Big-Game Preview: ‘The North London Derby’

It’s 3rd vs. 4th. The ever consistent ‘Men in White’ vs. the low-on-self-belief and inconsistent ‘Men in Red’. It’s Tottenham against Arsenal. Probably what could prove to be the biggest game yet this season for Arsene Wenger’s men. There maybe a 10 point gap between the sides but this match could go a long way into deciding the final UCL spot.

ARSENAL: 

As covered earlier,  Arsenal haven’t had the best of seasons so far. 17 points off the pace with 13 games to go only, the gunners are almost certain to go another season without a trophy. It’s worse for them this time around though with the possibility of missing out on the prestigious Champions League for the first time in 15 seasons.

They go into this match in bad form having won only twice in the past 5 games and being humiliated 4-0 in the process by A.C Milan. Both the squad and Wenger have been criticized heavily for not showing up when required and as one journalist brilliantly put it , Wenger has been allowing standards to drop at the club which is leading to increased frustration among the fans, who, lets not forget, are currently paying the highest ticket prices in all of Europe.

Their home form has been better lately, with 4 wins in the past 5 games and they’ll be looking to use that on Sunday at the Emirates.

The side expected to play is as follows : Szczesny in goal, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou at the back more or less confirmed, with Gibbs facing a late fitness test. Song, Arteta and Rosicky are expected to be the midfield with Oxlade Chamberlain, Robin Van Persie and Walcott in front of goal. Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out because of injury. The Gunners also welcome Carl Jenkinson back, who can also slot into left-back.

The main issue here for the Gunners will be not conceding a goal. Many people will be surprised to know Tottenham have only scored one more goal than Arsenal over the course of the season. It’s at the back where the difference arises. The Spurs have the joint third-best defensive record this season with only 25 goals conceded. Arsenal however have conceded the highest amount of goals in the top 10 (with the exception of Newcastle and Norwich), with an astonishing 35 goals let in.

With Per Mertesacker out due to long-term injury, the already-fragile state of the defence has been further weakened, and keeping a clean sheet should be Wengers top priority. Quick stat though: Tottenham have won every match this season where they’ve led.

TOTTENHAM:

Harry Redknapp’s men have had a very solid season so far and will be looking to add another 3 points to their tally and further cement their position in the EPL table, especially after the 5-0 demolition of Newcastle last week. Their recent form though has shown signs of fatigue – with only 2 wins and 2 draws in the last 5. Their away form especially has been damaging with only 1 win, 2 draws and 2 loses (a surprise loss to Stoke) in the last 5.

Key men for Redknapp's side

Harry Redknapp will go with his usual line up of Friedel in goal. Kyle walker , King (faces a late fitness test), Dawson and Assou-Ekotto in defence. Lennon, Parker, Modric and Bale will make up the midfield and Adebayor and Defoe will start upfront in all probability.

With the given current weak state of Arsenals defence, Harry Redknapp is sure to tell his team to enhance their already very attacking style of play and will definitely be looking to exploit the weakness of Djorou and Gibbs at the back. Lennon will be a handful with his pace and AOC will track back often to help Gibbs out at the back. Gareth Bale has been in exceptional form lately and I do highly doubt Sagna alone will be able to contain him.

ANALYSIS AND PREDICTION:

There a lot of key battles to look out for here. The most obvious is wingers vs full backs. Both sets of wingers are very very fast and have their own set of skills. Bale and Lennon are both very direct and love taking on their man on in one-on-one situations. Using sheer pace to burst past their opponents, expect Sagna and Gibbs to have their task cut out for them. At the other end are 2 different style of players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of the most promising youngsters in Europe right now, with his trickery, dribbling and pace on the ball. He seems to have really found his feet at the club, and has been scaring the life out of full backs since his arrival at the club. Theo Walcott, despite his pace, likes to drift inside and take on center backs. He has been criticised for lacking the final product but on his day is very very hard to handle (vs Chelsea this season, for instance).

