Monthly Archives: November 2007

Flamini Back as Carlos Vela is told to fight for First Team place

FlaminiWe’ll start the day with some good, wholesome news for a change (not that carnal rubbish we’ve had to put up with lately – ‘kids these days…’). Mathieu Flamini – of hassle-tastic, hard-bastard terrier-fame (abbreviated HTHBTF, which sounds like the name of a prescription steroid…) – is expected to return for Arsenal’s trip to Prince William’s favourite club.

It’s a welcome return to a side that will be bereft of both Clichy and Hleb – though Wenger reckons there’s a tiny chance they could feature; perhaps in the form of 89th minute sub-runouts – and it’s important we get players who will fight for a result at Villa Park. We have not played well, home or away, to Villa in quite some time; not since that 5-0 drubbing at Highbury, anyway. Villa have got a number of very good players, and have a good team-ethic instilled by Martin O’Neill. Gallas, Rosicky and Flamini will be expected to push the team on with battling performances.

For the sake of keeping the good news rolling (it’s going downhill quickly after…), Manuel Almunia should be hearing a call from the Spanish national side soon enough, according to Arsene Wenger. Wenger is comparing Manuel Almunia to French goalkeeper Gregory Coupét – saying Almunia is similarly a ‘late bloomer’, and should be in the mix alongside Reina and Casillas for Euro 2008. Three cheers for the SunGod!

In the last dregs of Good News™, Wenger has said that Carlos Vela – who gets his European passport in March 2008 – will be fighting for a first team place next season. The wonderkid from Mexico, as even Port Vale fans will know by now, has been on loan to Celta Vigo, Salamanca and now Osasuna to get a passport so as to be eligible for a work permit in England, and has had some hype following him wherever he’s gone. Some sources rate the kid as ‘The Next Hugo Sanchez™’ – though the (football) culture in Mexico is very similar to the one in Argentina, and we all know how many ‘The Next Maradona™’s there have been over the past few years.

Now, time to buckle our seatbelts for some world-shattering news items. Arsene Wenger himself has said that anything could happen with Cesc Fabregas, who could either play in Villa’s game, or sit 10 days out. Frankly, that’s the most dichotomous prognosis I’ve heard in a while – so I’ll put money on the fact that Fabregas will be sitting out a few matches. While ANR believes that Rosicky will return to central midfield in place of Fabregas, I think the Sevilla game taught us a lesson, and that’s not to have anyone but Rosicky protecting the left-wing if Traore’s at left back. Flamini and Diarra might be seen in the centre, with Eboue and Rosicky taking up their usuals. To sum up, Clichy and Hleb could be out for another two weeks, while Robin van Persie still sits out for an additional fortnight.

With regards to his touchline ban, Wenger says he will not appeal the decision, which currently sees him sidelined for the Steaua game. Murmurs abound that he will also have to sit out the first leg of the Round of 16 match as well, which is quite likely to happen. Wenger, however, believes that a ban against Steaua is enough of a punishment, as he had not actually done that much wrong. The manager says:

At the end of the day I know what I have done, and I know I have not done a lot.

It’s like if the speed limit is 60mph, sometimes you are not caught when you drive 70mph and sometimes you are caught when you drive 61. I drove 60 and a half. I was surprised that I was sent off for what I said. I said [to the fourth official] it was naive to give Alves time to waste that time. I said ‘I bet with you he will sprint in two minutes’. It was less than two minutes.

The man keeps coming up with glorious quotes for the press, doesn’t he? Cesc Fabregas has also stood up and defended Wenger’s selection against Sevilla, saying only Arsenal would send in as young a squad as that into a European cauldron. The midfielder says:

The only team that can do something as brave as that to develop young players is Arsenal. The manager only deserves praise for it. I have also learned from defeats like that in the past when I was a younger player.

Traore and Denilson to reach the levels of Cesc’s magic in their respective positions? We can only hope and pray.

In a final news roundup, Emmanuel Adebayor has said ‘it will take a £100m bid to prise him away from Arsenal’, which is hilariously typical of my favourite striker – he really does rate himself highly. Which is what strikers need, of course. Ending in a whimper, Michel Platini has confirmed that the 2009 season will see his horrible changes to the Champions League unfurl. Pox upon the name…

That is all, and you’d better be satisfied with your lot. Ungrateful swines. Be gone with you all..!

