After last week’s debacle at St. James’s Park, the Arsenal came home to the friendly confines of Emirates Stadium looking to prove to the rest of the league they are legitimate contenders for the title. From the opening kickoff, Arsenal did just that earning a massive 2-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wonderers. Arsenal remain just four points off the pace of United with a home fixture with the Red Devils looming in just a couple of months. If the race continues as is, it’s sure to be a thriller.

1st Half

As usual this week, Arsenal were able to keep the majority of the possession and play the game as they pleased. England International Jack Wilshere began the party early on in the match with a direct run through the defenders of Wolves. After being brought down just outside the box, Robin Van Persie powered a free kick well over the bar. It was an escape, yet just the beginning of an offensive onslaught.

Wolves, who fielded the same squad that defeated United last week at home, did establish a small foothold in the early stages of this game and proved they could be as dangerous as last week’s result indicated. Kevin Doyle again served as the lone-striker for the majority of the game and created some tense moments, however in truth Wojciech Szczesny was never really troubled. He was forced to come off of line a few times to make a catch but that was the extent of it. Another clean sheet for the blossoming Polish International.

In the 16th minute, Arsenal finally broke through on a beautifully placed pass from the right wing by “El Capitan.” Robin Van Persie stood in front of the goal and hit a lovely right-footed shot past Wayne Hennessey on the half-volley. The Dutchman is in magnificent scoring form netting 10 goals in his last 6 Premier League appearances for Arsenal. The reminder of the first half was all-Arsenal, but frustrating for the Gunners none the less as they were unable to capitalize on the lion’s share of possession they had.

2nd Half

The second half was really much more of the first half, Arsenal possession: Wayne Hennessey saves. Hennessey was one of the few bright spots for Wolves in this competition.

Andrey Arshavin again played very well on the left wing. He appears to be returning to form which could be very important for the Gunners as they still seek silverware in 4 different tournaments. We will see if he makes an appearance against Barcelona in this week’s 1st leg of the Champion’s League. He played some beautiful balls in to his teammates but was never fortunate enough for one of them to find the back of the net. Theo Walcott was the beneficiary of many of them but was just could not seem to put anything past Hennessey. Wolves attempted to play a high back line to interfere with the Gunners’ possession and Walcott absolutely punished them for it. Though he never found the net, his pace was electrifying and he created opportunities in the open-field for himself and others.

In the 56th minute, Arsenal finally got their second goal. After a small spell of Wolves possession, a series of 5 passes (Wilshere-Song-Fabregas-Walcott-Van Persie) spanning the entire length of the pitch, in typical Arsenal style, fell to RVP who put Arsenal 2 goals to the good. The lethal left foot was at it again this week. With the disaster of the Newcastle match fresh on the supporters’ minds, 10 goals may not have been enough to comfort them; but 2 were enough on this day. The defense looked strong again. Johan Djourou returned to the his spot in the central defense after an injury scare last week in which some thought his season could be in jeopardy. Bacary Sagna’s stock has continued to rise with another strong performance from the Frenchman. Arsenal supporters are certainly happy to see him in a Gunners shirt this season with the rumors last year of a transfer to AC Milan. He has been brilliant.

The Difference Makers

Arsenal possession was the name of the game for this match. Alex Song and young Jack Wilshere played tremendously together in front of the defense. Wilshere showed flashes of greatness and his development as an attacking mid-fielder with some dangerous runs into the heart of the Wolves defense. That said, he still looked fairly tentative to fire a shot in on-goal. As he continues to develop, that will certainly change. The Wilshere/Song tandem, alongside Cesc Fabregas maintained possession very well for an Arsenal side that looked completely dominant all game. With the pace of Walcott and the innovation of Arshavin, this was really never a competition.

Man of the Match

Robin Van Persie - His spectacular form of late continued in this one with another 2 goal performance. His impact on the Arsenal this season is one of the big reasons for their success and willingness to push United for the league title. RVP has shown an ability to finish, create his own shots, score on set pieces as well as provide opportunities for others. His dazzling form comes at a convenient time as Arsenal settle in for a showdown with Barcelona mid-week. It’s sure to be a display of top-class football.

