29 April 2006

Prem Falls Into Focus

Lots of news in the Premiership today. First, I feel honor-bound to offer my congratulations to Chelsea, who won the Premiership with a 3-0 defeat over Manchester United. Chelsea are not my favorite team in any way, and I certainly don't enjoy their style of play. But I have to give them full credit for their back-to-back titles. Around Christmas it seemed they'd have the league title in March, and it's good to see that they're no longer such a juggernaut as they were in 2005. Yet still they have done more than enough to win the title, and securing it with a 3-0 win over their closest rivals only underscores that fact.

However it may be a costly afternoon for England. Wayne Rooney left injured in the second half, and he was clearly in a lot of pain. It's difficult to see what the injury was, but my uneducated guess at this stage would be either a severe ankle sprain or a broken foot. If it's the latter, then there's a major chance that he will miss the World Cup, an absence that England can hardly afford. In addition, John Terry was in obvious distress through much of the match, and near the end could scarcely kick a ball. Terry should have come off in the first half, or at the interval at least. Clearly he didn't want to go, but it's the manager's job to make the right long-term decisions, and Mourinho didn't in this case. Perhaps it's only a short-term thing, but I'm sure that Sven-Goran Eriksson is anxiously awaiting the reports on two of his key players.

Meanwhile, the other end of the table also solidified. Portsmouth beat Wigan 2-1 to ensure their survival, dooming Birmingham and West Brom in the process. I'm pleased for Pompey, as they play an inviting game that deserves to be in the Prem. However I would rather have seen another manager at the helm. Not being English, I can't understand the Harry Redknapp fascination, and his dodgy Portsmouth-Southampton-Portsmouth saga left me cheering for him to take another team down, hopefully destroying his 'great escape' myth in the process. It was not to be. But Pompey are always good for a game, so I won't be sad to see them in the Prem again in the fall.

And finally, it's farewell to Alan Curbishley, who is quitting the helm at Charlton after nearly fifteen years. He's a class act and a good guy, but Charlton frankly could use a shakeup. Since winning promotion in 2000, they've finished as follows: 9th, 14th, 12th, 7th, and 11th, and they'll find themselves somewhere similar this year. Charlton are a team stuck in the middle, consistently staying clear of relegation while never really threatening to become a Premiership power. It's fine as far as it goes, but it smacks of stagnation and fresh ideas are called for.

The sad part is that a manager such as Curbishley is a serious candidate for the England managerial vacancy. Don't get me wrong; Curbishley has done a respectable job with a tiny budget. But he's also not done anything worthy of acclaim. I would even understand bringing in a new, unproven talent like Stuart Pearce, but with so much Prem experience you can't expect Curbishley to surprise anyone. Of course, the FA have really made a dog's breakfast of the whole selection process, and clearly they're almost to the point of picking someone -- anyone -- just so they can end the circus.

So a big match for Arsenal fans tomorrow, as Tottenham host Bolton. It's the biggest chance for Spurs to drop points in the remaining matches. Even a draw would give Arsenal hope. Bolton still have a thin chance at a UEFA Cup place, so it should be a hard-fought game. So let's see the Wanderers win one, followed by an Arsenal victory over Sunderland on Monday.

26 April 2006

Villareal 0-0 Arsenal (0-1 agg.)


The Arsenal is going to Paris.

Can you believe it? The whole 90 minutes felt like a Villareal goal was only seconds away. Arsenal were bunkered and unable to threaten. Villareal held posession at will, though a desperate Arsenal defense limited their chances. The Gunners held on by their fingernails. Surely Villareal would break through at any moment.

After 80 minutes of this, we began to hope. Ten minutes -- if we can hold for 80, surely we can for ten more! And the Villareal desperation grew. Their legs began to weaken; their hope began to fade. Arsenal held posession more and more. Paris was within reach.

And then, one last desperate Villareal effort. A hopeful cross into the box. Jose Mari didn't even jump for it, but when he felt contact, he collapsed to the ground, bringing down Gael Clichy with him. A heap of players in front of goal. And Russian referee Valentin Ivanov -- who had been fair all night -- finally succumbed to the Villareal tactics and pointed to the spot. 88 minutes of torture, and now this.

But we have Jens Lehmann.

And of course you know how it ends. Riquelme takes a long run up. He goes for power and a solid middle-goal placement. Jens guesses left, dives, and blocks. The Gunners scramble the ball out, but it doesn't matter -- Riquelme is rooted to the spot, and his teammates are thunderstruck. They know: this was their chance. And now it's gone.