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Wenger Fronts Up to Ban that could Hurt Arsenal’s Chances

Most of us know already, but elaborating further why yesterday’s loss to Sevilla was not important would give it even more limelight than it already needs.

All we have to do now is look to what lies ahead of the team, putting the result behind us. Arsene Wenger has said that he intentionally sent out a much-rotated team so as to keep the first team fresh for a difficult December. Wenger says:

For me, an unbeaten record in the Champions League is not important. What is important is to qualify and we’ve got the Premier League, too.We’ve got a lot of big games coming up and we’ve got a big December. We have to make some difficult choices and, for me, December is based on the championship.

Which is exactly right. The focus this month is all on the Premier League, with the last remaining European match being a home game to lowly Steaua. Apart from a Quarter Final against Blackburn in the Carling Cup, this month coming is all about maintaining a title-push in the face of stern opposition.

Fittingly, we’ll round off all the Champions League news to get it out of the way. The only real repercussion from the Sevilla-match worth worrying about is how long any touchline ban of Wenger’s will extend to, after he was sent from the touchline by the Fourth official. Wenger was remarking on playacting by Dani Alves, which did not go down well with the official (“You can’t handle the truth!”). Wenger explains:

I said to the referee that… Alves had gone down too badly then he came back onto the pitch and two minutes later he was sprinting. Therefore I got sent off. He could not give me any other reason.

How long will the ban stand for after appeal? Even if Wenger means what he says about not being able to access the stands, the committee will not look favourably on that. Will he miss any legs in the Round of 16? Now that is something to worry about. Cellphones will be out.

Finally with the Champions League (“go away, please!”), Cesc Fabregas says coming second in the group does not matter, as Arsenal are ‘ready for anyone‘. The young midfielder says:

I don’t care if we finish second in the group and have to play the big sides in the next round. If we want to be the best, we have to beat everybody.

Though I don’t buy the “we came first last year and lost to PSV later”-line being spouted around the blogosphere, I can buy Liverpool’s example of last year: Liverpool topped their group while Barcelona came second to Chelsea. The two were drawn together, and Liverpool were able to do what was necessary to nullify and pass that test in the Second Round. If they can, we can. Not that we’ll be playing Barcelona necessarily, but the point remains – players like Fabregas have a youthful gumption that exudes a self-belief to compare with the best. And that is a very good thing.

Sticking with Fabregas, his fitness is a cause for debate. On the one hand, the midfielder himself says his substitution was a precaution after he felt a tweak in his hamstring, and that he should be ready for Villa. Other news sources, however, are not so positive, saying Fabregas could miss the next three games (all away) against Villa, Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Not all moonshine and roses at this point.

Finally, Emmanuel Adebayor has sympathised with Jens Lehmann’s goalkeeping predicament, but says he can do nothing more than be patient. The oh-so-stylish beanpole striker had this to say:

According to the manager, we cannot change Almunia at the moment so Jens should try to be more patient. We have played many games with Manuel between the posts and we are still unbeaten. He is playing very well so he cannot change.

It’s easy to sympathise with Jens’ plight, so long as he refrains from saying the stupid, callous things he has been saying about Almunia to the press. In a final round-up of non-news: Tottenham are allegedly chasing ‘Arsenal target‘ Luca Toni – which has as much credence as U.S intelligence on WMDs in Iraq, and the official site has done an opinion piece on our run of twenty-eight games unbeaten. Interesting reading for the games played last season, seeing as they’re less familiar than the present.

All for now. Be jolly, one and all.

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Senderos and Eduardo Fed to the Lions – Time to Dust Ourselves Off

Arsenal have not had a night like that in Europe since the Bayern Munich fiasco. One to forget very quickly – and as many negatives as there were in that match, it is important to not overreact to too many things.

The match started dozily for Phillipe Senderos, showing some obvious rust after not having played since October 7. Kanoute managed to pass Senderos only to shoot high over the bar. Arsenal looked like a group of pondering stragglers initially, but managed to gain possession soon after Kanoute’s miss, to start passing the ball around in their trademark way.

The possession paid off immediately when Bendtner, sidling down the right flank after a peachy back-heel from Eboue, sent in a cross to an inexplicably unmarked Eduardo, who refused to be distracted from the comical sight of Palop bundling over his own defenders. Holding his nerve, the Croat slotted the ball home for 1-0 to the Arsenal.