It seems like it always happens to this team; no matter how great the game is going, I always have this feeling that they’ll let the other team back in it.  Today was the ultimate example.

Theo made me eat my words after the last game by finishing well to make it 1-0 INSIDE ONE MINUTE.  Arshavin sent Walcott through on that one, and then laid up a nice free kick for Djourou who scored his first ever Arsenal goal to make it 2-0 after THREE minutes.  Arshavin was looking like Russian we all like.

Then Theo did his usual thing by running past everyone to find RVP in the middle to go up 3-0 in the TENTH minute.  Newcastle didn’t look like they wanted to defend today and we looked like we wanted to score 100.  Too bad we didn’t.  We did find a fourth goal in the 27th after Sagna (our best crosser…and defender…and worker most of the time) found RVP who was wide open again.  It looked like game over just after it had started.   Everyone was clicking--good finishing, good defending, and solid midfield play (Wilshere looks like a veteran at the age of 19).

Newcastle had a few chances around the half-hour mark, but Koscielny was doing extremely well today to clear the danger.   Maybe his call-up to the French squad for this week spurred some confidence and aggression into his defending.  I like it.

Barton was looking like the usual jerk after a harsh foul on Arshavin and a few other stupid antics, but nothing that hurt us too bad.  We went into the break up 4-0 with everything going well.

The second half was a different game.

Djourou went off injured in the 49th and Squillaci came on to replace him.  This always scares me because Squillaci is old and he’s meant to be a reserve defender.  But since Vermaelen is dead this season, he’s been forced to play a lot more than anticipated.  Djourou is my first-choice center-back right now.

Then Newcastle took out some anger as one of the zebras tackled Wilshere from behind.  Should have been a yellow but it wasn’t.  Then Barton furthered his bad reputation by lunging at Diaby’s leg in the 50th.  It was late, high, and unacceptable; he could have broken his leg.  And knowing Diaby’s history of injuries, it was understandable to see him rough up Barton in retaliation.  Barton wasn’t booked, and Diaby was sent off.   Hard to complain about the sending off, but Barton should have had his name taken.  Barton really is a jerk.  I bet most Magpie fans would agree (even though they love it).

The game was much more even now that we were down a man.  Szczesny made a great save in the 60th after a lazy turnover from Arshavin (Bad Russian).  While he’s in this two-face mode, I think I’ll refer to him as either Good Russian or Bad Russian.

Walcott then had a chance to make it 5-0 in the 67th, but a diving Newcastle defender blocked his shot.  The Zebras then ran down the field and won a penalty.  I have to say that I would have agreed if we had won that penalty.  But since Newcastle did, I disagree.  Barton of course stepped up and jerked it into our net to make it 4-1.  Then he tried to get the ball from Szczesny, but the Pole wouldn’t give it up easily.  Their captain, Nolan, then put our goalie into a headlock and tossed him to the ground.  The jerks took the ball and Szczesny was booked for time-wasting.  Nolan wasn’t even given a talking to!  He should have been given a yellow, if not a red.

Rosicky came on for the Bad Russian after the penalty.  Newcastle then seemed to be right back in it.  They were winning all the headers, and possession was pretty even.  We never looked like we were going to produce anything dangerous, and this trend continued the rest of the way.

Best (the wimp who went down too easily in the box) scored a goal in the 74th but it was disallowed for offside.  He was onside.  Only a minute later, he scored again after overpowering Clichy to win a header inside the box that dropped nicely to his feet to finish past Szczesny.  4-2 and game on.

From the 75th to the 80th minute, Szczesny made a billion saves to keep us in the game and prove why he’s our #1 (err 53).  The defense was in shambles and the midfield was nowhere to be found.  Eboue came on to replace Theo in the 79th.  1 goal and 2 assists for the little Englishman on the day.  We needed Eboue to do what he doesn’t and play smart, but he decided to be his old self and get a yellow for kicking the ball away from Newcastle on a free-kick to get booked.