Five minutes later, and Arsenal were through. I am forced to admit it: Arsenal were lucky. I think the Gunners made their own luck, though hard work, belief, and an incredible defensive effort. But it was clear that the past weeks of twice-a-week football have taken their toll; their tanks were dry and it was only sheer will that kept them going. But Arsenal have now survived 929 minutes of Champions League play without conceding a goal, and there's no way that's luck.

We'll find out tonight who Arsenal will face in the finals. Barcelona hold the advantage but it's still within reach for AC Milan. Either team will be a huge challenge of course, but so were Real Madrid. And Juventus. And Villareal. What will change is the nature of the game. It's a completely different situation -- one match to decide everything. No homefield advantage. No away goals rule. The strategy is completely different, and it will be interesting to think through how Arsenal will approach it.

But that will come later. For now, we can all enjoy the victory. Arsenal finally have a bit of a rest; the next game is at Sunderland, next Monday. Things will remain busy for the Gunners, with Man City next Thursday and finally Wigan a week from Sunday. But then they will have a week and half to recover before 17 May and Paris.

Paris. Six months ago, after the Sparta Prague match, I was in the basement room at the T-Bird on Blackstock Road, signing with the rest:
We're on our waaay,
We're on our waaay!
We're going to Paris,
We're on our waaay!
How we'll get there, I don't know,
How we'll get there, I don't care,
All I know is that we're on our waay!
It's been a long road, Gooners. But we are on our way!

25 April 2006

Villareal-Arsenal Preview

Tense? Me?

Two and a half hours to go. Gunners fans around the world are nervous and jittery; it's the biggest night we've seen in quite some time. Arsenal head to Spain with a slim but workable lead; the 1-goal advantage makes a big difference but still there's work to be done. The second legs against Real Madrid and Juventus were both tense 0-0 affairs; if this one ends with the same scoreline, we'll all collapse in heaps at the end.

Villareal face a tough choice; they need to score, and yet an Arsenal goal would make for a nearly insurmountable lead. I would guess the home team will start a bit cautiously, feel out the Gunners, and try to ramp up the pressure midway through the first half. Arsenal will do their best to hold posession, remain patient, and attack on the counter. An early Arsenal goal would do much to reduce our nerves, thankyouverymuch.

Villareal will have a few advantages. They rested ten of their starters on the weekend, so the team will be rested. First-choice keeper Sebastian Viera returns to the lineup. As an Arsenal reject, he'll surely be motivated, though he's been a bit brittle through the season. Juan Manuel Pena also returns in defense. Alessio Tacchinardi is suspended.

Arsenal have a worry in defense as Phillip Senderos is unavailable; he had ligament damage in the Tottenham match. Sol Campbell will return in his place. This is obviously a risk, but Sol played well against Portsmouth before his broken nose. He has everything to prove and I expect him to be a rock in the middle tonight. Gael Clichy also returns, though he will likely sit on the bench. Arsenal will probably play the following lineup:
Eboue - Toure - Campbell - Flamini
Hleb - Gilberto - Ljungberg - Fabregas - Reyes
It's a lineup that can win this match. My prediction? Jose Antonio gets a goal on the counter around 25', and the match finishes a frantic but solid 0-1 to the Arsenal. That first goal is crucial; if Villareal score first, expect to hear a global 'sproing' as overstrained nerves snap on Gunners fans worldwide. But I have faith that we'll see the best out of the boys tonight. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

24 April 2006

Beckenbauer? Beckenbauer!

The Joga Bonito ads are pretty good. But I'm sure you've all seen them. This one from Adidas was new to me... and it's pretty good too!

It's just too bad there aren't any Gunners in it. But it's still worth watching.

Yeah, I guess the World Cup is approaching...

Edit: Sorry, forgot to mention -- link thanks to Soccer-Weblog.com.

FA Cup Finals Set

The FA Cup final is set now. The semifinals saw Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool on Saturday and Boro 0-1 West Ham on Sunday. I'm pleased for both teams. I was never going to be excited about a potential Double for Chelsea. They might get there eventually, but every year it's postponed adds to its value. Liverpool on the other hand have had a good solid year and played some attractive soccer along the way, so a bit of hardware would be well deserved.

I can't comment on that match without mentioning Jose Mourinho's whiny comments afterwards. Mourinho's already the runaway leader for Poor Loser of the Year, so it's no surprise. Not for the first time, he said, "Did the best team win today? I don't think so."

Here's a hint, Jose. The best team is the one that scores more goals. You lost; come to grips with that fact. Creating excuses for your team won't help.

