Fabregas needs to grab the opportunities against Man Utd. Champions League Build-up

Ahead of the game against Man Utd at OT on Tuesday the press have been setting the stage for what everyone expects to be a Champions League classic.

United are going to be up for the game and they have experience in these matters. Meanwhile Arsenal only have 3 players remaining from the squad that took us to the 2006 Final just 3 years ago.

That in itself shows you just what transistion the team is going through. I think the experience of the last two years has been invaluble, but our opponents have the advantage in their steady squad.

Vidic knows how to stop us – He says that the key will be stopping us scoring. This is no mean feat as we have been scoring freely recently and Man Utd have started to concede reguarly.

I can’t see the game being goalless, and Wenger will know our best chance is to attack. But their defence is still decent and we will have to be at our best because as Scholes says:

“We don’t really care how good it is to watch or how much pretty football is played, as long as we get to Rome.

“We are looking forward to the challenge [but] I don’t know how much of a spectacle it will be.”

I think the game will be exciting, but it may be a little tense in the first half. All we need is an away goal and we have a massive advantage.

Fabregas’ leadership will be a key factor in the game:

“It doesn’t get much bigger than a semi-final against Manchester United”

“When English teams face each other in the Champions League it can look like a domestic of a League Cup match that Arsenal’s in a European game, but we need to realise it is not like that and we just want to be in the final again.”

Even Flamini is supporting us, you can read his interview on the BBC:

“They deserve success because they have worked so hard and have great quality – I feel they are capable of big things.

If we can keep the defence reasonbly tight against Man Utd’s fluidity up front, and keep possession then the game will be very even. We have had good results against United in recent years, and it can be maintained, but we are the underdogs tomorrow.

More to follow ahead of the game.

Arsenal 3 – 0 Villarreal (4 – 1 agg.) Through to the semis!

Arsenal 3 – 0 Villarreal: Walcott 10, Adebayor 60, Van Persie 69 pen. Highlights from Arsenalist.com

I’ve just returned from a glorious Arsenal win against Villarreal. Three goals, and it could have been a lot more the way we were playing!

Image courtesy of wonker

Walcott’s goal after 10 minutes was sublime, a Cesc backheel fooled the defence and Walcott lobbed the onrushing Lopez. I thought it was going out until I saw the back of the net ripple.

Wenger on Walcott:

“We know he can finish but now he is transferring that to the games. His level of confidence has gone up”

The game progressed well and we passed it around nicely. Defensively Toure and Silvestre looked solid in the centre. Gibbs looked alright, although he wasn’t seriously tested, and Eboue did well. In midfield Song was solid, as were the attacking Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott.

We were first to every ball and RVP was back to his best, battling to win the ball and laying it off for Adebayor – his amazing pass set Ade up for his 9th CL goal in as many games.

The final goal was from a penalty, which at the time I thought looked like a foul on Walcott, but seeing the TV replays it seems there wasn’t contact – Theo tripped on the ball. In any case the goal was deserved, and Van Persie put it away – Adebayor and Eboue got him to do their little dance cameo in celebration.

The atmosphere was very good, and it was nice to hear Robert Pires get a standing ovation several times during the match, and at the end of the game, this was his goodbye to the Arsenal fans.

We now face Man Utd in the Semi’s after their 1-0 win over Porto in Portugal from Ronaldo’s 40 yard strike. Wenger commented:

“I would not like speculate on any weakness of Man United. They will be strong on the day, but it should encourage us to be at our best”

It’s going to be an interesting run in – we now face Chelsea twice and Man Utd at least three times in League and Cup competitions combined. Our form is excellent – but this is a huge challenge for the Arsenal team. Their chance to prove themselves is now.

Arsenal – Villarreal: Our best chance since 2006

Arsenal – Villarreal. Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg (1-1). Ashburton Grove. 19:45pm

We play Villarreal tonight in what is arguably the most important trophy this season. After the poor start to the season we have created something out of the ashes – we still may end up with nothing, but a win over Villarreal tonight will put us through to a semi final against Man Utd or Porto.

