Champions LeagueEngland

Milan Embarrass Arsenal

February 16, 2012 — by Sean


A slow, tentative Arsenal team visited Milan in Champions League knock-out play yesterday, and by god were their frailties exposed. Milan ended 4-o winners on the night, and that was a kind scoreline to the Londoners. Milan, far from the best squad they’ve ever had, abused Arsenal’s weak defense, and if Pato and Nocerino had been more composed it could have easily been six goals to the rossoneri.

Milan is not exactly impressive. They don’t seem that inspired in their build up play. Most times they try and bypass the midfield with a lob to Ibrahimovich, hoping the big Swede can bring the ball down and hold it until reinforcements arrive. Last night, it worked – a lot.Whenever he gets the ball it just feels confusing. He’s a big, weird looking, lanky guy with enormous feet. He’s fast, technical and can score, but none of it seems like it should ever happen because he’s just so strangely constructed. His weird little mustache and ponytail give the impression of a sideshow magician, and maybe that’s what he is, an oddly proportioned freak with just enough magic to befuddle defenders.

Ibra has taken flack over the years for his lack of scoring in Champions League play, and last night was no different, except he was playing a team with an incredibly porous defense who let him run the channels at will and spray passes all around the attacking third. He was supported by Boateng, who played well enough but never really seems fully in control of his body. When Boateng gets the ball you don’t think, “oh he’s going to unlock the defense this time.” Robinho was similarly uninspired, even though he put two goals past Szczęsny.

Still, Arsenal’s defense was just so poor. So, so poor. It didn’t matter that Milan aren’t a giant this year. The marking was poor, the high line they play just invites a ball over the top and a rush to goal (which they can’t handle),and then there’s Johan Djourou. This guy has no business being on the field. If he was a true talent, wouldn’t he have been in Africa with the rest of the Côte d’Ivoire team, losing to Zambia? No, he’s playing in the Champions League away to Milan – a team that has won seven European championships to Arsenal’s zero.

Milan’s defense never had to deal with any serious challenges. And Arsenal’s bread-and-butter – their wing play – was severely negated by both their lack of passion and the terrible condition of the pitch. Seriously, the field looked like a polo match had been played on it the day before. The wings, in particular, were chewed up. No coincidence perhaps that Milan play a compact diamond in the center of the field with very little wing play, while Arsenal spend most of their time advancing the ball up the wings. But yesterday I can’t even remember seeing Sagna or Gibbs bomb forward, and it wasn’t until the introduction of Oxlade-Chamberlain that Arsenal made their way down the left flank.

In the end, I never thought Arsenal were going to win that game, but I didn’t think they were going to be humiliated. But they were, and by a Milan team that is just not very good. Arsenal will probably win 2-0 in London, but it won’t be enough. Considering Milan went out at this stage of the competition the last three years, they were lucky to meet such a week side in the round of sixteen.


The Pragmatist’s Arsenal (glass half-full version)

July 8, 2011 — by Sean

We’d like to thank Rob Kirby, one of our many Arsenal-supporting field agents, for the following take on Arsenal’s “imminent” demise.

Don't look back.

The football media establishment says that Arsenal is out of the title race even before anything’s begun. With the imminent exits of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri (on the heels of the £7M Manchester City signing of left back Gael Clichy), pundits have already decided the Arsenal season is done, dead and buried. Supporters, angry over last season’s utter capitulation, are screaming for Wenger’s head, seeing big names go but none coming in.

For the past two transfer windows, everyone was in agreement. We needed a quality goalkeeper, a rock-solid central defender (or two) and a defensive midfielder as backup and competition to Song. And for the past two transfer windows, we got none of them. And now we need a left back and two attacking midfielders, as well? That’s over half the starting XI!

Reality check:

On the GK-side, Szczesny emerged as a badass last season (regrettable Carling Cup fiasco aside). And even Fabianski showed he wasn’t contractually obligated to suck all the time.

Vermaelan, our first choice center half, spent the entire year injured. But now he’s back. Koscielny enters his second season in the league, better adjusted now to the physicality of the Premiership. Meanwhile, Wenger truly seems be on the reinforcements track this time around. (Perhaps someone will even deliver us from Squillaci, while they’re giving us the upgrade…)

The loss of Fabregas can’t be understated, but it’s been a long time coming. Thankfully, Wilshere had a full season to play beside him and learn from one of the masters. And not only did Song put in a solid shift, adding goal-scoring to his bag of tricks, his body seems largely immune to the team’s uber-susceptibility to injury.

But no one chooses to focus on that. It doesn’t sell papers, and if there’s one thing publishing papersellers like, it’s paper sales. So Fleet Street shrieks with the histrionics and the exclamation points. Doomsayers insist that the exit of three players, all of whom have been tipped to leave from the past six months (Nasri, Clichy) to 2 years ago (Cesc), spells the end of the Arsenal Top Four dynasty, not to mention any title aspirations. And wait, crap, Arshavin may go, too! Not to mention the players the club wants to let go: Denilson, Diaby, Almunia, Eboue, Squillaci, Bendtner and Rosicky. It’s an exodus of mass proportions! Forget Champions League, we’ll be battling relegation!

Get real.


10 Men Arsenal Advance to FA Cup 5th Round

January 31, 2011 — by Tyler1

A nail-biter at the Emirates yesterday left our resident Gunners enthusiast in a giddy state. If Nasri hadn’t gone down (he looks unlikely for the clash with Barça mid-month), this would’ve been an almost perfect day for our friend from the Rockies.

