- Written by Rob George
“It’s always the darkest before the dawn” – an old adage which is being to have a horrible repetitive nature for Gunners fans as Arsenal’s car crash conclusion to the season hit another bollard.
Few would have given Villa a chance before the clash with their under-performing squad needing just a single point to secure their survival.
Arsenal meanwhile kicked-off knowing three points would haul them just in behind a misfiring Chelsea and set up a last day shoot-out for second behind champions Manchester United.
But 90 minutes later, Villa were safe and wondering what all the fuss was about while Arsenal now turn their eyes to another expensive blue outfit – the chasing Manchester City
- Written by Shane Thomas
Arsenal's season was summed up by a dreadful performance as Stoke tuned up for the FA Cup Final next week with a comfortable 3-1 victory. While many of Arsenal's players seemed to be in holiday mode, Stoke played with an appetite and ruthlessness that left the Gunners on the canvas.
The tone for the game was set in the opening minutes. Arsenal having the lion's share of the ball, while Stoke were content to sit back, soak up the pressure and then hit Arsenal on the break using Jermaine Pennant on the right-wing.
Arsenal could have put paid to Tony Pulis's game plan if Robin Van Persie had taken a good chance when played through. However, the Dutchman sent the ball over the bar. Laurent Koscielny repeated the trick a few minutes later, and that was good as the first half got for Arsenal.
While they knocked the ball around nicely enough, there was an alarming lack of tempo & cutting edge in the final third. You felt that Stoke were almost letting Arsenal keep possession before taking it off them at will and breaking down the other end.
Stoke know that no matter how little of the ball they have, once they get a set-piece, they are probably the Premier League's most dangerous team. And Andrey Arshavin inexplicably gave Stoke a chance to load the box after senselessly fouling Jon Walters. Van Persie & Kieran Gibbs both missed Pennant's delivery and Kenwyne Jones helped the ball into the net to give the home side the lead.
As half-time approached, yet again Arsenal carelessly gave possession away, Pennant won the ball and drove at the away side's defence. His shot took a deflection of Johan Djourou but Wojech Szczesny should still have tipped the shot over the bar. The Pole failed to do so, and the ex-Gunner gave Stoke breathing space.
After such an abysmal first-half display it was no surprise that Arsene Wenger brought both Nicklas Bendter & Marouane Chamakh on for the listless Arshavin & Aaron Ramsay - who had an unhappy return to the ground where he broke his leg last season.
But this made minimal difference to Arsenal's level of performance. The team were wearing their yellow away strip, which seemed apropos as the display could easily have been described as "yellow". As time ticked away, Arsenal's passing remained sub-standard. Whether it was by poor execution or bad pass selection, Stoke comfortably kept Arsenal at arm's length. And while Stoke are the team with a reputation for being overzealous in tackles, Jack Wilshere was lucky not to be sent off for a reckless, studs-up lunge at Pennant.
Van Persie kept up his impressive recent goalscoring run as he scored with ten minutes to go. After a sharp drop of the shoulder, his drive went underneath the body of Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic. Any chance the Bosnian had of keeping goal for Stoke at Wembley next week may have disappeared as he should have kept the shot out.
It was no matter as it was soon 3-1. A tame shot from Andy Wilkinson should have been dealt with. But Djourou made a feeble attempt at a clearance and Walters had plenty of time to pick his spot and end the contest.
This was arguably Arsenal's worst display of the season. Lifeless in attack, vulnerable yet again in the air, and an absence of focus for the occasion. Arsenal seemed to think that they could play in first gear and get a result. Well, of all sides to have that attitude against, you can't pick many worse opponents than Stoke. Anyone who has tickets for the club's final two games of the season should seriously consider trying to sell them on. Too many players looked like they were going through the motions, and a performance such as this next week won't be deserving of a lap of honour in the final home game against Aston Villa.
Szczesny - 5, Sagna - 5, Djourou - 4, Koscielny - 5, Gibbs - 5, Song - 4 (Rosicky - 5), Ramsay - 5 (Chamakh - 4), Wilshere - 5, Walcott - 4, Van Persie - 5, Arshavin - 3 (Bendtner - 5)
- Written by Luke Peterson
Arsenal’s outstanding 1-0 victory over an admittedly poor Manchester United team may not have shuffled us into the middle of pack for the title race but it sure has restored some much needed pride.