Arsenal had become comfortable on the ball after, pinging the ball back and forth, but Sevilla managed to demonstrate some skill in possession themselves. The game was an open affair; an exhibition of quality and control over the ball.

The only black mark, however, was the increasing regularity of Eboue’s antics. It seemed that any mere touch a defender made on the Ivorian made the winger bleed, and his complaints and tantrums noticeably affected Arsenal’s rhythm.

And so it showed: Gilberto hit a very poor clearance that found Keita, who drilled an astute outside-of-the-foot curler past Almunia from 20 yards. 1-1 and it wasn’t exactly ill deserved. Suddenly, Sevilla had taken the upper hand in the match, and started to dominate possession while Arsenal’s play became observatory-like at best. Toure and Senderos’ was not functioning; the two defenders lingering instead of hassling; pondering instead of closing down.

They were duly punished, but only by the most invalid of goals. Coming down the right wing, Jesus Navas dived dramatically over Traore to win a freekick on the flank. The kick was sent in for Luis Fabiano to effectively ghost in unmarked, and head in for 2-1.

Arsenal’s half was a shambles. Fabregas found no partners to his passing, and Nicklas Bendtner was the best of a bad bunch – the tall Dane managed to storm into Sevilla’s box before offloading to Eduardo, whose shot was saved. Denilson raced in for the rebound only to have his shot remarkably saved while Palop was still on the ground.

Halftime could not come for Arsenal soon enough, yet bizzarely, when they came on for the second, no changes to personel was evident. And the choice was called into question, with neither Eduardo nor Traore able to keep track of their players down the left wing. Eboue managed to jink into the penalty area and was upended by the Sevilla defense, only to be waved away by the referee. Replays showed that, for once, Eboue may have had a point in his protests.

Fabregas continued to be frustrated by not being able to find anyone to link onto his passes. On the sidelines, Rosicky was ready to come on, as Cesc complained of injury (a very early sub, by Wenger’s standards). Cesc was not looking happy with himself, though it was not quite clear how bad his injury was.

What was becoming an embarrassing fact was even when Arsenal beat Sevilla 3-0 at home earlier in the year, Sevilla never seemed as bad as Arsenal appeared at the Pizjuan. Sevilla were dominating Arsenal all over, particularly down the left flank left totally abandoned by Eduardo. A Navas cross was sent in, only for Senderos to play the cross with his chest – it looked like a handball; the referee called the penalty, but after a bemusing discussion, the decision was overruled by the very man who called it.

The defense continued to refuse to close Kanoute down, who had another shot off target. The only saving grace was that the score remained at 2-1, and that no matter how bad Arsenal were playing, they still only had the one goal deficit. However, that was never going to happen without any semblance of rhythm, and Eboue was destroying all of that, facing up to Poulson in another bout of handbags.

Once they finally got the ball, Arsenal could really only bomb a few crosses into an unmanned box. Yet still, Senderos continued to give away freekicks outside the box – retrospectively, it is a wonder how Sevilla did not put 5 past us. Walcott came on to replace the comical Eboue, in hope of injecting new life into Arsenal’s faltering effort.

If you thought it could not get worse, though, things got decidedly more pear-shaped, when Wenger was sent off from the touchline for allegedly berating the fourth-official. Stern as you like, Wenger refused to budge, finally being sent off a second time in the dying seconds of the game. There will be serious repercussions to come, I shudder to think what they are.

In the meantime, Arsenal continued to fail to create anything while Toure and Sagna muscled Kanoute off the ball for a penalty to be awarded, which Kanoute slotted as cool as you like for 3-1 to Sevilla, and game over.

Third-Gen ratings as follows:

  • Almunia – 6: Flapped at some crosses, and padded the ball straight back in front of him at times, but still did his job where the defense often failed.
  • Hoyte – 5.5: Had some good moments, though was as mired as the rest of the defensive effort.
  • Toure – 6: Did what he could to keep the ship from sinking, but seemed to be influenced by Senderos’ hesitancy. Bonus marks for some attacking intent, though.
  • Senderos – 3: The archetypal ‘Nightmare performance’. Hesitant on almost all Sevilla attacks; penalty was rightfully overturned but then adds to the comedy by picking up the ball in open play. You would hope he has something to learn from this performance.
  • Traore – 4.5: Still very naive, and not ready for this level of football yet. Crucially, however, was not helped at all by Eduardo, who hardly ever backtracked down his flank.
  • Eboue – 5: Had the odd moment of class – the backheel down the right wing to Bendtner was exquisite – but the rest of his performance was rediculous. Complained at the merest touch, gave the ball away, and wrecked Arsenal’s rhythm constantly.
  • Denilson – 4: Quiet, very quiet. Like a sieve in midfield – was not at the races, today.
  • Gilberto – 5: Seemed to be thinking of Old Ladies. An indifferent effort.
  • Fabregas – 5.5: Passes found no-one, and no-one found his passes. Frustrated out of his wit, and the injury is worrying. Replaced on 55 minutes.
  • Eduardo – 4: The goal he scored promotes him to a four. Almost refused to backtrack down his flank and help Eduardo. For this reason, is not a left winger, at all. A forgetful performance.
  • Bendtner – 6: Best of a bad bunch – tried to get many moves started in the first half, but became very quiet in the second.

