October 28, 2009

In regards to consecutive games that ended in a disappointing fashion, I am going to take a positive view.

Both games were on the road. We secured a point from each game.

I recall a season earlier this decade in which Arsenal seemed to drop points constantly against teams we should have beaten. There were a number of draws that all felt like losses, and each time we dropped points it felt like we were waving goodbye to any hopes of winning the title. That season was 2003/04. Suddenly a few extra draws doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

The match at West Ham started quite well. Robin van Persie opened the scoring and took over the team lead with six goals in all competitions. Arsenal then extended that lead later in the first half on a William Gallas header, his fourth of the season. That should have been enough against a West Ham team that has been struggling in the league, but the wheels came off a bit in the second half.

West Ham managed to come back and tie it up in the late stages of the game, and some aggressive substitutions for Arsenal weren’t enough to retake the lead. Certainly a frustrating result, and Thomas Vermaelen made it know that the players feel the same way. Gael Clichy added that while it was disappointing, the team needs to put it behind them and concentrate on their game.

The build-up to West Ham put a lot of focus on one position. All three goalkeepers received some attention with Vito Mannone picking up another start, Lukasz Fabianski talking about his determination to make up for lost time, and the Boss speaking about where Manuel Almunia stands in the pecking order. We can be sure that this will be an ongoing topic this season.

There were some interesting goings-on off the pitch last week as well. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Arsenal shareholders occurred on Thursday, and Arsène Wenger addressed the crowd. He centered his speech on the team – what he is building, the unity and strength of the squad, and the goals for the season. He also gave his view of how the team is positioned for both this season and the future.

Thursday also marked the Boss’s 60th birthday. He spoke of the lessons he’s learned during his time in football and said in no uncertain terms that he still has many years of coaching ahead of him.

The Carling Cup continues today with a big match against Liverpool. Carlos Vela spoke to Arsenal TV Online and explained why this competition is so special to young players. It’s sure to be a special game for other reasons as well. It will mark the 750th game Arsène Wenger has managed for the Gunners and the return of Samir Nasri and Fabianski, who will be making their first appearances of the. It’s not all good news, however, as two other players, Jack Wilshere and Armand Traore, will miss out.

Some of Arsenal’s other young players are also unable to suit up today, not because of injury, but because they are currently out on loan. And it’s been a pretty good week for some of them.

Looking ahead, one of the most anticipated matches of the season happens on Halloween day as Tottenham comes to the Emirates for in a North London derby. Spurs have been in good form this season, and currently sit fourth in the table, just one point behind Arsenal. Needless to say, this is a big one!

Until next week...

- Kevin Mooney


October 21, 2009

"A tie is like kissing your sister." - Former Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty

"Conceding a stoppage-time equalizer is like having your sister kick you in the teeth." - Kevin Mooney

Okay, so I don’t actually have a sister. Nor have I ever been kicked in the teeth. But there is something poetic there, so I’m sticking with it.

Arsenal visited Alkmaar on Tuesday looking for a win to all but seal a ticket to the next stage of the Champions League. Despite the return of Manuel Almunia, Vito Mannone was in the net, while Emmanuel Eboue got a start up front. A goal by Cesc Fabregas in the 36th minute, after some nice work by Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie, gave the Gunners the lead, which they held for more than 50 minutes. Arsenal nearly put the game away several times in that period, but three minutes into stoppage time…

Here comes the sister.

AZ’s Graziano Pelle nodded down a free-kick into the path of Mendes da Silva who volleyed the ball into the net.

It is a funny thing, a draw. We still earned a point. We are still sitting at the top of the Group H table. And yet it’s still really frustrating. But let’s put this behind us. As Gael Clichy said, many people would say a 1-1 away draw in the Champions League is not a bad thing. Certainly not like losing 2-1 at home to Rubin Kazan as Barcelona did yesterday. There are still three games to go in the group stage, and one win should put us through to the next round.

Saturday saw Birmingham City come to London in the first game since the international break ended, and Theo Walcott made his first start of the season. It was a short-lived experience, however, and he left the game a few minutes after a strong challenge by Birmingham’s Liam Ridgewell. Goals in quick succession by Van Persie and Abou Diaby gave the Gunners a comfortable lead until Lee Bowyer scored in the 38th minute. It wasn’t until five minutes from time that Arshavin sealed the win.

There is always some concern about a post-break hangover, and Arsenal did not play at the same standard they had before the break. But then again, this is exactly the kind of win many critics have said Arsenal could not win in previous years. Plus, it moves us back into the top four with one game in hand.
One somewhat worrying issue comes from post-match comments by Bacary Sagna after the AZ match and from Diaby after the Birmingham match. This is a good time to work out the kinks, and better lessons be learned now than January and February.

On the injury news front, aside from Walcott, the news is pretty positive. Samir Nasri and Lukasz Fabianski lined up for the Arsenal Reserves against Wolverhampton on Tuesday. Nasri was in sharp form for 58 minutes, assisting on Gilles Sunu’s opening goal, and Fabianski looked quite good at times. It should make for some tough decisions for Arsène Wenger in the upcoming weeks.

Speaking of the Boss, be sure to raise a glass to him on Thursday in honor of his 60th birthday. He says he has no plans to celebrate, but more important for Gunners fans, he also has no intention of leaving the game. It is what one should expect, however, based on how he feels about this squad.