Here was a Gunners team who had dealt themselves and their fans a significantly large dose of frustration, anxiety and sadness over the last three games, not to mention the whole end of the season. Had those previous three games ended in the wins Arsenal required, the fans may well have settled for a draw from this potentially huge game against the old enemy.
As it was however, it was a win the fans were calling for more than ever and, for once, the Gunners did just that.
Arsenal were very much the dominant side for much of the game and up until the latter parts of contest the Red Devils couldn’t get a look in. Early possession stats read 74% in favour of the Gunners but, as is so often the case with this team, chances were few and far between. As the away side’s first attack of any threat came along at around the 20th minute it seemed as though it would be the usual Arsenal story. We’re all too familiar with this particular story of late and it was only a brilliant piece of anticipation and effort from Bacary Sagna which prevented United from taking the lead against the run of play and the run of the game.
Surviving that sole scare seemed to set the tone in terms of the Arsenal mindset for the rest of the match. There was something in the air today; a breath of fresh air whipping the Gunners into a competitive mood.
Even Arsenal’s determined edge couldn’t prevent fortune from favouring United however. That old adage of ‘fortune favours the brave’ was seriously called into question half an hour in as Nemanja Vidic flicked Theo Walcott’s cross away from goal with his hand, Robin van Persie lurking close behind. At first glance, Vidic’s clearance seemed the type of thing Arsenal’s current defence has been crying out for. Television replays told a different story though: the story of how Champions need luck. It seemed Arsenal wouldn’t have that luck, as Chris Foy’s assistant pointed only for a corner.
The second half was much more open than the first, with little glimpses of the counter-attacking threat of both sides shining through.
In the 56th minute Arsenal provided us with a goal to cheer. There have been so few such moments recently that it almost felt like an anti-climax but, in hindsight, the importance of that goal cannot be overestimated.
With United chasing the lead, Arsenal held strong, restricting the potential Champions to half-chances.
Arsenal’s pace had noticeably increased, moving away from the almost futile patient probing game to the swift, accurate passing from the earlier stages of the season. United looked rattled by Arsenal’s pressure-inducing style: the second goal was lingering.
The next Arsenal goal never came but, at the other end, the Gunners stood firm. Squeezing out any potential United threat, they finally made it through to a hard-earned 1-0 win with just the one real scare along the way as Gael Clichy appeared to bring down Michael Owen in the box.
Man of the Match – Aaron Ramsey
Earlier on I mentioned something about a ‘breath of fresh air’ evident in the team on Sunday. That breath was Aaron Ramsey. The Wales captain started slowly, understandably, but did firmly find his feet as the game wore on. His youthful combination with Jack Wilshere and Alex Song is a huge source of optimism for the team and for the fans. I in no way intend to demean the outstanding ability of Cesc Fabregas but without him all three midfielders performed better than they have done for a while. During the first half in particular, it was pure domination in the central areas and Aaron Ramsey’s performance, accompanied by his well taken goal, epitomised that.
What could have been...
Alongside the elation of beating United comes a further sense of frustration of ‘what might have been’ had we performed like that over the past two months.
I think we should look towards the positives however. Odds of 100/1 on Arsenal to win this year’s title might not be worth a flutter but there is no doubt that yesterday’s determined, concentrated and slightly more fluent performance provides definite optimism for the future.
The team showed on Sunday that it isn’t a complete invertebrate and that it is capable of beating the big teams in big games.
Having said that however, I’m not convinced we would have won this game had it been a title decider; that mental weakness is still evident in places, particularly the defence.
For those of us who thought Thomas Vermaelen must have emigrated to Australia, talk of his possible appearance before the end of the season is a hugely positive one.
His return might not complete the puzzle completely but it may well provide such a huge piece that the rest of the picture becomes clearer. His ability, organisational skill and character are captaincy material and could just sort out that soft underbelly of the team.
It’s worth stopping for a minute and imagining a season where United and Chelsea have no Vidic or John Terry for the entire campaign.
There are many small improvements to be made to this team but his return is the starting point.
So what now...