Substitutes: Rosicky, Walcott and Sagna. None managed to steer the game in the team’s favour, and Sagna had a small hand to play in Sevilla’s penalty.

Overall, a performance that must be put behind the team. Wenger reshuffled the pack, and paid for it. However, Arsenal remain in Europe, and should Sevilla come unstuck against Slavia Prague (who knows?), then Arsenal can still reclaim top spot.

After the match, Arsene Wenger said he was at a loss to explain why he was sent off during the touchlines, and added there was nowhere for him to physically move or to get into the stands. Kolo Toure, who did what he could to marshall a reshuffled defence, gave credit where it was due to Sevilla, saying:

The ref sometimes helped them but when you go away it is always like that but they deserved their win. We gave everything but that’s the way football goes.

We knew that defeat would come but we need to start again and show character. To be a winner you need to come back from these hard things.

Which is all too true from Kolo – the team must simply move on from last night. The match review is scathing, yes. But simply as a match in isolation, the performance warranted it. Eduardo and Senderos will be made aware how unacceptable a performance that was, Eboue must be punished for his behaviour, and Denilson and Troare will want to put that performance behind them.

Notes must be made on Senderos, Gilberto and Eduardo, though. For the new signing, a bit of leigh-way can be granted, but he must know that that was a simply unacceptable performance. Ditto from Senderos, who makes a lot of people nervous with his lack of confidence in his own ability. Where has the Senderos of 2005 gone? The young, no-holds-barred defender who closed down expertly, and quickly, even in the ultimately doomed season of 2004/2005? Is Senderos adequate backup to Toure once he and Eboue venture off to the African Cup of Nations?

As for Gilberto, it’s getting harder and harder to discernibly say his heart is still in it. From laxadasical clearances to less-commited backtracks, he’s certainly not the Gilberto of last season – has he been given the chance to be? Arguably not, but when you consider how excluded he looks in team huddles, the Italian omens are not looking too happy for one of my favourite players.

In the end, it is far from the end of the world. A team shorn of Gallas, Adebayor (rested), Clichy and Flamini (who should return for the Villa game) and replaced with budding squad players was always going to lack rhythm and impetus. Time to knuckle down and concentrate for the tricky trip away to Villa (the second component of the ‘tricky week’ not mentioned in yesterday’s blog).

At least the monkey of an undefeated run is off our backs, and it’s back to coming back from this, and taking points from Villa. Though that’s no easy task in itself. More analysis can be made once it’s clearer who’s returning to the side, and who is not.

In other news, Aliaksandr Hleb is once again Belarus’ Player of the Year. Congrats to him, and wishing a swift return from injury.

Let’s not get all doom-and-gloom about it, though. A poor performance, yes. But we’re still in the Champions League, and we’re still top of the English Premier League. Which is more than many teams can say. Until next time, Gooners…

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Bendtner to Start in Tricky Week for Arsenal

A handful of news to get through, prior to a Champions League match that is very difficult to call.
Wenger has stated that Nicklas Bendtner will be given a rare opportunity to impress for the side tonight, with Cesc Fabregas to start as well. Mathieu Flamini was also expected to start, but recent tests have revealed some difficulties with his injury sustained on international duty. News is still pending on what his role, if any, will be tonight.

On paper, Tuesday night’s game seems ours for the taking – an unbeaten run stretching on into the horizon, with a Sevilla team in a dire position in the Liga. Arsene Wenger is playing coy, however, with regards to Arsenal’s run – focusing solely on this one match.