Last time these 2 sides met, Tottenham won 2-1 with a wundergol from Kyle Walker sealing all 3 points for Harry Redknapp and his men. Arsenal have won only once in the past 7 meetings between these two sides but will be looking to take advantage of their good home form, and the fact that Tottenham haven’t been at their best away from the White Hart Lane. Expect an excellent quick game of football with both sides looking to go for it.

My prediction: a 2-2 draw.

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(follow on twitter @rafeyAM_MUFC)

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Milan v Arsenal Post-Match Thoughts: 4-0, Gameover!

Shambolic Defending and Impotent Attack Costs Arsenal .. Yet Again!

It was a dominant performance by Milan, reminiscent of their glory years, and an equally toothless one by Arsenal – just one of the many in the past 4 years.

In my preview I spoke of the narrow formation Milan play and how this could be exploited by Arsenal. Quite the opposite happened last night, as Milan overran the Arsenal midfield and defense by playing through the middle and playing well, where Arsenal were simply outnumbered and ultimately outclassed – despite having more posession (typical Arsenal). Ineffective down the wings, they failed to test Milan’s narrow formation or their fullbacks. And it didn’t help that Arsenal’s defending was typically Sunday-league. Had Milan been a bit more clinical in front of goal, it could’ve been an all-out rout!

As much as I want want to blame the manager for this, it was his players and in particular his senior players who really let him down .. once again. Theo Walcott offered absolutely nothing going forward, and left Sagna exposed far too often. Ramsey has been short of confidence since the start of this season and has probably been overplayed. Another player who has been overplayed is Koscielny, we’ve now lost him to injury for God knows how long, and Arsenal are now one injury or suspension away from the mighty Squillaci. Rosicky, like his right-wing counterpart, contributed exactly nothing to the attack or defense and I wouldn’t blame him because he was being played out of position. He’s been very influential in the middle for Arsenal in the recent weeks, and should’ve started behind the striker. Someone suggested on Twitter last night that he had been deployed on the left to provide more defensive cover to Gibbs. You cannot, CANNOT play players out of position in a game of this magnitude, and the blame for the rests solely on the manager’s shoulders. As does the blame for the fact that Arsenal is currently fielding average or below-average players in their squad and offering contract extensions to such players, Johan Djourou being one. Djourou is slow, and for a big man he’s easily shrugged off the ball. He’s sluggish and clumsy, cannot tackle properly, does nothing to organize the defense, and is, in a nutshell, not fit to play in a team vying for trophies on multiple fronts. Another senior player, Thomas Vermaelen, was below par, kept losing his marker on the crucial of times and once again I would blame the manager for playing him out of position for 3 months and slotting him back to the center in an important game. The simple fact is that Arsene Wenger should’ve signed a left back in the winter window when he had the chance, even a loan deal would’ve done. Especially strange since at one point the manager said that a left-back will be signed in the winter, and then completely backtracked on his own statement!

Alex Song ‘pulled a Nasri’ and chose the perfect night to go missing, as he often does. Arteta was less influential than he usually has been for Arsenal this season. Gibbs was better, considering it was his first game back from injury.

Its also easy to point the finger towards Chezney for the first goal, it was a weak goalkick, unacceptable at this level and such goalkicks have now been a regular feature of his game – something he needs to work on in the training ground. But the fact is not one Arsenal player even went close to challenging the Milan player whom the ball fell to. He played a simple cross to Kevin Boateng who in turn scored an excellent goal, I recommend everyone re-watch Prince’s brilliant skill for the goal, at least once.

Milan kept opening up the Arsenal defense by playing simple passes between the back-four. And once Djourou was introduced, you just knew it would be a rout. He conceded a soft penalty in the second half and is now well on his way to being the next Silvestre/Eboue/Denilson.