With the chances of the trophy-less run coming to an end this year being so small, we may as well start looking towards next season. I know we’ve probably used that exact phrase for five seasons before this but, frustratingly, it’s time to do it again.
It’s ludicrous to suggest that it’s time for Arsene Wenger to leave but even he has admitted that it may be time to question his philosophy, although not entirely.
This team is not far away, in fact it’s ridiculously close to the top in all aspects and with small additions and improvements we can go further. Yes we’ve heard it before but without this truly legendary manager we could well have become what Liverpool are now.
The big picture is missing only a few small pieces, and those pieces can be found when we tilt the lid. There is no need to sell eight of our first-team players and then sign another six. Two or three in and out is enough when combined with slight formation tweaks and the added experience the players have from the season gone by.
When Man United flashed a 25-yard free kick in at goal at the end of Sunday’s game, Emmanuel Eboue had clear second thoughts about chasing down a needless ball. Proof: they are learning.
For now then, let’s win our remaining games, ‘keep the faith’ and hope for a United point deduction.
- Written by Tom Varga
Arsenal had all the pressure on to get a result with Chelsea edging ahead of the Gunners and with the title slipping from within reach. Wenger had previously sent out the message that his team will fight until the end but after a bright start it became a typically disappointing Arsenal result.
Positive 1st half... oh wait
The Gunners started on top with the pace of Walcott causing problems for Paul Robinson at left back but once again Theo lacked that cutting edge and final ball that has been missing from his game for too long. Fabregas went close in the 14th minute with a drive that narrowly missed the bottom corner but Bolton also showed that they can be dangerous with Chelsea loanee Sturridge making a delightful pass that saw Lee caught in two minds and ultimately missing out. But once again, the Achilles heel of Arsenal was struck and their weak defending from set plays was punished by Cahill, who met a corner that arguably crossed the line, then Sturridge who made it certain that it crossed the line. All of a sudden Wenger’s team talk had to change.
The Gunners came out early for the second half, there was no doubt they knew that they had to attack more incisively and defend for their lives but within 1 minute of the restart Djourou gave away a penalty, not what any north London fan wanted to see. Fortunately, Davies’ poor penalty was saved by our young pole which seemed to lift the spirit of the players; in particular the captain and RvP, who combined well to score the equaliser. Arsenal very much had their own way for the rest of the game and it just seemed like a matter of time before the Gunners would score and keep themselves in the title race however with just 1 minute of regular time to play, Bolton broke and scored from the resulting corner. An emotional Cohen took his shirt off to reveal a picture of his late father which is ironic because Arsenal’s title hopes were dead and buried.
The importance of the set-piece
The failure to defend two set-pieces was the reason Arsenal lost today. Two set-pieces that, if Wenger would not be so stubborn and buy a quality centre-back, would not have been conceded. Now we can say that we did buy a centre back in Koscielny, but he’s not good enough. We can make the excuse that Vermaelen has been out all season, but that’s not good enough. Players need to take responsibility and want to defend as much as they want to create. Arsenal have conceded 54% of their goals from set plays, it needs to be addressed. It’s not been a problem just this season alone, it’s what fans have been crying out for, for years.
Hate to say I told you so
Being an Arsenal fan this season has been one of the most difficult things a person can go through. So much promise and so much disappointment to follow. It would be foolish of me to analyse the team and tell you what we could improve or do better next time because it’s been the same old story for the last 6 years. Poor defending and a blind belief that Arsenal are the best attacking team ever to have existed without being able to perform when necessary. But of course, you already knew that.
Man of the match
Sturridge, on loan from the Blues who have leap frogged us, is my pick for the man of the match. A brilliant pass in the first half and a goal right before half time. It’s nice to see another promising English player doing great things in the premier league. I just our young English striker could have contributed the same today.
What do you think?
Do you think it’s time for Wenger along with his stubbornness to leave? Or should he stay, who should Arsenal sign this summer to ensure that their defence stops leaking goals from set pieces?
- Written by Shane Thomas
The most thrilling display of attacking football seen in Britain this season resulted in the 148th North London derby ending in a 3-3 draw. A coruscating encounter at White Hart Lane had the watching fans - both a worldwide television audience as well as those in the ground - breathless. With a win needed by both teams, Arsenal & Tottenham went onto the pitch with one thought - attack.
