Arsenal – Chelsea: FA Cup semi at the new Wembley

Injuries have defined Arsenal’s season, today’s game at Wembley sees us with a defensive line-up which is scraping the bottom of the barrel. The likely players are Silvestre, Song, Toure, Eboue, with Fabianski in goal. This in itself isn’t awful – all are good defenders – and Silvestre, Toure and Eboue have a combined wealth of experience. Sagna may recover for the game – but at the time of writing he is still ill, while Gibbs hurt his hamstring against Villarreal, in any case the back line will not be full strength.

The problem for me is that this season none of the above are first choice, excepting Toure (and even he has been dropped at times this season). Instability in selection breeds problems and the biggest challenge we face against Chelsea is going to be at the back.

Arsenal Chelsea Carling Cup Final 2007: Image courtesy of Free-ers

I am quietly confident about the game though, Chelsea have been leaking goals recently – in their last 2 games they have conceded 7 – and we are scoring freely at the moment with Arshavin, Walcott, Van Persie and Adebayor all in form. We can outplay them if we fight like we showed against Villarreal.

If, however, Arsenal don’t impose themselves on the game we may see another performance like the first half at Wigan. We need score and take the game to Chelsea.

Personally this will be my first visit to the new Wembley and it will be exciting to see Arsenal play in a national stadium again. Wenger has his concerns about the quality of the playing surface, it is rumoured that it isn’t up to scratch – but at least we are playing first – Man Utd face Everton on Sunday at Wembley giving the pitch just 24 hrs to recover.

To be a successful club you have to beat the best, I’m desparate to see Arsenal prove themselves this season. So much criticism has been levelled at Arsene Wenger and the players, a trophy is the only way to show that we are still a force, winning this game will take us a step closer to that end.

Under Guus Hiddink Chelsea have transformed and they will be threatening – I’m worried about Lampard’s goals from midfield – we are going to have to be on top form to get the right result.

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.

How many of Arsenal’s team would make it into Manchester United’s starting eleven?

As much as the end to the current season could be extremely exciting and successful for Arsenal, they are still not quite where they used to be as a club. There was a time, of course, when they were unbeatable. There was a time when it was only the Gunners and Manchester United fighting it out for the league title.

So, what has happened in the last few years which has prevented Arsenal being one of the ‘big two’? For eight seasons in a row, Arsenal finished no lower than second in the Premier League. This was until the last three when their final positions have been 4th, 4th and 3rd.

One way to see just how far away Arsenal are from being Manchester United’s main challengers again could be to see how the individual players compare. How does Arsenal’s full strength team match up to the best team the Champions can put out?

This is something I would like your opinion on, so without too much analysis, let’s take a look at my views:

Edwin Van der Sar v Manuel Almunia – Has to be Van der Sar unfortunately.

Gary Neville v Bakari Sagna – Personally, I’d rather have Sagna in my team.

Patrice Evra v Gael Clichy – For consistency purposes, it has to be Evra.

Rio Ferdinand v William Gallas – This is a close one, but I think the odds would be in favour of Ferdinand.

Nemanja Vidic v Kolo Toure – For similar reasons that Evra won, Vidic is the winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo v Theo Walcott – For what he has achieved in the last couple of years, it’s going to be Ronaldo.Ask me again this time next year though.

Ryan Giggs v Andrei Arshavin – Giggs is still a decent player, but for creativity and variation the Russian wins this one for me.

Michael Carrick v Cesc Fabregas – No competition, Fabregas all the way.

Paul Scholes v Denilson – A number of players could fill this position for Arsenal and all of them will be as good as/better than Scholes at some point, but for now, the former England man has to get the nod.

Wayne Rooney v Robin van Persie – For me, this is the closest one of the lot. In fact, I can’t choose between them. This one is a draw.

Dimitar Berbatov v Emmanuel Adebayor – Neither have been fantastic this season. However, the Manchester United man (and Carlos Tevez) has produced the goods more often.

The end result for this ‘experiment’ is Manchester United 7.5 v 3.5 Arsenal. Whether this means much, I’m not sure. However, it does suggest that Arsenal are just two or three established high quality players short of challenging for the Premier League again.

This could happen in the next couple of years when the likes of Walcott, Clichy and Denilson really kick on as players – you never know. It certainly makes a change from the days of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, or Tony Adams and Ian Wright and co when Arsenal would have been much closer to Manchester United in this type of analysis.

Something to think about isn’t it? Let me know your thoughts.

By Thomas Rooney

Middlesbrough 1 – 1 Arsenal Highlights: Did you expect any better?