Taking nothing away from Milan, it was a dominant performance. Like Zonal Marking noted, they played to their strengths very well. To me, they clearly had a gameplan, both with and without the ball. And they stuck to it quite well. Ibrahimovic and Robinho were in total sync and worked well together, and one could see that this is the perfect partnership up front for Milan, and should keep Pato on the bench for a while. Silva, Mexes and van Bommel worked excellently together as a unit to keep van Persie quiet.

But the fact is Arsenal were toothless, clueless, were devoid of any organisation, and let Milan take them to the dryers here. Arsene Wenger was, as usual, devoid of anything even close to something called a plan-B, got his tactics totally wrong. And sometimes and especially after watching games like this, it looks as if Harry Redknapp of all people has more tactical nous than Wenger! Arsene did nothing to change things at half-time, and its not the first time this has happened. Arsenal were sinking faster than the Titanic at Old Trafford earlier this season and lets not forget than Arsenal continued to ship 8 (eight!) goals and absolutely nothing was done to change this.

Even the most die-hard Arsene Wenger fans are starting to lose the trust and faith in him. And with these sort of results, he’s not doing himself any favors at all. Fact of the matter is that Arsenal are now on the brink of mid-table mediocrity, and right now, it would take nothing short of a miracle for Arsenal to (a) proceed to the next round of the Champions League, and (b) qualify for the competition next season. The team now smacks of mediocrity and its quite telling that long-term Arsenal targets such as Eden Hazard would now prefer a move to Tottenham Hostspur. The bench has below-average players like Chamakh and I think the fact that a 35-year old Henry was preferred last night over Chamakh or Park speaks volumes in itself!

Milan were impressive, but this is without a shadow of a doubt one of the weakest Milan side in years, and everyone was expecting a closely-contested game, if not an evenly-matched one. Not to be, unfortunately. But the performance says a lot about the state of the current Arsenal side and the man it is being managed by. Devoid of ideas, it was a collection of 11 individuals rather than a team playing out there (just like the Old Trafford game). This was Arsenal’s biggest away defeat ever in the Champions League. I really don’t see the point of playing the return leg, Arsene might as well put the reserve team out at the Emirates as they would probably show more heart and fight than what was on display last night!

Would also like to take a moment to speak about the San Siro pitch, which from the looks of it had been relaid especially on both the flanks. Deliberate? Perhaps to nullify the threat posed by Arsenal’s wingers? Conspiracy theories aplenty on the internet.

Post-match reactions:

Arsene’s post-match reaction. We’ll see what he does about it, as another crucial game coming up over the weekend against Sunderland. Actions always speak louder than words!

Arsenal’s defeat could affect Premier League’s standing in Europe. Via The Telegraph.

Eboue, who had some hilarious things to say on his Twitter! Is that even his real Twitter? As useless a player he was during his time with Arsenal, gotta love his sense of humor!

Adriano Gilliani who says there could’ve been more than 4 for Milan, and I totally agree!

Vermaelen spot on here, and I like the attitude – something that unfortunately cannot be said for everyone in the team.

Some former players speak: Dixon and Petit. Petit (2) on shedding the dead weight, spot on!

A feature on Arsenal’s current state of affairs on ESPN.

Ibra: “We showed the right mentality.” Hard to disagree.

Alternatively, this was an interesting perspective on why people need to get behind Arsene and his team.

Questions, questions

Will van Persie sign on? Will Walcott and Song sign on? Do Arsenal fans even care if Walcott signs on or goes? Will Arsenal be able to continue to attract top talent? Will Arsenal continue to lose their best players and stick with what are clearly mediocre, mid-table-team players? Will the board and the manager continue to do absolutely nothing about the fact that clearly something is not right with this team and the setup? Will Arsene Wenger continue to mismanage players to the ground, bring the once-Invincibles down to utter mediocrity and in the process permanently stain his reputation?

Away fans

Shout out to the Arsenal fans in attendance at San Siro who had to sit through this abysmal display of football by Arsenal FC, and probably paid good money to do so.