Reflecting on how the old cliché of ‘one game at a time’ has fueled our current unbeaten run, Wenger says:

I think it is possible to have a good result tomorrow. We try to give our best in every game, I love to work with this team, they are really hungry and humble. They show that in every game and as long as we maintain these two qualities we have the chance to win the next game, which is what you want to achieve.

Outside of squad news, ex-Arsenal mainstay Martin Keown has hailed Cesc Fabregas as ‘the complete midfielder’, saying the young Catalan is ‘the orchestrator of everything‘ in Arsenal’s side, and has become a potent player with his rediscovery of his shooting boots. Keown says:

I was told that he needed to calm down in front of goal and he has managed that. He now looks very calm when he has a chance.

Cesc never allowed himself to get bullied, but sometimes he was a bit naive in the way he played. But that’s gone now and he’s a fighter – he wants to play football and put his foot in. He’s got everything he needs and now of course he’s scoring goals as well. He’s Arsenal’s driving force and looks so hungry and passionate. Coupled with that he plays a great technical game.

Seeing as we’re in such a mood to hail other players, Kolo Toure has taken time to hail the captaining-antics of one William ‘Runs with Wolves’ Gallas. Kolo has nothing but praise for Gallas, comparing him to past illuminaries like Vieira, Adams and Henry. Kolo says:

Toure GallasWhen Titi was here, he was outstanding. Patrick was strong and Tony as well. I have played under some fantastic captains and you just follow them.

I think he deserves to be mentioned among those names as captain because he is such a strong figure. He has great maturity in a really young team so that’s so important. The young players, when he says something, they really listen to him because they respect him.

Many may disagree with him on Thierry’s captaincy – the player was god-like, the captain left quite a bit to be desired. Nevertheless, Captain Gallas is starting to vindicate Wenger’s controversial, unexpected decision at season’s beginning to hand the ex-Chelsea man such responsibilities. His die-for-the-team ethic and irrepressible desire to win balances out the team’s aesthetic sumptuously, and the big performances we’ve been waiting for from him have finally come in a slipstream of commitment. We salute you, Captain.

The draft for today’s article had this blurb in it which I think is suitable, given the player about to be mentioned.

…”Keown hails Cesc”
“Kolo hails Gallas”
“Ashley Cole hails himself”…

Which says its own story, really. The whole story, of course, is that Ashley Cole has mouthed off to the press once more, leading up to Arsenal’s clash with Chelsea on December 16. The Cash-strapped defender (feed the poor) has said that while he ‘still loves Arsenal’, he’s going to the Emirates to shut a lot of people up. Apparently. While most reckon he’ll come up with another mysterious injury prior to the game, I don’t think Avram Grant will fall for the Mourinho-esque tactic. Cole might actually play, recieve a hounding from the crowd (at least twice as bad as against Manchester United) – which I believe will be enough to put him right off of his game, and not enthuse it.

SEV27NOVThe Emirates is developing a reputation for the European-style intimidation of rivals coming to the ground, but it’s to Europe that we now pour our scrutiny on.

Make no mistake, Sevilla is never an easy game, irrelevant of their form. In my opinion, the media has been lulled into a false sense of security with regards to Arsenal’s form: the team playing Sevilla will be much changed from the one that’s stormed all over England at the moment – and Arsenal’s top spot in the group is exceptionally vulnerable. Sevilla’s squad, though perhaps lacking in confidence, have technical ability and home-ground advantage to match Arsenal, should they feel up for it.

271107SevillaThe backline, for once, will be different from the streak of performers we’ve had over the past few games. While Almunia, Sagna and Toure should retain their places in defence, Senderos and Traore should step in while Gallas and Clichy, respectively, are rested.

With Hleb and Diaby very much out for a few weeks, and Flamini arguably not fit enough for anything more than a bench placement, Diarra should retain his place alongside the reinstated Fabregas, with Gilberto being assigned a shielding role.

The controversial nature of the predicted team, of course, is Bendtner as a lone striker up front. In any other game, I would expect him to be partnered by another senior striker, but with Adebayor also being rested coupled with travelling away to Sevilla, the need for a protective 4-5-1 is very apparent. The goals have been coming from midfield far more than they have from our strikeforce, but with Eduardo and Walcott itching to come off the bench, it should not be too much cause for concern.

A draw would be a sufficient result for the team. With only a home game against Steaua Bucharest to go in the competition, 4 points from the next two games will be enough to secure top spot.