Wenger has been talking about the mental strength of the side all year and tonight we have to prove it. In defence we are missing Clichy, Gallas, Djourou and Almunia, we looked weak in the first half against Wigan – but we will be up for the game tonight no doubt. Villarreal have also lost players to injury – Senna and Santi Cazorla, and wingers Cani and Mati Fernandez are possibly out too.

This team likes the big occasions the most and tonight Villarreal have to score – so the game will be open – another positive for Arsenal.

Wenger’s Pre-match interview|Comment

Adebayor commented:

“We did everything last season to achieve things and for me it is a little bit of luck in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Liverpool last season that knocked us out,”

“This season we have the chance to do it and just have to take our chances.

“If you want to be a big club, of course you have to win things, which is normal.”

This is a knock-out competition so we have to take our chances, we have the advantage, but it will be hard work. I’m going to be very disappointed if we don’t make it through. We aren’t the strongest contentders for the CL this year, but we do have an outside chance.

We are currently unbeaten in 23 CL matches at home and have kept clean sheets in our last 4 CL home games, but of course form means nothing tonight.

I’m leaving for the Grove in a few hours, if you’re going tonight then get behind the team!

Villarreal First Leg Report & Highlights

Interviews with Theo Walcott and the Arshavins

There are several interesting interviews in the press at the moment, Theo Walcott talks to both the Mail and the Guardian. In addition both Andrey Arshavin and Yulia Arshavin have been giving their impressions on settling in London, as well as Andrey’s relationship with Guus Hiddink.

In the Walcott interview with Daily Mail they go into a lot of detail. Firstly how Theo took Henry’s number 14 shirt without realising it – Nasri had already taken the number 8, and he wanted a lower number:

“I asked Vic what the options were. And he said I could have 23, 19 or 14. Without thinking I said I’d take the 14, because it was the lowest.”

How much he respected Thierry:

“Thierry was great with me and my family. He’d offer me advice, take an interest, but he’d also speak to my dad a lot as well. He was a real captain in that way, giving his time to the young lads coming through.”

The shoulder problem:

“The problem with my shoulders was something I inherited from my dad,’ he says. ‘The left one would pop out and then pop back in — absolute agony — during almost every game last season, so I had surgery to put it right last summer.”

“But in Berlin Scott Parker gave me a bit of a nudge, I slipped on the wet ground and the right one went. It popped out and popped back in like the left one always did. So I kept going. We were playing Germany the next day and I wanted to be involved.”

“Then, though, I went up for this ball and when I was spinning in the air the shoulder dislocated again. And this time it stayed out. The pain was unbelievable.”

He is now stronger and faster than ever – and his goal against Wigan should bring back some shooting confidence which Theo lacks at times.

Theo also gave an interview to the Guardian, where he comments on what it was like coming to Arsenal and his run at Anfield in the Champions League last year.

Andrey Arshavin was interviewed by the Telegraph. He talked about the upcoming games against Chelsea and his relationship with their manager Guus Hiddink:

“Hiddink gave me a lot in my life, not just in my football life,”

“If he had not taken over the Russian team I would not be here in England. He made us all believe we were strong, he gave us so much. I respect him and I wish him good luck – except in two games, the FA Cup and in the championship.”

This shows the professional side to Arshavin, he respects Hiddink – but when we play Chelsea his only ambition is to win, and I believe him.

On settling in England:

“Now I’m in a hotel. Next week I will move. I have to settle. Everything is difficult. For example, to get an agreement to rent a house. Everybody is speaking and telling me things but afterwards, when I see it on paper, it is not what I heard.

“I think the quality of life, especially for people with money, is better in Russia than here. Here there are lots of rules and laws. In Russia, if you have money, you can break the law.” 

“I’m happy to be here in English football – it is the best league in the world, I am happy with my professional life but I am unhappy in everyday life, it is very difficult for me. I don’t understand why people do things, or say things, it is a little bit strange. I am alone for the first time in my life, I never left St Petersburg before.”