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[Written by a long-time Arsenal fan, and a believer that the club will always be bigger than any player/manager/individual. Gooner, through thick and thin!]

Big-Game Preview: “A story of Arsene Wenger’s kids against the Milan old guard”

milan kitars kit

It’s the biggest competition in the footballing world. Its the Champions League. The location is Milan, Italy. It’s a showdown between the giants of Italian football versus the once-invincibles of English Premier League. The stakes are high. The stage is set. The teams play for Munich. The teams play for European Dominance!

The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, or a place more commonly known in the footballing world as the San Siro, hosts, what on paper, looks like the biggest game of this year’s Champions League Round of 16. Two giants of Europe face-off on Wednesday, February 15th 2012. Two of, undoubtedly, the biggest teams of Europe play in what should be an absolute cracker of a game.

Arsenal:

Arsenal travelled to Milan on Monday without Per Mertesacker, who suffered an ankle injury during the weekend League game against Sunderland where he had to be stretchered off. He was immediately ruled out of the Milan game and he’s posted a picture of a nasty bruise on his ankle. He has since travelled to Germany for further scans. A lot has already been said about the appalling turf at the Stadium of Light, and quite honestly I’ve seen League Two teams with better playing surfaces. It means however that Thomas Vermaelen moves to a position he says he prefers playing in – along side Laurent Koscielny in the heart of Arsenal’s defense. Kieren Gibbs is back from injury and was an unused substitute against Sunderland, will slot back into the left wing-back position. Here’s hoping he gets some decent match-time under his belt this time around, instead of his customary 30 minutes every 3 months.

Another interesting aspect would be to see who starts for Arsenal on the left wing. The manager will in all likelihood rest Gervinho, who’s back from his African Cup of Nations duty, and had some good things to say about compatriot Robin van Persie. It will be either Arshavin or The Ox on the left, the latter most likely to start, as has been the case recently. In addition, we could also see the return of Ramsey as the chief playmaker behind the striker, although the boss might also prefer to stick with the in-form and Champions League-experienced Thomas Rosicky.

Other than that, Arsenal should line up as expected:

van Persie

Ox Rosicky Walcott

Song Arteta

Gibbs Vermaelen Koscielny Sagna

Chezney

Subs: Gervinho, Henry (who spoke of his desire to see Arsenal go through to the quarters), Fabianski, Coquelin, Arshavin, Djourou. Strong line up on paper, but with the Arsenal of late, you just never know do you.

Milan:

Last year at this time, Milan were knocked out of the Champions League by another North London team, with Aaron Lennon in particular impressing for Tottenham on the flanks, and eventually getting a reward (an assist) for his efforts in the 1-0 win. We could once again see a similar tactical battle on the wings, when Theo Walcott of Arsenal will be deployed on the right to take on Milan’s Gianluca Zambrotta. It is interesting to note that Milan play a very narrow 4-1-2-1-2/4-3-1-2 formation, which means their fullbacks would always be vulnerable to fast, pacy wingers who like to take their man on in one-on-one situations, which also plays to the strengths of Oxlade-Chamberlain.

A.C Milan were once the all-conquering team in the Champion’s League, one of the greats of Europe. They’ve been labelled as Europe’s ‘retirement home’ in recent times, however Milan’s midfield-enforcer Mark van Bommel says that the two games are anything but a matter of “Arsene Wenger’s kids against the Milan old guard”. While only time will tell if that indeed is the case, van Bommel and Robinho are still wary of the threat posed by Arsenal. Kevin Prince Boateng however  thinks otherwise, and one cannot help but think that his words do hold a bit of truth to them. Nonetheless, Milan can hardly afford to be complacent here, and Clarence Seedorf believes Arsenal are still ‘one of the teams to beat’ and that Milan need to be wary of Arsenal’s most potent weapon – his Dutch International compatriot and a man in blistering form Robin van Persie.

