28 November 2005

Thun 0-1 Arsenal; Arsenal 3-0 Blackburn

Sorry for the gap in posts. The Thanksgiving holiday is to blame, but it's been a wonderful chance to see family. I hope your week was just as good!

That said, I missed comment on a busy football week. And for Arsenal, a good week it was. On Tuesday they squeaked through to a 0-1 win over Thun in the Champions League, thanks to a Robert Pires penalty in the 88th minute. (Glad to see he still knows how to take them...) I didn't see the match, but reports indicate that Arsenal were a bit lucky to get the penalty that proved the difference. Thun came into the group stage as minnows, but three points from five matches belies their quality. Their loss at home to Ajax and both home and away to Arsenal came on last-minute goals; only in their loss away to Ajax were they never close to any points. I'm glad to see the little Swiss side earn respect among the big boys.

But I'm much more glad to see Arsenal maintain their 100% CL record (touch wood). They will go into the knockout stage as group winners. It's exciting to see a measure of European success for the Gunners, but the group stage means very little at this point. There will be no pushovers in the knockout stage. When Real Madrid is a possible first-round opponent, you know that the stage is fraught with danger. Still, the success is Europe is exciting.

After the midweek action, Arsenal resumed league play at Highbury against Blackburn. FSC didn't broadcast the match until 5:00PM EST -- seven hours late! -- so I didn't watch the game live. The result was certainly worth the wait: a 3-0 victory. Bullet point thoughts on the game:In the end, it's nice to get an easy win. Despite the energetic Blackburn attack, there was really never any anxiety in the match. And the result is useful; Arsenal are now third in the Prem, behind Chelsea and Man Utd.

Player Ratings:
Lehmann: 8. Very solid; gave Blackburn no hope in their attack. Made a few quality saves at key moments. A very good game.

Lauren: 7. Once again played well and locked down the right side. Blackburn looked elsewhere for their attack. Got forward well.
Campbell: 7. Solid once again. Had to make a few last-ditch tackles.
Toure: 6. Mostly good. Got a few chances on the attack that I'd like to see him convert. Has been a bit shakier than usual lately, which I'll attribute to lack of comfort with Cygan next to him.
Cygan: 5. Better than the last couple games, but still not the answer. Spent most of the game chained to the sideline, so at least he wasn't drifting to the center. Got much too far forward at times. Had a lot of cover from Toure and Reyes/Ljungberg.

Pires: 8. Well played throughout. Absolutely deadly pass that led to Henry's goal. Cleared a ball off the Arsenal goalline. Very good match for him.
Gilberto: 7. Well played today. Quiet but involved, with few of his (lately familiar) horrid passes to opponents. Had a cracking shot at goal.
Fabregas: 8. Again instrumental in the attack. Tends to start many of Arsenal's most threatening moves. Nicely taken goal, it was good to see him break through. Lots of other good candidates, but I'll call Cesc Man of the Match.
Reyes: 7. As always, worked hard, didn't get a goal, but was a positive force throughout. Spent a lot of time tracking back to cover the wing for Cygan.

Bergkamp: 6. Quiet game for the most part. He seems to lack the killer finish he's accustomed to. Still positive though.
Henry: 8. Another fantastic game. The goal was a classic move in its simplicity. Gives the opposition fits even when he's nowhere near the ball.

Ljungberg: 6 (72' for Reyes). Fairly good match. Spent more time protecting the wing (i.e., Cygan) than attacking, but that's appropriate given that he came in with a 2-0 lead.
Flamini: 7 (77' for Pires). Didn't make a big impression. Played more defensively than Pires, but that was appropriate given the scoreline.
van Persie: 8 (82' for Bergkamp). Absolutely stunning goal. I don't know what they're feeding the boy, but his confidence is brimming over, and his shooting touch reflects that.

Up Next: Home to Reading on Tuesday, in the Carling Cup. As I'm sure Landry will attest, Reading are on form and will not be an easy opponent. It will be interesting to see what kind of team Arsène fields for the match. Typically this would be a chance for many of the youngsters to play. I would expect a very young team, and a very difficult match. Especially given the weekend's match...

Away to Bolton on Saturday. This will also be a tough match. Bolton have given up only two goals at home, and Arsenal still haven't demonstrated any great quality when traveling in the Prem (notwithstanding the Wigan game). Should make for an interesting match!

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