We also hear Yulia Arshavin’s views on settling in England. Including denial of the negative comments she allegdly made about London:

“To get started, I actually did not speak anything bad about London. Moreover I liked the city especially after the Russian-speaking tour guide took us round”

She likes the match-day hospitality at Ashburton Grove and she enjoys the atmosphere:

“When Andrey takes the ball the whole stadium is already buzzing. There is a simultaneous cry and you feel a total emotional wave”

So the Arshavins are happy at Arsenal, although England is obviously a bit strange for them – they have always lived in St. Petersburg. I’m sure that they will be more settled. As long as Arshavin keeps playing the way he is at the moment I’m sure he will stay happy!

Wigan 1 – 4 Arsenal Highlights, Arshavin’s Magic!

Wigan Ath 1 – 4 Arsenal: Mido 18, Walcott 61, Silvestre 71, Arshavin 90, Song 90. Highlights at Arsenalist.com.

Arsenal came back from a goal down against Wigan to claim all three points in front of 22000 at the JJB Stadium.

Image courtesy of Paul Holloway

Mido’s early goal gave Wigan the lead, but Walcott equalised after 60 minutes, thanks to Arshavin’s skill in the box. Then Arshavin played a through ball to Fabregas who set up Silvestre to score on the edge of the 6 yard line. 2-1!

Arsenal countered for their 3rd goal – Arshavin picking up a poor clearance on the edge of the box to slot home, and Alex Song of all people dribbled past two Wigan players and into the box before shooting to make it four!

A fantastic result for us – just a pity that Man Utd and Chelsea both scraped wins against Sunderland and Bolton.

Injury Worries

We also lost Djourou to injury which worries me. We are already suffering after losing Gallas and Clichy. Today we ended up with Gibbs and Silvestre playing in defence – as long as we keep winning it isn’t a problem – but defensive instability was the reason we leaked so many goals earlier this season.

Champions League Qualification

Wenger said before the game that the league was the priority for the future, the Champions League and the FA Cup the immediate priority. This victory took us a step closer to Champions League qualification, as well as keeping us on the tails of the top three.

We will miss Arshavin on Wednesday, he showed today how much he has brought to the team, he creates chances and scores goals – but he can still help us in the league and the FA Cup.

Oh and also, Happy St. Totteringham’s Day to you all; Spurs can no longer finish above us in the League, haha.

Arsespeak Man of the Match: Andrey Arshavin

Lineup: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Djourou (Silvestre 35), Gibbs, Walcott (Adebayor 68), Denilson (Van Persie 63), Song , Arshavin, Fabregas, Bendtner.

How many points will Arsenal get from the remaining games?

To presume that Arsenal will now qualify for the Champions League this season is a very dangerous mentality. To presume that the FA Cup and the Champions League are the only genuinely important games remaining is a very dangerous mentality.

Image courtesy of dyobmit

Arsenal may well sit six points ahead of Aston Villa in the race for 4th spot, but there are some tough games remaining for the Gunners. Aston Villa are bound to pick up their form in the remaining few games as well, so the Premier League is still very much a priority for Arsenal.

With this in mind, I thought that it would be appropriate to take a look at the remaining league games for Arsenal and to reveal my football predictions as to how many points will be achieved. Will the unbeaten run keep going? Will the loss of Clichy and Gallas be crucial in the coming weeks? A little speculation never hurt anyone, so let’s take a look.

Saturday 11th April

Wigan v Arsenal: Forgive me for my pessimistic attitude on this one, but I think it is going to be a draw. The combination of being tired from Europe and the injuries will affect Arsenal.1 – 1.

Tuesday 21st April

Liverpool v Arsenal: Liverpool’s home form has let them down this season at crucial times. This will be a must win for them, but Arsenal have been good against the ‘big four’ this campaign. Another draw for me. 2 – 2.

Sunday 26th April

Arsenal v Middlesbrough: This should be a home banker. Middlesbrough will be fighting for their Premier League lives at this stage, but Arsenal should have more than enough. Arshavin, Van Persie, Adebayor and Walcott up against Chris Riggott and co? 3 – 0.