Middlesbrough 1 – 1 Arsenal: Adebayor 17, Aliadiere 29. Highlights here.

Arsenal came away with a point from the Riverside this afternoon after another poor display. An early Adebayor header was cancelled out after Aliadiere put in an equaliser, Tuncay picking up a deflected Clichy clearance to cross in.

Update: After pondering over the game I’ve decided I was a little harsh. We did create a lot of opportunities, but we don’t seem to have the strength to be able to get all 3 points in games like this season.

You would have thought that Arsenal having rested players during midweek would have been out of the blocks and at Middlesbrough. But although we played good passing football we yet again lacked any incsiveness or width.

Luckily we are not out of the running for the title, due to Man U and L’pool both drawing today, showing just how good the rest of the Premier League are getting.

However, our inconsistent form, mistakes, and weak squad will never win us trophies. We lack any balance in midfield at the moment, and we desparately need the return of players like Eduardo and Rosicky. Wenger needs to reinforce this team in January, and wisely.

Wenger told the BBC:

“Nobody believes in us but we can show we still believe and keep going. At the moment, my team needs encouragement more than anything.

“Today was a game we would have lost at the start of the season. But now we have a better defensive balance and we are more of a team.

“We just lacked a little bit of that extra little thing that comes with confidence but we are a young team and that is why it is important we just keep belief and keep going.”

I think Wenger has a point, we do lack confidence, the team has a lot of talent, and we are playing better than some games earlier this season, but this isn’t good enough at the moment. We played some good football at times today, but we didn’t get the result.

Arsenal have the potential, but to be winners you need results, and we need that now.

Subscribe to our news feed here!

Gallas promotes his leadership skills as Arsenal look to close gap on leaders

This is a guest post by sports writer Thomas Rooney

First of all, attention has to be paid to the fantastic week Arsenal have had. Since my post last Friday, the Gunners defeated Manchester United (highlights here) to keep their title hopes alive, then on Wednesday the ‘kids’ proved how talented they are once again as they brushed aside Wigan in the Carling Cup (highlights here).

All in all, it has been a remarkable and pleasing turnaround that could just kick start the season once again. Of course, a lot of hard work would be undone if Arsene Wenger’s side fail to continue their return to form against Aston Villa this weekend – so here’s to another three points!

Speaking ahead of the clash at the Emirates, Arsenal captain William Gallas has hit back at critics that have suggested he doesn’t have the correct attitude to be the club’s skipper. Ever since his bizarre reaction to the 2-2 draw at Birmingham last season, his leadership skills have certainly been under the microscope.

Gallas believes that he has always been a decent captain for his side though and insists the criticism he occasionally receives is only after poor results. The Frenchman said that after the Manchester United win ‘everyone was saying my leadership was good’ despite questions over it before the game.

To be honest, I think he has a point here. As we all know, football is a results business. Gallas went on to say that he actually thought he had ‘a better game against Spurs’ which emphasises how much a win means to fans.

As long as the team wins, the criticism will be heavily reduced. That’s why Gallas finished by saying that at the end of the season the only thing that matters is that Arsenal have a trophy because ‘everything else is forgotten’.

So, the Aston Villa game tomorrow. Martin O’Neill’s side have been hailed as the only team capable of breaking the top four places in the Premier League and they certainly have a team of more than capable players. They only sit three points behind the Gunners, so a win is an absolute must for the home team.

As far as team news goes, well the ‘big guns’ are set to return despite the impressive showing in the Carling Cup at the weekend. Emmanuel Adebayor and Manuel Almunia should take their place in the starting line-up, as will the already mentioned Gallas. Robin van Persie is suspended though and Emmanuel Eboue is still suffering with a knee injury.

Arsenal are unbeaten in 19 Premier League matches against Villa, but have failed to beat them in the league at the Emirates as yet. Two 1-1 draws have been produced in the last couple of seasons. This time around though, I expect a confident Arsenal performance against a team that will be rather down after their home defeat to Middlesbrough last weekend.

By Thomas Rooney

Arsenal 2 – 1 Man Utd Highlights: Update, and the 5 man midfield

The highlights from the Man Utd game can be found here! Enjoy watching, I did! Click here for the first article.

Wenger has also been talking about the 5 man midfield and its benefits for our poor defensive record:

“I will use it again because going forward we have scored many goals but defensively we have conceded too many from outside the box,”

“I don’t know [about what will happen when all the strikers are back]. I took this decision because I tried to balance the team with the players that were available.”

This is absolutely true, we need more support for the defence at the moment as they seem to be struggling with just Fabregas and Denilson in front of them.