Extreme caution must be exercised against Sevilla, though. Not only do we have an unbeaten run to protect, first place cannot be given away without a real fight. I would say the predicted squad has enough fight in them, though it will be up to Gilberto to protect the defensively naive Traore.

Here’s hoping for a positive result, and hopefully a good game too. Keep the red and white scarves swirling…

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John Motson Must be Feeling It…

Motson StrepsilAnyone get a chance to see Match of the Day on the BBC? The institution that is John Motson must surely be on a prescribed course of losenges after his commentating antics for the Arsenal v Wigan segment on MOTD – all standard, nil-nil fair leading up to the 80th minutes and beyond, until…

Diarra again, he’s found…Adebayor; (crescendo) this is Gallas, into Bendtner – outside into Sagna…Gallas is in the box.!!!!…IT’S THERE! WILLIAM GALLAS AGAIN! Just as he did against Manchester United…

And another bout flirting with the threshold of pain…

Nicklas Bendtner, oh! He’s got Rosicky’s free to his right!! If he plays it..! He’s absolutely clear! TWO NIL!!!!!

It was at that last capitalized point that I’m sure made him consider retirement ‘the morning after’. Could we be seeing more of this (picture above)? Or am I already too late?

Anyways, let’s move on to something a little less sinister. Wenger has confirmed that Theo Walcott will be alright to play against Sevilla, after his bad knock and fall under Emile Heskey’s tackle. The fall pinched a nerve that resulted in Theo losing all feeling in that part of his leg, which only meant him not being able to play for the rest of the match, instead of the rest of the year. Wenger says:

Theo does not look bad. The physio told me he had to come off straight away because he was numb as he had been kicked on the nerve. He twisted his ankle and we checked on a X-ray, and he looks all right.

The short term nature of it is a relief, what with the amount of players we already have out. It seems the December Aston Villa game coming up will see a return of a host of players – Fabregas, Flamini and van Persie should (and I highlight, ‘should’) be back in some capacity for that match, given its difficulty.

In the meantime, Wenger has decided to field a similar team to the one that took the field away to Slavia. Wenger is fully aware that a bad slip up away to Sevilla will see Arsenal sacrifice top spot of the group, and is using this as a condition under which the squad players must rise to. Wenger says:

Some players will be rested for Sevilla. I will rotate and it will be maybe a similar side to that against Slavia. It is an exciting match because it gives some players the chance to show how good they are in a very different context because first place is at stake. I think it is an important game to play.

At least Sevilla go into the match with some horrendous form, losing 2-1 at home to Mallorca. Even our collective squad players are better than Mallorca, surely? Time will tell.

That, however, is unfortunately that. A very quiet news day, although I’ll claim the exclusive on how tired John Motson must be. More news when it comes your way, first with the firsts, and all that commercial rubbish. Stay well, stay true…

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Arsenal Three Points Clear of ‘Fergie’s Best’

Arsenal have three well-publicized match breakers in the squad: Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Aliaksandr Hleb. The former was suspected at the beginning of the season, later confirmed explosively; the second needs no introduction; the latter defying negative media expectations and doubtful Gooners to display exemplary skill and finesse with the ball.

Arsenal now have a fourth, and whether you like it or not, it’s Captain William Gallas.

A stellar block off of Steven Gerrard at Anfield, the unforgettable equaliser against Manchester United, and now, so uncharacteristic of a centre-half but so habitual for the Captain, popping up to finally break a solid defensive effort from Wigan in the 83rd minute.

He’s not like a Solskjaer-esque winner, where you know once he’s ‘sent on’, or at a certain set piece he will pop up to do something special. But the enigmatic defender is just someone who can be relied to ‘do something’ for the side, either defensively or in the attack.

His opener last night was textbook. Dribbling forward, the captain fed it to the young Dane prospect, Nicklas Bendtner. Bendtner had a touch, and put a wide throughball for the onrushing Bacary Sagna, who centered the ball well. William Gallas had kept on with his forward run, jostling between defenders to lift himself for the ball, and header perfectly across goal, past the keeper for Arsenal’s opener. His celebration emphatic, as Wenger cut a relieved, but stern figure on the sideline: That’s what I expect of you, William – nothing less.

Some still remained unconvinced of the former Chelsea defender’s captaincy. I have but this to say: The man is a gladiator – a bit short, maybe, but a warrior in defence; a team player, a passionate player. You could see it in his celebration – lap it up from the crowd; he knows what he’s just done.