There is also some extra excitement at Arsenal TV Online these days. Friday programming made its long-awaited return, and it will be even better this week with Arsenal legend Charlie George joining Tom Watt in the Fans’ Forum. You can see that and the Preview show and an Arsenal star in the Spotlight live from 2pm ET this Friday. While you are there, you can also check out Andrey Arshavin talking about his perfect game of football.

Also, in case you missed it, former Gunner Danny Karbassiyoon sat down with Arsenal.com to talk about his playing days and his current role as North American scout for the Club. He’s got some very interesting things to say and some great advice for all young players out there.

Looking ahead, Arsenal travels across town on Sunday to visit West Ham, and then on Wednesday, the Club faces Liverpool in the Carling Cup. Want to know where to watch the game? Check out TV listings and a link to Arsenal America’s venue guide here.

Until next week…

- Kevin Mooney


October 14, 2009

These International breaks sometimes seem interminable. Somehow it’s only been 10 days since the win against Blackburn.

International competitions often deliver some amazing football, but Romania v Faroe Islands just doesn’t match up to a North London derby. To the players, however, lining up for their country is a lifelong ambition. Carlos Vela sat down with Arsenal TV Online before the break to explain the feeling.

Despite the lack of Arsenal as a club, we have seen some pretty impressive performances by Arsenal players out on international duty. In European qualification, Philippe Senderos out in a two-goal performance for the Swiss, and Cesc Fabregas and William Gallas scored for Spain and France respectively. In other parts of the world, Mexico and Ivory Coast got the results they needed to book their trips to the 2010 World Cup, with Carlos Vela scoring for Mexico. The Under-21s were also involved with Kieran Gibbs scoring for England and Wojciech Szczesny keeping a clean sheet for Poland.

One last batch of matches later today and everyone will be returning to the Club, hopefully all in one piece.

Aside from the usual injury worries, another bad aspect to the break was that Arsenal had been on a definite hot streak. That being said, the break has been a good time to reflect on the season so far. Plenty of players have come out to say how the new formation suits them as individuals and as a team. Especially the midfield. Fabregas thinks the 4-3-3 is bringing out the best in him, and former Arsenal captain Frank McLintock says that Alex Song provides the vital anchor role in midfield, much like his former teammate Peter Storey did in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Denilson also raved about the formation and discussed how the midfielders adapted to the change.

Perhaps joining the ranks of first-team midfielders soon will be 18-year-old Frenchman Francis Coquelin. He’s been a fixture in the Reserves side this season, and has two Carling Cup appearances to his name. That clearly is not enough to satisfy his ambition, however, and he is working his tail off to make it to the first team for good.

Another young player with plenty of ambition is Vito Mannone. He took his turn in the Spotlight this week and spoke about his impressive performances so far this season. He also speaks about waiting to get his opportunity how happy he is to have been playing at the top level.

Tomas Rosicky also is a man who is happy to be playing. After nearly two years in the training room, he seems to have firmly entrenched himself in the line-up, and Cesc couldn’t be happier. I think most fans would agree with that sentiment.

Looking ahead, Saturday sees the season kick-off again as Birmingham comes to town. If you can’t wait that long, don’t worry, Friday marks the return of the Arsenal TV schedule. Starting at 11am ET, Dan Roebuck will be in the studio for Arsenal Live. He’ll provide a look back at the previous week, and give you all the news and interviews to prepare you for Saturday’s game. Then at 12:15pm ET, the lines open for the Friday Fan Forum and anyone can join via phone email or text. Tune into Arsenal TV Online to watch!

Until next week…

- Kevin Mooney


October 7, 2009

Another big home win and we look to be firing on all cylinders at the moment.

Always known for a tough, blue-collar style of play, Blackburn and their manager Sam Allardyce have always provided a tricky match for Arsenal. Even with a final score of 6-2, Arsenal needed to come back from behind twice in order to put the game away. But the highlights from Sunday were textbook Arsenal.

A simply masterful performance by Cesc Fabregas – one goal and four assists – showed what our captain is all about. And in yet another display of team balance, we saw six goals from six different players.

Team-leading goal scorer Thomas Vermaelen continued to confuse Premier League defenders by netting Arsenal’s opening goal from 30 yards. Followed by Cesc-induced strikes from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal went into half time with a one-goal lead. Cesc himself got on the score sheet with a long-range shot fired past Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson. Not done with his goal-making, Cesc set up Theo Walcott for his first goal of the season in his first game of the season. Nicklas Bendtner then wrapped up the scoring with an 89th minute shot from outside the area.

Goals like that can make you wonder if perhaps a visit by a former team captain inspired the team to score those goals with such style. The timing of Thierry Henry’s visit was also quite appropriate as the fifth goal of the game marked the 200th Arsenal goal at Emirates Stadium.

Aside from the win, the big news was the return of Walcott. He’s thrilled by the new formation and Arsène Wenger is clearly happy to have him back in the fold.

We also got to take a look inside the minds of three other young players. Bendtner took his turn in the spotlight, and Carlos Vela discussed his plans to make up for lost time this season. Vito Mannone, meanwhile, spoke about how we almost missed out on seeing his early season heroics as he very nearly went out on loan this season. Meanwhile, the boss set the bar pretty high for Arshavin.

As we head back into an international break, we won’t see Arsenal again until Birmingham comes for a visit on October 17th. As always, though, there will be plenty of Arsenal players in action.

Until next week…

- Kevin Mooney

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31 Oct 2009