The bad half continued as Jerk Barton lobbed in a set-piece to our far post and one of their players flopped to win a penalty.  Terrible decision.  Barton stepped up again and jerked it down the middle like a jerk to make it 4-3.  Eight minutes to go, and we were hanging on by our fingernails.

Newcastle kept plugging away and won a soft free-kick in the 85th off to the side about 40 yards out.  The kick came in, we cleared it out, and some big black dude smashed it past Szczesny from about 25 yards out to make it 4-4.  Absolutely awful.  Why did we ever take the lead?  Just to give us all false hope of chasing down Man U for the title?  Probably.

Phil Dowd and his easy-penalty-giving crew tacked on five minutes to see if Newcastle could actually WIN the game.  Maybe the EPL executives made a call into his headset.  What else are those things for?  Nolan almost scored in the 91st and RVP scored from an offside position in the 94th as the game ended in a tie.  I hate ties.  And I hate comebacks when they’re not my team doing the comebacking.

We now have a week off before out next game against Wolves in the league.  We can only hope that Man U drop points and that we can get some magical Men In Black pens to help us forget about this game.

It was an angry match.  Everton came out eager to take points from this game, and Arsenal had to fight until the end to eventually take all three.  With Man U and Chelsea also winning, this game is potentially vital to finishing on top.

Wilshere was booked in the 5th, Cesc should have been booked in the 8th, and the Fox Soccer Channel announcer was calling out players for falling down too easily.  It was easy to tell that this was going to be a great match.  RVP and Cesc were great up the middle as usual, and their combo produced a chance for #4 to put Arsenal up in the 16th, but he missed everything when he probably should have scored.  It was RVP’s 100th EPL start, and it was showing tonight.

In the 21st, Theo received a lucky bounce in Everton’s box, but fired it right at the American.  This is where I think Theo needs to improve.  We all know he has the ability to GET to the goal, but he needs to FIND the goal.  Everton had a chance in the 23rd after some shaky central defense, but nothing happened.  The ref today, Lee Mason, was really looking overwhelmed at this point, and it showed on the next Everton chance.  They played the ball in between Djourou and Koscielny to an offside Saha, Koscielny inadvertently touched it onto Saha, and he finished it past Szczesny.  Even though Koscielny touched it, Saha was offside, and the goal should not have been allowed.  It would have had to have been a direct backpass that was intercepted, but it was not.  The officiating crew was having a terrible night.

Arsenal then kept building it up but couldn’t find anything dangerous to test Howard with.  RVP finally had a corner flicked on by Djourou to the back post, but Koscielny was too far to make contact.  Cesc was then played through by RVP (again) in the 35th, but missed (again).  It was beginning to look bad for the Arsenal.  Both teams traded possession back and forth with sloppy passing, and Everton had a decent chance around the 40th minute, but Szczesny made a nice save after more shaky defense.

Cesc was then pulled down by Rodwell who wasn’t booked, and then Theo was fouled but nothing was called.  Lee Mason was having a bad night, and the fact that the Arsenal players and crowd were all over him didn’t help him make any decisions in their favor.  The half ends 1-0 to Everton.

Cesc came out of the tunnel the same way he went in: harassing the ref.  He does this a lot, and I don’t think that it helps him (or his team) win any 50/50 calls.  Diaby came on for Song at the break because of a thigh injury—this is not an even swap.   Rodwell was finally booked for a tackle on Theo.  And this is when it became evident to me that even if Theo isn’t finishing, he’s drawing opponents to him.  I love it.  We need him on there all the time.

RVP won a free kick right on the edge of the box in about the 50th, but weakly shot it right at the wall.  He should have done better.  Clichy then took a run into the Everton defense in the 53th and won a corner; nothing happening, though.  RVP had another shot easily saved in the 55th.  We needed something soon.

