13 December 2005

Arsenal 0-0 Ajax; Newcastle 1-0 Arsenal

Sorry about the gap in posting; I've been traveling. It was tough to miss such a busy week of soccer, with two Arsenal games and the World Cup draw. But it was worth it. Yosemite is beautiful, and particularly so in the winter. More importantly, however, she said "yes"!

But news on the soccer front was not nearly so good. Either Landry or I will post on the US draw in the World Cup, but for now I'll talk to the Arsenal results on the week. I won't comment in too much depth, since I haven't seen either match, but I can offer a few thoughts.

Arsenal 0-0 Ajax

The game was essentially meaningless, so perhaps a 0-0 draw was appropriate. Thierry Henry's missed penalty was disappointing, as it would have given the Gunners all three points. But the cost was so low that it's difficult to worry about it. Arsenal still finish top of the group, and will be well positioned for Friday's elimination-round draw. Arsenal finish the group stage with 16 points from the six matches, and there's no way to be disappointed with that result. Only Barcelona and Lyon have done as well.

But group stage means little at this point. Arsenal will face a second-place team in the next round, and that can be helpful. But there will be no easy games. The Gunners' next round matchup will come from one of the following: Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Benfica, PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid, or Rangers. None of those matches will be walkovers. Arsenal have certainly been impressive so far in Europe; let's hope they're able to continue their impressive show.

Newcastle 1-0 Arsenal

As impressive as Arsenal have been in Europe, their Premiership form, particularly on the road, has been uneven at best and dismal at worst. Saturday saw another poor away performance, as Arsenal were first reduced to ten men, then saw Noberto Solano score the winning goal on 82'.

I haven't watched the game yet so I won't comment on the game itself. What I've read said that Arsenal were a bit unlucky and have some cause to be disappointed in the refereeing. Still, this is the kind of match that the Gunners should have drawn at the least. Arsenal have to now approach every league match with a singular focus to get points. It's absolutely imperative to reach at least fourth place by the end of the year; it's unthinkable that Arsenal would miss Champions League play in their first Ashburton Grove season. That's only a minimal goal, and Arsenal can certainly better it, but I believe they'll be better served by focusing on the specific matches than by watching the table.

This weekend will see two key events in the Arsenal season: Friday's Champions' League draw and Sunday's home match to Chelsea. The latter will obviously be an enormous match, and it will be interesting to see how the Gunners respond.

As far as my ability to jinx the Gunners, I did my best on Saturday, wearing my jersey for the morning. But as I was on the west coast -- and celebrating our engagement with my fiancée -- I wasn't up and dressed until fairly late, probably late in the second half. As much as I hate to see Arsenal lose, this is one case where soccer definitely came second, and I make no apologies.

Still, I'll do much better on Sunday.

No pushovers? I'm pretty certain you'd be hoping for Rangers if you could get it...
Yeah, that would be OK, probably the least threatening draw. But I don't think we could take a win for granted. Gers can be pretty tough at Ibrox, and indifferent domestic form doesn't say anything about international play. As any Arsenal fan will confirm. =)

We'll find out on Friday, anyway.
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