Arsenal snatched a win at the death, but Nasri was sacrificed to the hamstring gods.

What a struggle, what a game.

Facing Huddersfield at home in Sunday’s 4th-round FA Cup tie, Arsenal showed that when healthy, they can field a tourney-worthy team comprised mostly of subs.

Arsenal are often so pretty, but Sunday they showed that a win is a win, no matter how ugly.

An aside: Arsenal really have nearly enough quality players to play 2 in every position. I honestly don’t think any team in the EPL, other than ManU and Tottenham, are that deep. Okay, okay, ManCity might be the deepest… but aren’t they still a work-in progress? (I think Arsenal has a deeper bench than ManU, but ManU maintains the mystique, the ‘killer instinct’.)

Arsenal still need help at center-back, and they could use some ‘pure’ wingers. Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Bendtner aren’t wingers… they are best-suited for and would prefer to play in the middle. The Gunners’ best wingers continue to be their starting fullbacks, Clichy and Sagna.

Arsenal played with 10 men for the entire 2nd half, thanks to what I believe was center-back Squillaci’s 3rd red card of the season. (Sebastian is proving to be quite the problem child!) Huddersfield came on strong in the 2nd half, negating Bendtner’s 1st-half deflected goal. But late in the game, Cesc arrived on the scene. Fabregas changed the game with just a couple effortless, efficient passes, and he won it with his late penalty.

Unsung heroes: I can boo-hoo Arshavin and Bendtner as much as anyone. But they’re both better players than we give them credit for, and they had pivotal roles in today’s game.

Bendtner scored the first goal of the match, and he even tracked back to defend once in a while!

Arshavin impressed me with his effort and desire, but his finishing continues to go missing. So many wasted chances in the box… Still, I can’t be mad at the diminutive opera-goer; a favorite moment for me today was when the Russian sprinted back to break up play inside the Gunners’ penalty box, throwing himself in front of the ball.

(Arshavin better be ready to shine for the next few games, as Nasri is most certainly out of action for 2-4 weeks. Just when the team was nearing full-fitness for the first time in so long… Why Samir, why???)

I was happy to see Rosicky’s leadership on the pitch, subbed after Nasri pulled his hammy. Tomas was brought down too easily, so many times, but he was vocal and inspiring, and he showed that he still has some creativity in him yet.

All in all it was a scrappy win. The Gunners’ “second team” obviously hasn’t had too many chances to play together as starters. They misplaced their passes, they had defensive lapses, they eeked out a win when they should have cruised.

2-1 is what matters. On to the 5th round…

Arsenal note-worthies:

• GK Almunia (aluminum?) returned from injury and made a crucial save. Thanks Manuel, but I still don’t trust you as the number one #1.
• Denilson and Gibbs’ lack of playing time hurt the squad today.
• Welcome back, Abou Diaby!!! (One of France’s 2010 WC standouts holds the ball like it’s a magnet; he can defend and attack and give Song a run for his money.)
• Alex Song, what an anchor. He came on in the 2nd half, in the role of center-back, and he was just as composed as ever.


Arsenal Defeat Chelsea – Van Persie Still Douchey

December 28, 2010 — by amy1

A must-win game for both sides today with the teams jockeying tentatively for the first half hour. Neither side could settle into rhythm, and ten minutes on it looked that Arsenal were bending, a team on the brink of panic, clearing poorly and unable to hold the ball in attack. Chelsea were countering quickly, and though they held less possession it seemed like Drogba might make something happen all on his own.

It would have to be on his own too, as the Ivorian was isolated from a lagging Frank Lampard (who was not quite in sync with the team on his first game back from injury), while Malouda and Kalou were ineffectual up the wings. Even Cole, who always wants to remind the Gooners of what they’re missing, was held in check by a not-so-baby-faced-anymore Sagna. But the Blues’ defense was solid in the first third of the game, retracting into a shell and forcing Wegner’s men to pass the ball around the periphery, or neatly stepping into long passes and turning the ball upfield through the Bison.

Then Arsenal turned the tables. Walcott, who had been the most nervous of a visibly nervous Arsenal side, got a few lucky bounces to start the twist, and when Ashley Cole picked up a yellow and had to play more cautiously, Theo appropriately took the game to him. On the left Nasri was at work holding possession, making small passes and pushing the point, and up top there was Van Persie, back in a starter’s role and causing a bit of a rift across the Cult Football intranet. While we agree on the match in nearly all ways, co-author Amy Kahmille and I don’t see eye to eye on Van Persie, then we chatted during rest of the match:

Amy: Those last few minutes of the first was the turn around for the Gunners, albeit without the help of the striker van Persie, who to me does nothing in most matches, this one being no different. I was  happy to see him subbed out in the 75th minute but would have been happier to see him go sooner. If Drogba were in van Persie’s position, Arsenal would really have something up top. Instead it has someone who stands around offside, misses shots at close range, touches the ball maybe three times the entire game, doesn’t play defense even when he does get back behind the ball, and when he does check-to doesn’t demand the ball to make something actually happen, and most importantly, loves to foul!

Sean: Van Persie did miss that lofted pass that gently floated in front of his favored left foot a few minutes in, and that is exactly the kind of goal Drogba lives on, but I think he moved pretty well when he came to the ball if not while trying to split the center backs. He doesn’t have the physical presence of Chamakh, but his touch is so much better, and he’s really quick. He’s just not back up to speed after his injury – guess you could say that about players on both teams.