Milan are fresh off a league away win against Udinese, despite having 10 players out due to injuries and suspensions, including the likes of Gattuso, Nesta, Falmini and most importantly Pato all of whom are still in the battle for fitness for tomorrow’s game. But perhaps Milan’s biggest threat – a certain someone called Zlatan Ibrahimovic – should start. Ibra’s stats this season are excellent – 21 goals and 5 assists in 26 games in all competitions for AC Milan.

Expected line up:

Ibra Robinho

Seedorf

Boateng Ambrosini Emanuelson

Zambrotta Silva Mexes Abate

Amelia

Will Arsenal’s fragile defense once again prove to be their downfall? Will Milan’s poor form in recent weeks and an injury struck squad give the Gunners an edge? Hopefully, we have another classic on our hands, a 180 minutes of football that will be remembered for some time. Goes without saying, but this is one you certainly wouldn’t want to miss!

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As an added bonus, a tune you’ll all soon be hearing as Tuesday’s games kick off in a bit:

Analyzing the Remaining Seasons of the Current EPL Top 5 – #4: Arsenal

Continuing with the individual analysis of each of the EPL’s top 5, it is now time to turn our attention to the Gunners, who in recent seasons have looked a mere shadow of what were once The Invincibles!

ARSENAL:

The team currently 4th have had a very mixed season this time around. Normally what happens is the Londoners fly high till about mid-season and then they suddenly fizz out. Epitomized most by what happened to them last season. Challenging for 4 titles and on the verge of winning their first in 6 seasons, then came a loss to Birmingham in the Carling cup final and as witnessed by all, it was pretty much downhill from there. They slowly but surely went out of all competitions they were challenging for and in the end it proved to be another trophy-less campaign for Wenger’s men!

Although still in contention for 3 titles this season (F.A cup, Premier League and Champions League) few expect them to win much this time around either. Many fans and pundits alike point the blame towards the Gunners’ inability to finish teams off when needed. This combined with the fact that apart from Norwich, Arsenal have conceded the most amount of goals in the top half of the table and one can begin to see where the problems lie for the men in red and white!

One thing though that has been quite amazing and frankly jaw-dropping has been captain Robin Van Persie’s form over the past year and form he has brought into 2012 as well. 35 goals scored in the calender year, just 1 short of Alan Shearer’s EPL record, and the 22 goals & 8 assists this season have been a major part in keeping Arsenal’s hopes for a Champions League spot alive.

Robin Van Persie has been in blistering form over the past 14 months

More great news for the Arsenal faithful is that young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain signed from Southampton in the summer really seems to have found his feet at the Emirates and has already taken over from Arshavin on the left side of their attack. His dribbling, trickery and creativity have really set the Premier league alight and just like D. Sturridge over at Chelsea, ‘The Ox’, as he’s referred to by the fans, seems destined to be a future Arsenal and possibly England legend!

So whats next for Arsenal? They still have to cope with visits from rivals Tottenham, Man city and Chelsea and pay a visit to Anfield. Still very much in for a Champions League spot and a possible 3rd place finish, Arsene wenger needs to make sure he can keep his teams spirits high and most importantly keep the likes of RVP fit if they are to continue their record of having not missed out on a champions league place in the last 16 years!

(follow on twiiter @rafeyAM_MUFC)

Counter-attacking Football at its Very Best!

Here is a video of Arsenal FC, basically a compilation of some of Arsenal’s best counter-attacking goals. Like the uploader says ‘In every goal, the ball starts in Arsenal’s half, but ends up in the opposition’s net in a matter of seconds’. Amazing stuff really, and a good reminder of the raw pace the team once had. Great video for anyone who watches football, regardless of where your loyalties lie.

Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSyaVhuIqCU

Great video and all credits to the original uploader!

Who will be the winner, come May 13th, 2012

Arsenal 2004

Starting things off with a poll. Quite simply, which team do you think will take this year’s Premier League trophy? Vote now!

 

 

(Poll has also been added to the sidebar. Voting will remain open till the end of the season)