Instead of Chelsea it will be West Ham that represent London. Despite Wigan gaining all the attention, West Ham have been just as impressive following promotion. They've always been up for a game, and did particularly well against Arsenal this year, drawing 0-0 at Upton Park and winning 2-3 at Highbury. The Hammers, like Wigan, came to the Prem looking not just to survive but to thrive. It's great to see that they've done so while also putting together a run to the FA Cup finals. Good on them. Even better, the win guarantees them an entry to the UEFA Cup next season, as Liverpool are already qualified for the Champions' League.

I am a bit sad for Middlesboro though. The thought of a bottom-half team like Middlesboro winning an unlikely double of the FA Cup and UEFA Cup had a good bit of charm, but that dream is gone. They're out of the FA Cup and on the knife edge in the UEFA Cup. Steaua Bucuresti have a 1-0 lead from the first leg of their tie, and so Boro have work to do back at the Riverside on Thursday. I'd hate to see all their dreams end this week. So best of luck to you, Boro! Get a couple of goals Thursday!

But for the FA Cup it's Liverpool and West Ham. Liverpool are the obvious favorites there and deservedly so. They've met once this season, back on 29 October at Anfield, where Liverpool walked out 2-0 winners. Of course, that leaves the reverse fixture still to come, this Wednesday at Upton Park. Both teams still have outside shots at improving their position -- Liverpool are 6 points behind Man Utd for second, while West Ham have four teams within 6 points themselves. But this match will clearly be an opportunity to prepare for the cup final, and I'm sure that neither manager will show every card in their deck.

22 April 2006

Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham

A disappointing draw for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger clearly gambled with the starting lineup. Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Freddie Ljungberg, and Emmanuel Eboue were all rested for Tuesday's match. Instead, he brought on Robin van Persie, Abou Diaby, Jose Antonio Reyes, and Johann Djourou, and you have to say that only Reyes was an even swap in that equation.

The first half was rather tense. Arsenal had a few good chances but so did Tottenham and they certainly held the bulk of the posession. The Gunners looked just a bit unorganized, particularly in the center of the park, and Tottenham were able to pick their chances at will. Fortunately the defense was solid and limited most chances. There were a few scary moments, most notably an amazing late-half run by Michael Carrick, winding his way through much of the defense, only to take himself too wide and fire into the side netting. The half ended 0-0 but with a bad case of nerves for the Arsenal supporters.

The second half saw some better play from the Gunners but still the posession favored Spurs. Unfortunately, Phillip Senderos went down with a knee injury and Eboue subbed in for him. Van Persie had a golden chance, beating the trap and taking on Paul Robinson one-on-one, but Robinson did just enough and van Persie too little, and the ball went wide. That was van Persie's final chance, as Wenger threw the dice and brought in Henry and Fabregas, replacing van Persie and Diaby. Yet it was shortly thereafter that the Spurs pressure told, albeit in controversial fashion. A three-way midfield collision left Eboue and Gilberto injured on the turf, yet Spurs pressed ahead, and their break found the back short of players; Edgar Davids sent in a cross that found Robbie Keane who easily knocked it home.

Make no mistake, it was an unsportsmanlike play and Spurs should be ashamed. They've attempted to make excuses that the injury wasn't their fault, but that's irrelevant. If the other team has players down, you put the ball out. Simple as that. If Arsenal had done the same, I would be embarassed; rest assured that Spurs fans would be screaming bloody murder had the situation gone the other way round. It was a crap goal, end of discussion.

Yet it still stands as a goal, and in any event Aresnal hadn't given a solid account for themselves. But finally the addition of Eboue, Cesc and Henry began to take effect. In particular, Eboue's aggressive runs down the side and Henry's controlled attack began to put pressure on Spurs. But it was the hitherto unhelpful Adebayor who unlocked the Tottenham goal. He won the ball on the touchline, beat his man, and then found Henry... who did the rest. A fine outside-boot finish beat Robinson, and Arsenal were back level at 1-1. Shortly after, the annoying and whiny Edgar Davids picked up his second yellow, and Spurs were down to ten men. Arsenal brought a huge amount of pressure, but of course Tottenham packed back in the box and thwarted everything that came their way. The last frantic ten minutes finished and the scoreline remained.