Two minutes later, Rosicky was fed in by Bendtner, down the right again. Cool as you like, Rosicky smacks a bobbling daisy-cutter in off the post for 2-0. The spill-over was complete: Gallas got the Emirates rocking after a long spell of doubt, Rosicky capitalized on the short zap of momentum the team now had.

This all in the space of 150 seconds. The whole of the match prior to the fireworks was a different story altogether.

Wigan had one thing in mind, and it was defensive solidity first and foremost. It’s difficult to write without a tinge of bias against defensive teams – it only ever seems admirable when the team ‘finally succumbs to so much pressure’ and concedes late on after a defensive work out – but such is the way of our writing. For the record, Arsenal’s ‘successful’ defensive game plan in the 2005 FA Cup Final was shocking to watch, and the only reason they deserved to win it was because of a perfect penalty shootout that should never have happened.

So, with attitudes now official with regards to defensive tactics, let’s start again. Wigan came out to defend in numbers, with soon-to-be-appointed manager Steve Bruce watching on from the stands. The team Arsenal sent out was largely as predicted, with Walcott starting up front in favour of Eduardo, who began on the bench.

The Arsenal goalkeeper Almunia had no saves to make (despite a few scares) as Arsenal held a monopoly of chances in the first half. Lassana Diarra had the first half-chance after 14 minutes, when he hit a long drive over the bar after Adebayor’s knock down. Chances followed in the half, with Adebayor linking well with Walcott to have a shot saved; Rosicky shooting wide and Walcott shooting over.

The second half saw Arsenal only starting their engines on the hour mark, with Adebayor dispossessed in the box by the advancing Wigan defence. The Emirates had an air of despair to it, with the buildup play not amounting to much on several occassions. Arsenal eventually got their break, and the crowd’s reaction made the rest history.

No comprehensive ratings today, just some players of note. Firstly, Lassana Diarra was always going to be under the looking glass with Fabregas, Flamini and Gilberto unavailable. The midfielder was bustling and in the thick of many moves Arsenal pulled off. His work was hugely complimented by the pace and lingering danger of Theo Walcott, who’s quick darting runs into the box and flanks made hard work for the Wigan defence.

It is good to see Rosicky on the scoresheet again, but let’s hope to hell that he avoids an injury recurrence, which usually follows a Rosicky goal. One concern from the match was an injury Theo Walcott picked up after a tackle from Emile Heskey – though Wenger says that the young English forward should be fine. Like we needed more injuries at this present moment.

Gallas has been mentioned already, but he deserves every inch of praise coming his way. A special mention, I feel, must be made to Nicklas Bendtner, however. He came on as late as the 80th minute and was involved in both moves that ended in Arsenal goals. His close control was evident in the buildup to Gallas’ goal, and his pace and eye for a pass manifested itself in an assist to Tomas Rosicky for the second. The young, tall Dane has some calibre to be involved in a match to that extent after coming on with only 10 minutes remaining.

After the game, Wenger had nothing but praise for Arsenal’s captain, saying he is a special defender able to sense a scoring opportunity arising in a match.

I think he is a forgotten centre-forward, because he is always in the right place in the box. It was a great header. He smells where you have to be in the box on set pieces or even in the open game. He has fantastic quality.

As there was a lot of frustration watching so much Arsenal build-up and approach play nullified by a Wigan defence, it is for this reason alone that William Gallas gets Man of the Match from Third-Gen. Arsene’s insistance that his team remain playing to his system will stand them in good stead in the long run, but every now and then you need someone to pop up and be counted for the good of the team. The Captain was that man today, as he has been before. Fully deserved.

In other news, Brian Barwick is personally consulting Arsene Wenger about who should take on the reigns for the English manager’s job, and Alex Ferguson really does have an amazing side. Really, really the best you’ve ever had, Alex.

On that note, let’s take a quick look at the rest of the Big4™. Liverpool demolished Newcastle 3-0 at St James’ Park, which will teach the pathetic Barcode fans a lesson or two. Should Liverpool win their game in hand, they will equal Manchester United for points, and remain undefeated. Chelsea beat Derby 2-0 at Pride Park, but will miss Essien for a number of matches after he was red-carded for elbowing an opponent. Manchester United succumbed to the mighty Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok, with former Arsenal prodigy Anelka hitting the solitary goal. Ferguson is now rabbiting on about how Manchester United need ‘more protection’ against Bolton – the same man who once remarked Wenger and co. need to ‘grow up’ if theyre going to play the hard knocks English game.