Saturday 2nd May

Portsmouth v Arsenal: This is a very difficult game. Pompey will need the win to steer clear of the relegation zone. For some reason, I see the unbeaten run coming to an end here. 2 – 1.

Sunday 10th May

Arsenal v Chelsea: In response to the Pompey defeat, Arsenal will start this game at an electric pace. The crowd will be loud, the players will be determined and the luck will be on Wenger’s side. 2 – 1.

Saturday 16th May

Man United v Arsenal: I think it is fair to say that Arsenal will have their say on where the title goes this year. In the penultimate game of the season, Manchester United will still need as many points as possible. However, they will drop two on this occasion. 0 – 0.

Sunday 24th May

Arsenal v Stoke: A nice home win to finish the season? I think so. After this hammering of Stoke, optimism for next season will be extremely high. 5 – 0.

Should these results come true (remember they are just predictions that you may disagree with), Arsenal will gain another 12 points to leave them on 70 for the season. This means that Aston Villa would need 19 points from their last seven games to overtake them. Quite a big ask, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, Arsenal are by no means guaranteed the points I gave them. The games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United could go either way.

Overall, my message is that 4th place is by no means guaranteed. The Premier League is still my number one priority and I just hope the players are aware of this. A win at Wigan tomorrow would do no harm at all.

End of Season Update:

Not bad – We finished on 72 pts and took 4th place!

By Thomas Rooney

Villarreal 1-1 Arsenal. Good result served with injuries

Villarreal 1-1 Arsenal: Senna 10, Adebayor 66. Highlights here.

Arsenal came away with a valuble away goal against Villarreal last night, which places us well for the Quarter final second leg at home next week.

adebayor-villarreal-bicycle-kick

Adebayor scored an amazing bicycle kick in the second half to equalise after Senna had scored a long range goal in the fist half. The fact that we got the goal is most important – I will take the result, even though we could have finished them off in the second half.

The Fabregas/Adebayor partnership again provided crucial goals – making it 3 in 2 games for Ade, with Fabregas providing every assist!

I didn’t see the game, I downloaded highlights after the match – and I was disappointed to see us go a goal down. It hurt to lose Gallas and Almunia, and as Wenger said – this meant he couldn’t change things around at half time.

Gallas has knee ligament damage – so he may be out for the rest of the season – a blow seeing as our defence has been very stable since December. Almunia is out for a few weeks with an ankle injury – so we will have Fabianski in goal for the next few games which will define our season.

I think Fabianski will do good – but he has made rash decisions at times during games this season – this is his chance to prove himself – he made some good saves last night.

Overall a good result – some annoying injuries – but this looks promising. The fact that Porto got two away goals at Old Trafford means that they have a good chance of going through – no British team has ever won at Porto – and they have the advantage!

What do you think Arsenal’s chances are? Leave a comment below.

Van Persie has his say on remainder of season ahead of International weekend

There are several ways to look at it, but many believe that the International weekend has come at the wrong time for Arsenal. There is a chance that the momentum of 16 games unbeaten in the league could be hindered and there is a chance that several important players could come back injured.

This would be the last thing that Arsenal need considering the importance of the remaining few weeks of the season. The Champions League and the FA Cup are still up for grabs and then there is the small matter of making sure that a top four place is achieved in the Premier League.

Referring specifically to just that, Robin van Persie has claimed that Arsenal’s superior experience of handling pressure should ensure that 4th place is achieved ahead of Aston Villa.

The Arsenal striker believes that the team are going from ‘strength to strength’ in terms of their performances, meaning that ‘things are looking good’ for Arsene Wenger’s men at this moment in time.

As for the challenge of Aston Villa, van Persie says that the Arsenal players ‘can handle pressure better’ than Martin O’Neil’s team. This means that he is ‘confident’ that 4th place will be achieved with some to spare.

The Dutchman has even suggested 3rd place could be a realistic option for his team because ‘anything is possible in football’. He pointed out the fact that Arsenal are only six points behind Chelsea. This, combined with the fact that they still have to play them, means it could happen.