Wenger definitely showed that the Champions League is the primary focus for Arsenal. Still, despite some poor play and a dodgy game, the Gunners nearly took three points. But in the end, the changes to the side damaged the team's cohesion, and the lack of posession made the difference. So now Spurs are 4 points to the good; Arsenal have a game in hand but need help to catch them. Spurs are home to Bolton and away to West Ham, while Arsenal visit Sunderland and Man City before hosting Wigan in the final Highbury match. I certainly wouldn't be shocked to see Tottenham drop points, but Arsenal won't have it easy either, especially with the busy schedule over two weeks.

Player ratings:

Lehmann: 8 Really thought he had a quality game. Didn't make any stunning saves -- but that was because he was always in position to make them easy. Had no chance on the goal; had to dive at Davids' threat before the cross. Did some good work late in his sweeper-like way to clear a potential Spurs attack. Definitely making all the right decisions at the moment, which bodes well for Germany.

Djourou: 6 Didn't play too badly in the fullback role, though he didn't get forward much either. Fairly solid at center-half after Senderos left; not spectacular but decent.
Toure: 6 Not a bad game but certainly not at his best. Looked either exhausted or injured, particularly in the first half; a bit uncomfortable on the ball and not as active as usual. A worrying sign for Tuesday.
Senderos: 7 Was having a good game before the injury. I like the way he and Toure complement each other; Toure is faster and better in motion, while Senderos is better in the air. Hopefully he'll be OK for Tuesday, though Wenger's quick assessment is that he'll miss the match.
Flamini: 6 Had real trouble with Aaron Lennon, though he never made a mistake as such -- Lennon was just too fast for him. Had a better time after Lennon was subbed (a mistake on Martin Jol's part, I would say), and was a key part of the Arsenal threat in the last 15 minutes. His late-game workrate is amazing; he must be a Lance Armstrong-like metabolic freak.

Pires: 8 Had a great game. Got really stuck in, did a lot of work coming forward, but also did some good defensive tackling. Obviously trying to pump his value -- but at least this is the right way to do it.
Gilberto: 8 Also well played. He's really peaking in time for the World Cup. Some stellar tackling and very good distribution; looked good with the ball at his feet today.
Diaby: 6 Not bad for the youngster. Suffered from a lack of organization; he still isn't familiar with his midfield partners. But does obviously have skills -- could be a real force in the future.
Reyes: 5 Very disappointing. Had a few moments, but also many gaps where he fell off the pace. Inexcusable when he didn't play on Wednesday. Probably too focused on the trip to Spain. Had a golden opportunity midway through the second half, but took it too casually and allowed Robinson to save.

van Persie: 6 Also disappointing. Had some good play but never really integrated; doesn't appear that he and Adebayor know how to work together yet. Might have done better with his breakaway; the finish was uncharacteristically lacking. At least he brought energy to most of the match.
Adebayor: 6 The most difficult player to rate. Looked very poor in the first half -- many Arsenal moves broke down when he got involved. Looked like anything beyond the second touch was a disaster, and was zero threat in the first half. And yet his work for the goal was fantastic; obviously has a lot more comfort with Henry than anyone else.

Eboue: 7 (54' for Senderos) Brought a lot of energy to the match. Much more of a threat going forward; provided a key element in the late siege on Tottenham's goal. Must be more wary of getting caught forward though -- hasn't learned yet how to time his attacks.
Henry: 8 (62' for van Persie) A high-quality goal, though he made it look easy. Fought hard in the closing minutes for a second goal, but suffered a bit from the hectic nature of the finish.
Fabregas: 6 (62' for Diaby) Fought hard for the last part of the game, but he too suffered from the disorganized finish. Did bring a bit more thoughtfulness to the attack, but I think that has more value in the meat of the game rather than in a frantic close.

So there you go. Now on to Villareal, and the boys will have everything to play for. If we didn't have clarity before, we do now: this is the most important game, bar none. Hold nothing back and get the job done, you Gunners!

20 April 2006

Arsenal 1-0 Villareal

Halfway there. The 1-0 win is not everything that Arsenal fans would have hoped for, and yet it's much better than we might have feared. Keeping the clean sheet was most important, particularly as Villareal have advanced from both previous ties due to the away goal rule. So while 1-0 isn't as good as 2-0 or 3-0... it's a far sight better than 2-1 or 1-1. And any of those scorelines could have applied, had the officals decided things differently.

The match itself was tense of course. In the first half, Arsenal looked the better team, and fashioned a few decent chances without converting. In particular, one clear Henry goal was ruled out for a dodgy offsides call. Then, off a cleared Arsenal corner, Henry fed Hleb in a dangerous position, and his low cross was met perfectly by Kolo Toure for the goal. I can't tell you how happy this made me. Kolo is probably my favorite player for the Gunners: central defender, hard worker, always a good attitude, and very. Very. Good. But he had never scored at Highbury, and time grew short for him to break that duck. I'd be chuffed if he scored against West Brom; to have him score the last European goal at Highbury is just fantastic. Cheers, Kolo!