About as much sympathy for Ferguson there as a certain former-Australian Prime Minister, then. Hope you’re all happy and dry. Off to fix a buggered computer – the thrills of human existance.

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Arsene Tests Mputu Personally; Wigan Preview

Ah, early morning. How luveleh.

Arsene Wenger has given an enthused opinion on Tresor Mputu when questioned about the player during the lead-up to today’s Wigan match. With the Congolese striker on trial, Wenger had glowing remarks to make of the African Champions League’s top scorer:

He is on trial and I have to go down to test him today. He is a creative player and wants a chance in Europe. He has impressed so far.

A January move for the forward can be expected to be made, though you would think his appearances would be a mix of reserve, cup and lower league appearances for the rest of the season, for adjustment’s sake. Many of Third-Gen’s readers have been very interested in Mputu’s progress, and we will keep you all posted as and when news happens.

To more first-team issues, and Emmanuel Adebayor has said he misses the lethal partnership he shared with Robin van Persie. Adebayor says the team continues to shoulder the burden of injured players, particularly with Robin’s scoring-talent being missed. Adebayor says:

I think he is proud about the way we are playing at the moment. And he will be more confident when he comes back. I know his character, I’m not afraid. I know when he will be back it will just take him one or two weeks and he will be back scoring.

Another man we will be missing, at least for only a week or so, is Mathieu Flamini, who has earned praise from manager Arsene Wenger. Arsene believes the mental character required for Mathieu to consider his future with the club (which looked cloudy at best at one point), and then to step out onto the field to show your true worth was exceptional of the French midfielder. Arsene says:

Since the begin of the season you judge Flamini on performances and you cannot fault him on that. He has done a job in every area of his game, defensively, tactically as a team player, and we know as well he can turn up and score a goal.

One of our players of the season thus far, for sure. One of the iconic signings of our season, of course, was Croat striker Eduardo, who Wenger has backed to shine in the second half of the season. The manager had this to say:

We have said we have to be patient, but it will come for Eduardo. “He has a good attitude and works hard, but he has to adapt physically. He is perhaps a quieter person, so perhaps it takes him longer… I am keeping my confidence for the second part of the season.

H-WIG24NOVIn smaller bits and bobs of news, Nicolas Anelka has praised the club’s style of football, and doubts whether even he could get in (nice try, Nicolas…); Arsene Wenger insists the manager of England must be English; and Gilberto Silva is reportedly ‘thrilled’ by Juventus interest in him.

To the Match Preview, then, and the focus today centres around the likely central pairing of Denilson and Lassana Diarra. They have experience playing in the Carling Cup, which – in such a situation – proves its worth against an until-Monday managerless Wigan seriously struggling for form. Do not let this fool you into thinking Wigan will be quite the walkover their league position says it will be. Emile Heskey returns to the side that will be looking to score off set pieces, and probably that alone. Their team does not have the right structure to go on all out defence, ala Reading a week or so ago, but it will still be a high-caution game from them, with balls played into the box aerially, certainly.

WiganLineUpThe team essentially picks itself. Almunia stays in goal, despite Teutonic protests, and the backline continues to play get-to-know-you games. Rosicky should be fit enough to retain his place on the left wing, with Adebayor being a certain starter up front. Eboue also should find himself on the right wing with Hleb’s injury.

I’ve gone for Eduardo up front over Theo – with the injuries, the team needs to go in with as much assurity as possible; hence, as much seniority as is possible under the Arsenal banner. Eduardo is still looking for his first league goal for Arsenal, and with the pressure that should rightfully be put on the team today to produce a result, hopefully some impetus will carry on over to the Croat.

The bench should see Lehmann, Senderos, Walcott, Bendtner and Alex Song named, which provides a balanced, though not the most spectacular side put out this season.

Not much choice with the formation – Arsenal are at home and need to attack Wigan. With too many injuries to support a 4-5-1, Arsenal cannot show any hint of timidity or hesitation. The rhythm may not be there altogether following the team’s dispersal to international duties (curse them all), but there has to be signs of attacking intent.

If this happens, a 3-0 is not out of the question. Do not be surprised if we only scrape a modest victory, though. Three points, in the end, is all that matters at this stage.

Here’s hoping for three of those. Enjoy the game!

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