Arshavin came on for the dull Rosicky in the 62nd, and he proved to be that something.  He was moving well and passing through the eye of the needle like his old self.  He found the equalizer in the 70th minute after a lobbed pass over the top from who else but Fabregas, and the game (and hopefully Arshavin’s season) was back on.

Bendtner had come on for Wilshere in the 69th, and I didn’t like it, but when he had a nice shot at scoring a bicycle goal in the 73rd from another Cesc pass, I changed my mind quickly.  Theo won another free kick (he’s the man) in the 74th, and RVP finally forced a great save from Howard.  The heat was on Everton now.  The ball went out for a corner and RVP found a wide-open Koscielny for a 2-1 lead!  One quickly forgets #6’s defensive errors when he scores.

Everton made a double sub in the 78th, but it could have been a quadruple sub and we weren’t going to budge.  They had a dangerous corner in the 84th, but Mr. Consistent, Bacary Sagna, was there to get rid of the danger.

As the minutes started to wind down, the announced said that there has been a goal in the 89th minute or later between these two sides in the last eight matches!  I wasn’t too worried, but when the terrible ref crew threw up 5 minutes of added time, I was given a dose of reality.  Everton couldn’t produce much, however, and even Clichy had a chance only to prove that he is supposed to play defense not striker.  No hard feelings.

It was a great game but we need to get rid of this shaky defending.  Maybe it takes more work in training, but it has to go.  Szczesny is our keeper, Cesc is our captain, Wilshere might be our future captain, and Sagna is our rock.  Not to mention RVP is often overlooked for his potency.  Theo had a great game too, and needs to be included as much as possible.  I hope Arshavin has turned the corner because we need someone to fill in for Nasri’s absence.  Once again, great game.

P.S. – We need to worry less about the ref and more about ourselves.  We let our heads get too hot sometimes.  Not good.

Arsenal continued their domestic cup problems against lower league opposition after they scraped a 2-1 victory over Huddersfield to reach the 5th Round of the FA Cup. Huddersfield can count themselves unlucky to not have secured a replay as the Gunners made hard work of the win.

Initially Arsenal started strongly, albeit not making the most of promising positions. But after Nicklas Bendtner's shot was turned in off the luckless Peter Clarke for an own goal, the result looked as if it would be a formality.

However, stand-in captain Samir Nasri needed to be substituted after an injury to his hamstring, which could have dire ramifications for the rest of Arsenal's season. Nasri has been the stand-out performer in the team, and there are fears that it could have a similar detrimental effect on the club as Cesc Fabregas's fragile hamstrings had on Arsenal at a similar stage last season.

With their goal lead, Arsenal lapsed into their maddening tendency to treat games against N-Power League sides as a training exercise. Huddersfield began to exploit the wide areas, with Anthony Pilkington giving Kieran Gibbs a roasting throughout.

As half-time approached, Jack Hunt went on a superb dribble, committing three Arsenal players, before being brought down by Sebastien Squillaci when clean through. Referee Mark Clattenburg (who had a good game) had no option but to send the Frenchman off.

Now down to 10 men, Arsenal completely ceded the initiative to their Yorkshire opponents. Manuel Almunia made an incredible save to deny Alan Lee. This was one of a number of chances Huddersfield had in a twenty minute spell where Pilkington made Gibbs look second rate. Eventually the pressure told, Lee heading in from a Pilkington corner to level the scores.

Once again, there was only one man for the occasion. Cesc Fabregas was summoned from the bench and made an instant impact, with his passing and leadership influence awakening Arsenal from their slumber. It seemed that Huddersfield were content to see the game out at 1-1. The momentum swung back the way of the home side, and after Fabregas caught Kevin Kilbane dwelling on the edge of his own penalty area, the Spaniard played Bendtner clear. Clattenburg caught the hitherto impressive Jamie McCombe tugging at the Dane's shirt and a penalty was awarded, but curiously enough, not a red card even though there was little difference between McCombe's offence and Squillaci's.