Toure-iffic! (image from BBC)

But shortly after, Villareal had a shout for a penalty. After some pinball in the Arsenal box, Gilberto got tangled with Jose Mari on the edge of the box, and he went down hard. No call was given, probably in large part because Jose Mari channeled Greg Louganis all evening. The Yellow Submarines deserve their name, because they sure spent a lot of time diving. Post-match photos showed that the tackle came just outside the box, but in the event, the whistle didn't blow and Arsenal cleared their lines.

The second half saw good chances both ways. Villareal held much more possession than they had in the first half, but in the end couldn't make it tell. Arsenal had another dodgy offsides call or two, while Villareal had some dangerous freekick opportunities that came close enough. Dennis Bergkamp had a late chance that was cleared off the line (though I believe the flag was up on that play as well).

A word or two about the officials. The referee -- Konrad Plautz from Austria -- had a difficult job. Villareal are a team that comes in hard in the tackle but go down easily themselves, and that's a real challenge to officiate. They worked hard to manufacture as many fouls as possible, and spent a lot of time arguing about it. In the end he handed out five yellow cards to Villareal, and Tacchinardi will miss the next leg. He also did a fair job of sorting out the real fouls from the acting, and generally kept control of things. The linesmen however were not up to the task. They had several baffling calls, and Arsenal should have had two more goals than they did. Disappointing, in such a crucial match.

In any event, Arsenal have the 1-0 lead. Still, just one quality Riquelme free kick and Villareal are level. They're certainly capable of scoring... but they're also capable of conceding, and an Arsenal goal would make their task difficult indeed. Next Tuesday will certainly be incredibly tense once again.

But between now and then, we have a little matter of the North London derby on Saturday. It's the match that may well decide fourth place, and both teams will be up for it. I'll preview the match later in the week; it's going to be a classic and I'm really looking forward to it.

The Arsenal season will be defined by the next six days. I can hardly wait!

19 April 2006

Arsenal - Villareal Preview: Farewell To Highbury

OK. This afternoon we'll see the final European game at Highbury. It's obviously huge for the team, as we need to do as much as possible at Highbury. It's been our recipe in every tie so far -- get the goals in the first leg, and then hang on. AC Milan failed to do so yesterday and now they must score in a difficult visit to Camp Nou next week. We don't want any of that situation, and so it's crucial to both score and keep a clean sheet.

The good, unsurprising news is that Cesc will be available tonight. He's been crucial in the wins against Real Madrid and Juventus, and he's sure to play a key role tonight as well. Reyes is out due to his silly yellow card in Turin, and of course Adebayor is unavailable in the CL. Wenger has been able to rest his key front players a bit, but the back line has been under seige of late and is starting to appear a bit fatigued, particularly Eboue. Defensive play from the wide midfielders will be crucial.

Villareal certainly have the scoring threat to make Arsenal sweat, particularly with the first leg in Highbury. Riquelme is the obvious keystone to their attack, and the Gunners must harrass him all night. Villareal are missing their keeper Sebastian Viera due to suspension, and their two starting CBs (Gonzalo Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Pena) who are both injured.

Make no mistake: Villareal are a dangerous team. It's a cliche but only because it's true: you don't reach this stage without demonstrating quality. To be sure, Villareal have arrived in the semis by the thinnest of margins, winning the ties with both Rangers and Inter by the away goals rule. Villareal are making noises about a "zonal defense" which can only play into Arsenal's hands. If Inter can get two goals and Gers three, then I have to believe Arsenal will get their chances as well.

But all that is on paper and makes no difference whatsoever once the whistle blows. I'm nervous and tense, and it's still seven hours before the game. This afternoon will be a struggle, particularly if I get stuck in a meeting as looks likely. But I have faith in the Gunners. They know what the match means, and having this last European match in Highbury is obviously an added incentive. I'm sure they'll do Arsenal Stadium -- and the fans that fill it -- proud. Fight hard, give them no time on the ball, and be clinical and ruthless in front of their goal. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

17 April 2006

Arsenal 3-1 West Brom

A friendly scoreline but a difficult match. Arsenal had some difficulties in the first half, but were able to finally take the lead just before the break with a nice little 1-2 that ended with Aleksander Hleb scoring a nifty little goal.