The 5 man midfield has been very successful us, and although I wouldn’t recommend it for every game of the season, a strategic deployment when needed is very wise.

Subscribe to our news feed here.

Arsenal 2-1 Man Utd highlights, super Sam!

We did it! I still can’t quite believe it, but we beat Man Utd 2-1 at home. Nasri’s two fantastic goals gave us 3 points! We played with a weakened side, and we had just come off the back of some awful results and we still did it! The lift this will give the team will be amazing. The game started tentatively, but we got into our game as it went on. We defended hard throughout the match, and we did close the game, bringing on the likes of Toure and Alex Song. We still conceded in the 90th minute, to a goal which we couldn’t have saved, and that put us in for 6 horrible minutes of injury time. But a great win and special mentions to Nasri, Gallas, Fabregas and Diaby who all played fantastically!

Arsenal vs. Man Utd, make or break time, plus competition ends

We’ve got Man Utd today, I’m off to the game in a few hours. Bendtner has been making comments about how we can still win the title.

I think we can win the title but today is a real test, we will be written off if we don’t get a result, and the team spirit will be very low, but if we do win we are still in.

In the end we aren’t much through the season and it’s a long season, so we will see what Wenger can pull off.

Also the competition to win the shirt is now closed, the winner will be announced on Monday! You can still sign up to our news feed though, here!

Toure stays positive as Arsenal look to get back to winning ways

This is a guest post by sports writer Thomas Rooney

To say that tomorrow’s game against Manchester United is crucial would probably rank as the biggest understatement of the season. After three games in all competitions without a win, it is vital that Arsenal at least avoid defeat against the Premier League champions.

If this fails to be achieved, then the confidence will be at an all-time low and the chance of Arsene Wenger’s side launching a title challenge would seem all the more unlikely. A nine point gap, even at this stage of the season, would probably be too much.

Speaking ahead of the game, Arsenal defender Kolo Toure has revealed that he and his team-mates are viewing the Manchester United game as a potential turning point for their season. The 27-year-old has said that a win would be ‘really fantastic’ and would prove to the critics that Arsenal ‘would be there for the title’.

Sometimes these type of comments have to be taken with a pinch of salt – what else is Toure going to say other than a win is important? However, this time around, the Arsenal man is bang on the money. A victory tomorrow would do wonders for the belief in the dressing room could be the start of a long unbeaten run for the team.

As Toure rightly points out, the season is ‘not in the second half yet’ and therefore it is important not to panic. However, I think he knows as much as anyone that defeat at the Emirates tomorrow really could have a detrimental effect.  Arsenal will continue to ‘fight for the title’ regardless of the result, but this fight would be made a hell of a lot easier should they pick up the three points.

In terms of the team news for tomorrow’s clash, Arsenal have been hit with a number of injury problems. Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna and William Gallas are doubtful, while Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Eboue are definitely out of the game.

These injuries mean that Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela are going to be charged with the responsibility of breaking down Manchester United’s defence and getting the goals that win Arsenal the game. Neither of these youngsters will hold any fear going into this match, so perhaps their raw talent can prosper.

Overall, it is going to be a game where Arsenal fans arrive in hope rather than expectation. However, should the team pull together and produce a winning performance; it really could be the start of the turnaround.

Silvestre talks after Arsenal debut

Yesterday on ArseSpeak we mentioned that Silvestre had played his first game – for the Reserves. Silvestre started at centre-back as they beat Stoke City 3 – 2 at home.

Read the match report here at Young Guns.

Silvestre came through his first apperance well
Silvestre came through his first apperance well

After making his first apperance Silvestre told the press:

“I feel good, I got through the 90 minutes without any discomfort or pain and physically I felt at the same level as my team-mates so it felt good.

“The boss asked me if I wanted to play because it was a long time since I last played competitively, back in August or July with United. Before I get back with the first team it was good for me to play and get something other than training.

“It was a perfect run-out before playing with the first team. It is a good level in the Reserve League and getting to know my young team-mates was a good experience.

“It is not a surprise [to see how good the young players are] because most of the first team are 20, 21-year-olds so the quality is always there. I expected the same quality in the Reserves and most of them train with the first team so I knew them already.

“It is the way the Club is set up, everything is done to play good attacking football so the players enjoy it and you just have to make sure you give 100 per cent in the challenge because if you don’t get the ball you can’t play the nice football.”

It’s good to see SIlvestre back in action. He is a quality player – and although he’s getting on a bit – he has class and experience which may be important to the Arsenal team this year.

I believe that our chances of winning the League this year are diminishing – but there’s no way we are out of the race. Players like SIlvestre could make all the difference.

Read more ArseSpeak news – click here!