It was like watching two heavyweight fighters pull out their best shots and try to leave their opponent on the canvas. Much like the infamous war between boxers Marvin Hagler & Thomas Hearns in Vegas in 1985, the two sides decided that attack was the best form of defence. And with neither side willing to put the handbreak on, a demolition derby enveloped on N17.
In such a game, both sets of players shone. For every bit of brilliance from Cesc Fabregas, it was matched by Luka Modric. Samir Nasri's incisiveness was equalled by Rafael Van Der Vaart, while the searing pace of Theo Walcott was as much a threat as the liveliness of Aaron Lennon in the second half.
The tone was set three minutes in when Walcott gave Arsenal the lead after a delightful pass from Fabregas. But Van Der Vaart equalised within ninety seconds as he beat Wojech Szczesny on his near post. If the Arsenal keeper was disappointed with that, Spurs fans could also look at Hereulho Gomes as he was beaten by a long range Samir Nasri effort on 11 minutes.
Fabregas & Modric both took it in turns to prompt attacks as the half progressed. With the pace unrelenting and the crowd shouting themselves hoarse, it was remarkable how anyone managed to keep a cool head in such a red hot atmosphere.
Which was something that William Gallas failed to do as he tried to chest a Bacary Sagna cross back to Gomes rather than clearing his lines. With Walcott first to react to the loose ball, he showed strong presence of mind to lift the ball onto the head of Robin Van Persie, who scored at the second attempt after Gomes made a clawing save to keep the Dutchman's header out.
With five minutes of a breakneck half remaining, it was paramount that Arsenal got to the break with their two goal advantage. The fact that they didn't surprised no-one. Peter Crouch (who was a menace all evening) won yet another header in the penalty area, and as Fabregas scuffed his clearance, Tom Huddlestone showed the Arsenal skipper how to get a good connection on the ball as his half-volley whizzed through a crowd of players and found the corner of the net as if fired from an assassin's rifle.
The pace & commitment remained the same but where Arsenal showed a sharper edge in possession in the first period, it looked as if they had been blunted by the toils of the opening 45 minutes. They still threatened on occasion but Spurs changed their formation to match the Gunners and now Modric & Van Der Vaart looked increasingly dangerous. Lennon also came on for Gareth Bale, and Sagna found him more difficult to deal with than he had the Welshman.
However, as Spurs pressed for another equaliser, they left the back door swinging open. Van Persie scored but was incorrectly given offside, he then elected to shoot when a pass to Walcott would have given the England man a tap-in. Walcott also dallied in the penalty area after bursting clear of the Tottenham defence.
But these moments were interspersed with the home side's dominance. And Arsene Wenger looked as if he knew that his team would need a fourth goal to win. They failed to get it and Tottenham claimed the share of the spoils that their performance deserved. Lennon took advantage of an uncharacteristic loss of concentration from Sagna to race clear on goal. Szczesny tried to cover his right-back but only succeeded in bringing the winger down. Martin Atkinson - who had a fine game - pointed to the penalty spot and Van Der Vaart sent Szczesny the wrong way to make it 3-3 with fifteen minutes left.
The drama didn't end there as Szczesny atoned for conceding the penalty by making fine saves to deny both Modric & Crouch, while Gomes also made a telling contribution by keeping out a fierce drive from Fabregas. While a point doesn't help either side much, the reaction from both fans was largely positive as they knew that their teams and given everything and they'd watched a truly memorable game of football.
To be honest, things such as the title race, finishing in the Champions League qualifications places and local rivalries seem to matter little right now. Not after watching two clubs giving everything in the pursuit of victory, often finding the best of themselves and leaving their audience rapt throughout. In what amounted to a footballing slugfest, it seems only fair and right that the North London derby ended with both teams punching themselves to an exhilarating standstill.
Szczesny - 7, Sagna - 7, Djourou - 6, Koscielny - 7, Clichy - 7, Diaby - 6 (Wilshere - 6), Song - 7, Walcott - 7 (Bendtner - 6), Fabregas - 8, Nasri - 7 (Arshavin - 6), Van Persie - 6
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