I think we all expected the Gunners to cruise from that point but it was not to be. West Brom kept themselves in it, and after a rash of substitutions, they finally got a goal on 72' thanks to an error by Emmanuel Eboue. Based on recent form, there was cause to be nervous. But... it was Dennsis Bergkamp day. First he set up Robert Pires, then he put away his own shot, cheering the orange-clad fans and giving Arsenal the crucial three points.

Still, it was a near thing. Arsenal are clearly not on their best form at the moment, and it will be interesting to see what happens for the Villareal match. Cesc is missed in the midfield, particularly going forward, so hopefully his foot will be in good shape come Wednesday. The defense is also starting to show the effects of wear, with Eboue in particular looking like he could use a rest. However, it appears that Lauren is out for the duration. Ashley Cole is nearing his return, so perhaps that will help. But it's all hands to the pump now. There are six games remaining -- seven if we defeat Villareal -- and every one is a must-win. Let's see it, Arsenal! Step up and get stuck in!

Update: With just 13 minutes gone, Man Utd is up 0-1 over Spurs. That's exactly what we need. I hate rooting for the Mancs, but we need Spurs to drop the points. So far, so good.

13 April 2006

Portsmouth 1-1 Arsenal

A disappointing draw down south. Too many missed chances, and just one missed defensive opportunity. Adebayor missed a couple of sitters; it happens sometimes, but twice in a game is not what you want to see. But I suspect that's the kind of player he'll turn out to be -- whatever the opposite of "clinical" is.

It was a bit of an odd lineup, with Abou Diaby and Alexandre Song partnering in midfield. Much has been made of the choice, as both are inexperienced, particularly Song. He's only played 16 minutes of Premiership soccer until yesterday. As Arseblog pointed out, Sebastian Larsson would have been the more experienced choice. I suppose though that we did have the chances we needed to take three points, and our problems came more from misses from Adebayor (and Ljungberg) than from Song.

Arsenal are in the thick of it and every match is vital at this stage. Disappointing as it is, that point gained yesterday may prove the difference in the battle with Spurs for fourth. The runout will be frantic, with 11 matches from 1 April thru the final League match on 7 May. With that many matches, players will become injured or just worn out, and Wenger will draw deeply from his squad. The Alex Songs and Sebastian Larssons of the team must step up and perform alongside the Freddie Ljungbergs and Robert Pireses, or both the Prem and the Champions League will disappoint us. PhysioRoom tells us that both Cole and Clichy are potentially near returning, and that would be good news indeed.

And speaking of injury news: just a quick note to mention that Claudio Reyna returned to action on the weekend. While I'm happy for Man City, I'm ecstatic for the US Men, as team captain Reyna supplies organization and stability to the team. Without him, the center of the pitch is much less effective for the Nats. Let's hope he stays healthy and uses these last few weeks in the League to regain his match fitness.

Well, on to the weekend. Arsenal are home to West Brom. Facing a relegation candidate, with Villareal looming large on Wednesday, we can expect Wenger to reach for his bench players again. Here's hoping that he comes up with a winning hand for Saturday. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

09 April 2006

Man Utd 2-0 Arsenal

Well, crap.

I might post more on the game later, but for now I'll just say that it was a depressing result because Arsenal didn't play too badly. The first 20 minutes went all our way, and we had plenty of chances the rest of the game. But still, we gave up two disappointing goals, and United could probably have had more.

So anyway, United take the points in their (probably fruitless) quest to challenge Chelsea. They don't have much of a chance; Chelsea just aren't going to drop enough points to matter. But Man U are on form and will probably put together a good push until 29 April, when they take on Chelsea. They'd just better damn well do a number on Spurs in a couple weeks.

But more importantly, I had a fantastic time with the Arsenal America crew. What an amazing weekend. I will definitely post more on that, but for now, just thanks to you all. I had a great time and look forward to the next meetup. You all rock! Hard!

Arsenal America Chicago Meetup: Pregame Update

Well the meetup has been a blast so far. Friay night was, well, call it pub-intensive. The Schoolyard was packed with Cubs fans, so we changed venues to the Globe. I had a chance to meet several new faces and a few I knew from November's roadtrip. And it was a blast.

Saturday morning then was a bit low-key. *boilk* But we were ready to go by the time of the supporters' match against the Mancs. It was entertaining to play, but the Manchester team (along with their, ahem, recruits) were able to jump out ahead and keep a big lead to the finish (the final score was... 9-3? I can't remember...) And frankly, given that we probably had an average of 10 or 15 years on their guys... I think we did OK. In the end the match was a lot of fun, and that was the whole point.