After a bit of kidology in his run-up, Fabregas converted the penalty to win the game as Arsenal saw out the final few minutes.

However, there is a lot to worry Arsene Wenger from this match. Once again, too many of his second string seem to lack focus and concentration. Fabregas was needed to get Arsenal out of a hole yet again - how many more times can he be expected to do that? And worst of all, the squad will now be sorely tested. After returning from injury, Squillaci will now miss games through suspension. Denilson also suffered a hamstring problem (and deserves credit for finishing the game in spite of it).

And then there's Nasri. He has been irreplaceable this season, but now Wenger will have to find a way to do just that as the diminutive Frenchman will be absent for at least a number of weeks - ruling him out of the upcoming Champions League games against Barcelona.

What should have been a routine cup tie has ended up giving Wenger a brand new set of headaches.

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1)

Almunia - 6, Eboue - 6, Squillaci - 5, Koscielny - 6, Gibbs - 3, Denilson - 5, Diaby - 6 (Fabregas - 7), Bendtner - 6, Nasri - 6 (Rosicky - 6), Arshavin - 6, Chamakh - 6 (Song - 6)

Most people have a friend who is the life and soul of any party. Engaging, witty and magnetic, they're the popular kind of person that makes any gathering worth going to.

Well last night at The Emirates was like a house party where that friend promised to show up but took his time to arrive. This was meant to be a night of celebration, with the task of beating Ipswich a mere formality on the road to the Carling Cup final.

While the stage was set, Ipswich played the frustrating role of party-poopers. They set up a wall of blue between Arsenal and their goal. Whenever Arsenal approached Ipswich's penalty area, their passing went alarmingly awry. Both Cesc Fabregas & Andrey Arshavin were major culprits in this respect. Despite near misses by Fabregas & Robin Van Persie, the tempo was flat, and the anxiety built to unbearable levels. The atmosphere quickly changed from excitable to agitated and this spread to the players. As the half-time whistle went, Ipswich had held on to their one goal lead from the 1st leg, and their away support was in fine voice.

This party was looking like a complete washout. While referee Mark Halsey was not helping matters by continuously allowing Ipswich to cynically foul the Arsenal players - how Connor Wickham stayed on the pitch for an awful tackle on Johan Djourou is beyond me - this was increasingly looking like an evening where you wished you'd have stayed at home.

And then the door burst open. The friend arrived. After 150 minutes of the tie, Arsenal finally found a way past Ipswich's rearguard. Nicklas Bendtner scoring a fine goal after picking up a superb pass from Jack Wilshere. Three minutes later Laurent Koscielny (having his best game in an Arsenal shirt) capitalised on a mistake from Martin Fulop to head Arsenal into the lead.

Sometimes it doesn't matter if your popular friend shows up late. Because as long as he does show up, you know you'll have a night to remember. And sure enough, the anxiety of the past hour was now forgotten. The frustrated catcalls of the crowd dissipated into the ether. It became a night that Arsenal fans will talk about for years to come, telling all their friends, "You weren't there for the Ipswich game? You sure missed out, what a night!"

Fabregas added a third to make the game safe, and in a nice touch at full-time, he assembled the players together to applaud each corner of the ground - yet another riposte to those who say he lacks leadership qualities.

This was not a vintage performance from the Gunners. Too many players were below par, and it took sterling work from the back four combined with a star turn from Wilshere to see Arsenal through. But it may do them some good to find a way to win when they're not operating at their maximum. It's what winners do.

And as Arsenal fans left The Emirates in the highest of spirits, this may prove to be a prelude to an even bigger party at Wembley in a month's time.

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1)

Szcsezny - 7, Sagna - 6 (Eboue - 6), Djourou - 7, Koscielny - 8, Clichy - 7, Denilson - 7, Wilshere - 8, Bendtner - 7, Fabregas - 6, Arshavin - 6 (Walcott - 85 min), Van Persie - 6 (Nasri 85 min)