Overall, van Persie knows that Arsenal need a ‘really good run’ towards the end of the season to create the best possible chance of success. As for arguably the biggest prize, he seems certain that his team can win the Champions League this season.

The Gunners will face Villarreal in the quarter-finals next month and this is a draw that van Persie admits he was ‘quite happy with’. He then went on to say that Arsenal ‘want to win’ the competition and they won’t be satisfied unless they do.

Quite an optimistic young man isn’t he? It’s really good to hear though as it is clear that he is very happy at the club. He believes in the team’s ability and he is positive about what the future may bring.

If there were more players and characters like van Persie in the Arsenal squad, the ‘unbeatable’ tag would be set for an unprecedented return. Come back injury-free from Holland duty please Robin.

By Thomas Rooney

Denilson is the answer! Roma reaction and highlights

Well played Arsenal. A great performance on Tuesday, without Cesc Fabregas in the side, has shown that we still have the quality to win trophies. Denilson now looks like he can fill the Flamini shaped hole in midfield and the defence is full of confidence and beautifully miserly compared to last year.

Van Persie’s penalty (Mexes shove) was the difference against Roma, but it could have been much more as you all know. This shows just what happens when you don’t put 10 men behind the ball against Arsenal (read Nasri’s comments on this).

With a now steady defence, and RVP firing on all cylinders we can mount a challenge for honours this season. I know it is unlikely, but it is still possible, just not the league (see Cesc’s comments on the title here).

On the plus side, Eboue played very well on Tuesday, as well as Denilson who I thought was exemplary and deserves a lot of praise for the way he has developed this season. He was fouled very dirtily by Totti in the second half, I think that deserves an investigation to be honest. Have a look at the video here.

I know there will be setbacks ahead, but this shows you how well this team can play, add in the fact that we have many more attacking players to return from injury and you have a great side, we are close, but not quite there.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Roma, highlights here.

Wenger’s European heartbreak: Two European Campaigns with AS Monaco

Arsene Wenger is a fantastic manager, and he has a great record at Arsenal, but one constant in his career is underachieving in European competition. This doesn’t sit well with Wenger, and I can see why, he clearly deserves a European trophy and he has come close on several occasions, not least in 2006 when we were 10 minutes away from winning the Champions League.

This article is a bit of Wenger history. It’s interesting to try to look at some of the more distant past to understand what Wenger has been through in his career, and why he is the man he is today.

His first major managerial post was at AS Monaco from 1987 – 1995. He won Ligue 1 in 1987/88, his first season, got his first taste of the European Cup the following year, reaching the Quarter Finals, but losing to Galatasaray 2-1 on aggregate, the team who were to beat Wenger’s Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final.

The matchday programme, from Estadio de Luz, Porto
The CWC 1992 Final programme

Wenger then won the French Cup in 1991. This led to his first European final the following season in the 1991/1992 Cup Winner’s Cup. His Monaco side played well beating teams such as Swansea City, Feyenoord and AS Roma, who we are facing in this season’s Champions League. Monaco faced Werder Bremen in the Final.

The Final was marred by news of the collapse of a temporary stand in Bastia’s French Cup semifinal with Marseille which left 13 dead and hundreds injured.

Otto Rehhagel, who later led Greece to their 2004 European Championship win, was the Bremen manager, and his side won by 2 goals, even though Monaco dominated possession. Wenger had players such as Petit, Djourkaeff, Thuram and George Weah in his side that day.

Wenger went on to a UEFA Cup Final with Arsenal against Galatasary in 2000, which we lost on penalties (I was crying) and a Champions League Final against Barcelona in 2006, which could have been so different.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Wenger has had a great career, but until he puts his name on a European trophy he will not feel like he has achieved his potential. He has had the chances and come close, and this must be frustrating, I’m sure he still remembers these times.

Wenger is a competitive guy, and this season he will want to put right his awful record in European finals and bring the Champions League to Arsenal.

References:

UEFA CWC 1992 Final Page

European Cup 1988/1988 Campaign

Cup Winner’s Cup Campaign 1991/1992 Wikipedia

Sidebar image from N. Macca, under Creative Commons Licence