From there of course we headed back to the Globe for lunch, and then off our separate ways until dinner. Dinner was at the Grafton, which was a great spot. We had a back room reserved, which had plenty of space and a fireplace with sofas. Fantastic stuff and good food too, so it made for a fun evening.

I've posted a few photos out on Flickr. Check them out; I'll caption them later, but for now I have to get moving. Off to the Globe again, this time for the match. It's hugely important to get some points off this one; this weekend's results haven't been as kind to the Gunners as last week. Both teams will be going for 3 points and I think there are goals in the game. Let's just get them for Arsenal, eh? COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

08 April 2006

The Copa

The Copa
Originally uploaded by cisko.
In honor of Rick... The ArseAm crowd rocks to the Copa Cabana.

More Pints For The Gooners

More Pints For The Gooners
Originally uploaded by cisko.
The festivities continue. Much fun is had. The Meetup... It is good.

07 April 2006

Manchester Utd - Arsenal Preview

A massive game this week, and here we are, faced with another massive game just four days later. But of course the situation in the league is quite a bit more dangerous. The table shows all the drama, with Arsenal just 2 points behind Spurs for the last Champions League place, while Manchester Utd are 7 points back of Chelsea and closing.

So both teams have everything to play for, and both are on fantastic runs of form. Here's what they've done since February:

Man Utd 6 6 0 0 12 3
Arsenal 7 5 2 0 16 1

...and both of those Arsenal draws were effectively wins, as they finished the ties with Real Madrid and Juventus. So in other words, both teams are red-hot and brimming with confidence.

So what will we see Sunday? It's possible that we'll see a tight, tense match such as the FA Cup final from last year. A 0-0 draw is not out of the possibility. But my gut is telling me that there are goals in this match, that both teams will find the net. I'd love to see the same 2-1 win we got over Liverpool; let's call that the prediction.

And it's a good weekend for it. This is the weekend for the Arsenal-Man Utd Chicago Meetup! Several of us are gathering in Chicago to take in the game and hang out at the pubs. I hear there will be some soccer played too. Check back here early and often; I'll post some photos throughout the weekend.

So a win this weekend is crucial -- it will provide in-person bragging rights over the Mancs! Let's get stuck in. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

06 April 2006

Juventus 0-0 Arsenal (0-2 agg.)

We're going to the SE-mis! We're going to the SE-mis! We're going to the SE-mis!

What a great night to be a Gunner. Unlike the home game against Madrid, this was not "the best 0-0 draw ever." It was a bit too chaotic for that, and the 2-0 lead meant that the tension just wasn't the same. Juve had their chances, and so did the Gunners, but only one team needed goals. Frankly I was surprised that Juventus weren't able to score at home. I believed they would press hard, and that would both get them a goal and leave them open to Arsenal attacks. They did try to bring pressure, but they also knew that one Arsenal goal would effectively end the tie. That tension left them indecisive and adrift. On the other hand, Arsenal knew exactly what they needed to produce, and that was disciplined enough to make it happen. It was a gritty, disciplined performance, and I can't help but love it just for that.

A few of the more pithy quotes:So there you have it. The work isn't done, by a long shot. You don't get to the semis of the Champions League without quality, and Villareal are no exception. They're not such a pillar of world soccer as Juventus or Real Madrid, and so there's some sense that we're on the brink of the final. Don't believe it. We have just as much work to do against the el Submarino Amarillo as we did against la Vecchia Signora or los merengues. In the end, what the fans believe doesn't matter (no jinx! no jinx!) but let's hope that the players don't give in to the hype either. And if they listen to their captain, they won't:
Everyone is congratulating us for having made history but we haven't done anything yet, We need to reach the end of the journey and that means winning the final in Paris in May. It's amazing what these young guys are doing and the stage that they are doing it on, but we can't let up. We must keep attacking and defending as a team and reach the end of the line.
Thierry Henry via UEFA.com
And right he is. Not to mention, there's a pretty big game coming up this Sunday, as Arsenal visit Old Trafford to take on Manchester United. Back into the league for the Gunners, and points are crucial at this stage. Let's hope that there's no hangover for the lads. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

04 April 2006

Juventus - Arsenal Preview

The key things you need to know about tomorrow's game:

Situation: Arsenal 2-0 Juventus, of course. The target for Juve is to get two goals, which would send the match into extra time (and then penalties if necessary). If Arsenal get a goal, then Juve need to get 4 (due to away goals rule), which would just about kill off the tie.

