start with Arsenal visiting Newcastle.

The Gunners scored 3 goals in the first ten minutes against Newcastle (Walcott 1′, Djourou 3′, van Persie 10′), added a 4th in the 26th minute (RVP again), and held that 4-0 lead until the 68th minute–and subsequently collapsed to end the game 4-4. Newcastle was sparked by not one but two penalties in their favor, both converted by Joey Barton–who also helped Newcastle gain a man-advantage for nearly the entire second half.

Sean called it back in August: Joey Barton is a cheap thug.  Barton’s vicious tackle on Abou Diaby early in the 2nd half led the Ivorian Frenchman to retaliate with a throwdown, which of course got Diaby a straight red (Diaby was filling in for an injured Alex Song).

That said, Newcastle’s 4th goal was especially impressive–a volley by 24-year-old Ivorian midfielder Cheik Tioté in the 87th minute.  Tioté arrived in Newcastle this summer after winning the Eredivisie title with FC Twente and playing for the Ivory Coast in the World Cup (see the Guardian’s Saturday interview from last October: “I miss Africa but Newcastle is perfect for me“.

Here is a game report, and here is video (always lucky when we get a BBC MoTD clip on footytube–watch the match highlights followed by some in-studio match analysis by Gary Lineker et al):

As usual, we solicited the thoughts of our favorite Gunners fans in the Rockies:

The Newcastle game might be a classic for the neutrals. Apparently no EPL team has ever surrendured a 4-0 lead. It was a lesson in sports-psychology. (I’ve been there, my own emotions led to the St. Xavier brawl! HA!)

Gunners: still young, emotional, and needing leadership. But they’re hardening their skin, and taking less and less shit from opponents. I hope for great things in the next 2-5 years…

I wasn’t that upset, I chuckled a few times as Arsenal folded. But they gained a point on Man Utd, and Abou Diaby did his best to put Joey Barton in his place. Pushing Barton’s head toward the pitch is worth a red and a point, eh?


Arsenal Advances in the FA Cup

January 20, 2011 — by Suman

In case you missed it, watch the highlights of Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Leeds yesterday, in a FA Cup replay (following the 1-1 draw a couple weeks ago). All four goals are worth watching: the first goes from Chamakh to Arshavin to Nasri in 5′; then crackers by Sagna & Bradley Johnson which made the score 2-0 and then 2-1; and then finally late in the 2nd half, after Wenger was forced to bring on Fabregas and Robin van Persie, the latter scored with a header off a great cross by Bendtner (didn’t think we’d ever have occasion to write those last few words).

We’ve been having some discussions about Arsenal’s optimal starting lineup, sparked by this post by Coach Larry–in particular his inclusion of Jack Wilshere among his list of “Players who if they play too much kill their chances” (along with Denilson and Bendnter btw).

Now young Jack Wilshere has been among the most lauded players in the Premier League this season, and he has been in Wenger’s top XI all season, as one of the 2 holding midfielders alongside Alex Song in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1.

The “3-1” part of the starting XI has been under discussion as well: Nasri and Fabregas are given; Arshavin (on the other wing opposite Nasri) and Chamakh (up front) rounded out the starting XI for the first couple months of the season, but with Arshavin losing form, Walcott coming on strong, and van Persie coming back from injury, the ideal front four has been part of the discussion too.

Larry’s argument re Wilshere:

My contention is he represents a non-ideal Arsenal formation.  Song is a better tackler and reader of the game, Nasri, RVP, and Cesc all far superior in distribution and possession.  I’d prefer to play Chamakh up top as he adds an extra dimension in the air others not named Bendtner can offer.  Arsenal are so good at holding the ball, they just don’t need to have 2 ball winners in the center.  I do like how Wilshere and Song work together, especially in their flexibility to cover one another, but ultimately, they’d be better served with more pure attack so they can turn their dominance into more goals.  And, hey, you never know when Arshavin will return from his moon pod.

Leeds v Arsenal, 19 Jan 2010 (via

In sum: take Wilshere off and replace him with Chamakh as a striker up front, meaning Arsenal would be playing a 4-1-4-1 (RVP pulled back from his usual striker position into a 4-man midfield: van Persie and Fabregas in the center (which is attractive), and Nasri and either Walcott or Arshavin on the wings.  More explanation from Larry: “It has the beauty of adding an actual shooter/scorer to the very top of their formation [Chamakh], plus RVP should be able to find a couple of spaces underneath, so he can create some shooting lanes for himself, instead of having a defender right on his hip.  And for when he gets injured, Nasri is more than capable of sliding inside.”

For reference, Arsenal’s starting lineup for this FA Cup match v Leeds was as follows is shown to the right (courtesy of ZonalMarking–click thru on the image for their analysis of the match).  Wenger was forced to bring on van Persie and Fabregas for Chamakh and Arshavin in the 2nd half


Quarterfinalists News Roundup: Elano, van Persie, Forlan

July 1, 2010 — by Suman2

Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng: "Let's set those records!"

As we eagerly await the resumption of play with tomorrow’s two quarterfinal matches (Brazil vs. Holland in the early game, Uruguay vs Ghana in the late game), here are a few links with the some news on each side:

Brazil’s Elano will miss tomorrow’s game due to an ankle injury–and may be done for the tournament;

Robin van Persie’s petulance causes yet more rumblings of strife within the Dutch camp;

Off the Post blog posts a handful of clips from Diego Forlan’s WC video diary;

and from, “Top Five Records Ghana Will Set If They Beat Uruguay.”