Arsenal: The Gunners are coming off their 5-0 win over lower-half Aston Villa on the weekend. Emmanuel Adebayor is cup-tied and unavailable. Both Freddie Ljungberg and Aleksander Hleb return from injury. Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboue were both subbed due to injury on Saturday, and both are concerns for Wednesday. However, they've both traveled with the team to Turin, so they may be available. According to Arsène Wenger, Cesc should be ready, while Eboue is still uncertain. Abou Diaby is ready to fill in for Cesc at need, while either Sol Campbell or Johann Djourou would be available in defense if Eboue can't go.

Juventus: Juventus drew 0-0 with Treviso on Saturday. Treviso are woeful -- 16 points and bottom of the table -- so the weekend can't have helped the bianconerri's confidence. Pavel Nedved returns from suspension, while Alessandro Del Piero remains unavailable. Of course, Mauro Camoranesi, Jonathan Zebina, and Patrick Viera are all suspended after their meltdown in London.

Television: Viewers in the US, rejoice: In a late change, ESPN has decided to televise the match. Huzzah! (It's nice to see they can pull their collective heads out once in a while. Now if they can just ditch Tommy Smythe...) So the match will be televised at 1445 EDT on ESPN2. Set your Tivos now. The only problem for me is that I've 'watched' all previous CL matches online. So my superstitious nature is asserting itself, reminding me of every major televised defeat I've seen, like Germany 1-0 US in World Cup 2002, or Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea in the 03/04 Champions League. But I've got to face those demons. (Right?)

Prediction: I'm a pessimist by nature. But I have to believe that we can do this. On the other hand, I can't imagine I'll be comfortable with it. Call it 1-1 final, with Juventus getting a goal around 40', and then Arsenal responding at 75'.

Or we could just win 5-0. That would work too. Either way, we should expect nothing less than an advance to the semifinals, facing either Inter Milan or Villareal. So let's do it, get the job done, and get the early goal. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

Update: According to Arsène, Cesc looks good for Wednesday, and Eboue is 80% likely. So we're likely to have two of the key players back from the match last week. Here's hoping they're fit and play as well as they did last week. If they do... then I feel pretty good about the match.

03 April 2006

Arsenal 2-0 Juve; Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa

What can I say about two fantastic matches? I've been slow to post for a few reasons (no match video and new computer). But the good news is that I haven't had to. Plenty of news outlets and blogs have covered Arsenal's success of late. Nothing brings attention like success I suppose.

So what's the consensus?
And the thing is, Arsenal really did dominate Juve to that degree. Their two red cards were perhaps the best illustation of how frustrated they became. Of course, it's only half the story, and taking a 2-0 lead into Turin guarantees nothing. But the cards will help, as three Juve players are ruled out for Wednesday.

As for the Villa match, well, simply yet another brilliant performance. Two brilliant goals for Henry, another as good for van Persie, and a fine debut goal for Diaby. The defense played well, and even Jens got in on the fun with a couple of fantastic saves. But I think you have to make Emmanuel Adebayor the Man of the Match. His opening goal was, frankly, ugly -- a header off a clearance that found first the bar, then the back of the defender's head. Yet for much of this season we've lacked just that sort of positioning that finds rebounds and puts them away. And he had wonderful play throughout the match. He had a great touch with the sole of his foot on a 60-yard ball, flicking it onto Henry's feet for his beautiful second goal. And his incisive run left the middle wide open for Diaby's goal. All match long, Adebayor was in good positions, making nice runs, and generally doing very useful things. He's really making a spot for himself, and is really going to put the pressure on Robin van Persie (not to mention Theo Walcott) to find playing time.

The match had its down side though, with Fabregas and Eboue both departing due to injuries. Wenger says that "Both are a small 50/50 for Wednesday night. That means a 60/40 against.", which means I'm fairly sure he's a football genius but not a math genius. But in any event, it reduces our options for Wednesday, which is unfortunate. Hopefully one or both of them will be able to play, but we'll only know for sure on Wednesday.

And I can't wait. It should be an intriguing match, though I'll admit to some nerves for it. 2-0 is not insurmountable, and Juve will be tough at home. I'm sure they'd like nothing better than to craft a huge upset. But if Arsenal can play on Wednesday like they have in their past several matches, I think they'll be OK.

Much more to post this week, there's a lot going on. Juve on Wednesday, followed by a visit with Man United on Sunday. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

02 April 2006

Two Tickets To Nashville

Two Tickets To Nashville
Originally uploaded by cisko.
It's not Germany, but still we'll get a chance to send the Nats off in style. We'll stand with Sam's Army. Should be a blast!

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