Monthly Archives: February 2013

5 Reasons to Look Forward to Sunday’s North London Derby

A man on fire!

All across the world, there are certain football matches that stand out from the rest and always leave memories in the hearts of the fans supporting them.

From the left hand side of the Atlantic, the Super Clasico between Boca Juniors and River Plate is one of the most anticipated matches in South America. That game has brought the best out of legends like Martin Palermo, Ariel Ortega, Juan Riquelme, Pablo Aimar among others.

Just up north, the Old Firm derby between Glasgow Rangers and Celtics turns footballers into William Wallace-like figures because the tackles that fly in on the pitch can be likened to the swordfights of the Renaissance period. With Rangers languishing in the third tier of Scottish Football, it will take a while before they lock horns with the eternal rivals, Celtic.

England has its own fair share of derbies that are special in their own ways. If you’re in Merseyside, you’ll have to get ready to watch two great sides in the forms of Liverpool and Everton battle hard for bragging rights.

One of the most anticipated derbies in English football is the Manchester Derby, where both sides lock horns with the Premier League title being the ultimate prize. Football neutrals like us can acknowledge the fact that a bad result for Manchester City in Old Trafford in April would signal the end of the title hunt for this season at least.

On Sunday, all eyes will be firmly fixed on the North London Derby – a clash that showcases two of London’s finest strut their stuffs in the world stage with the prize being a place in Europe next season.

Arsenal has become accustomed to life in the Europe as the team’s loyal stalwart, Arsene Wenger, has impressively guided them to the competition consistently season after season. Tottenham on the other hand, had a taste of Champions League football a few seasons back and were only denied a place in the competition this season after Chelsea miraculously won the trophy despite ending the league campaign in sixth place.

In Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal, Tottenham has managed to hire and fire a host of managers but one thing stands out – they have never finished above Le Professor in the Premier League, which signals another St. Totteringham’s day celebration from the Red half of North London.

On Sunday, Arsenal will visit White Hart Lane bearing in mind that they are four points behind Andre Villas-Boa Constrictor’s side. A game that was touted as a must-win encounter for the Gunners has become a must-not-lose clash because a defeat to Tottenham will dent the Gunner’s chances of qualification and as everyone knows, we are running out of games.

There are a thousand and one reasons to look forward to this weekend’s North London Derby. Here are my top five;

An Epic Rivalry Renewed

In every Arsenal fan’s football calendar, the North London derby is a fixture that cannot be missed because of its high significance to the teams involved. It’s a fixture that brings the great city of London to a standstill and the game itself is always filled with drama, bookings, injuries, spectacular saves and of course, great value for money.

As stated earlier, many Arsenal fans always look forward to St. Totteringham day and like last season, they may have to wait till the last Premier League fixture in May to know whether they’ll be able to celebrate again.

Last season, Tottenham was 10 points above Arsenal and with two goals to the good at the Emirates, they would have been 13 points clear of Arsene Wenger’s men and the Gunners would have waved their goodbyes to Champions League football. In a strange twist of fate, a Bacary Sagna header paved the way for a rout that put the Gunners with a deficit of seven points.

Tottenham went on to lose to Manchester United, Norwich and Stoke while their illustrious neighbors eased past Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton, leapfrogging Harry Redknapp’s men in third place.

The rest they say was history.

Another AVB vs. Le Professor Clash

Unlike Arsene Wenger that has been a football figurehead for as long as fans can remember, Andre Villas-Boas rose to prominence when he guided his Porto team to an unprecedented treble, winning the Portuguese Superliga, Portuguese Cup and the Europa League. Most of AVB’s success that season could be attributed to the inhuman goalscoring exploits of Radamel Falcao, and we are not surprised to see him destroying defenses in Liga BBVA.

AVB made the huge leap from Portuguese football to the English Premier League under the reins of a big club like Chelsea. He seemed to be the next best thing in England judging from his previous exploits but he was under the watchful eye of the trigger-happy Roman Abramovich, that changes managers more than the way babies change diapers.

AVB’s “project for the future” saw him sign players like Juan Mata to the team but he flushed out most of the old hags in the team with Alex and Nicolas Anelka getting the boot while the futures of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard were shrouded in mystery. His Chelsea adventure ended prematurely and after being out of the game for a couple of months, Tottenham came calling and AVB answered.

In Tottenham, AVB had a torrid start but his team is finding their feet and they have done very well to usurp Chelsea to third place.

Despite his newly-found exploits with Tottenham, AVB has an appalling record against Arsene Wenger, and he has shipped in 10 goals in just two clashes with his opposite number.

While flying the Blue flag of Chelsea, AVB was at the end of a Robin van Persie-inspired spanking from Wenger and as recently as November, AVB’s side shipped in five at the Emirates.

I don’t know if Wenger can be third time lucky with AVB, but many Arsenal fans wouldn’t mind that at all.

The Curious Case of Arsenal’s Leaky Defense

I would like to introduce you to Arsenal’s first choice defense that will be odds on to play on Sunday.

Wojciech Szczesny, a young prospect with 13 caps for Poland, renowned for his aerial abilities, command of area and he’s really good in  orchestrating his defense. He has had his fair of great games while donning the No. 1 jersey but he has had his collection of bloopers as well.

Bacary Sagna, a player I once heralded as the football S.I. unit for consistency but he had a 2012 to forget as it was dominated by injuries as well as a poor run of form towards the end of the year. He has notched up 33 caps for France thus far and his performance against Sunderland will go down as one of his finest in Arsenal colors.

Nacho Monreal, a Spanish fullback that rose from the ranks of youth team football in Osasuna before making a step up to Malaga in 2011. When Kieran Gibbs got injured, Arsene Wenger swooped for the Spaniard and he has balanced his defensive and offensive play superbly. Last week, he handed his first Arsenal assist with a perfectly-cushioned cutback to Santi Cazorla, that wasted no time in rattling Brad Guzan’s net.

Thomas Vermaelen, the aggressive and commanding skipper, that is renowned for his goalscoring exploits as well as his defensive gaffes. With 40 caps already for Belgium, Vermaelen caught the eye in his debut campaign at Arsenal but an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in his second campaign saw his form dwindle since his return to full fitness.

Per Mertesacker, the big friendly and vastly experienced giant with 86 German caps to his name. Where Mertesacker lacks with his pace, he makes up with his perfect ability to read the game and make some interceptions, or Merteceptions, as I prefer to call them.

These players have a joint total of 182 international caps between and look like a formidable force on paper, but on the field of play, it’s something else entirely. Arsenal has shipped in 30 goals in the Premier League, eight goals in the Champions League, seven goals in the Capital One Cup and five goals in the FA Cup.

You rarely see Arsenal concede a goal from a stunning 30-yard volley or a clear cut goalscoring chance. It’s usually when Sagna is caught out of position (Chelsea) or executing a poor clearance in his box (Southampton), when Mertesacker is ball watching (Swansea, Liverpool) and when Vermaelen concedes unwanted free kicks (Chelsea).

In simpler terms, Arsenal are usually the cause of their own downfall and have become talented in shooting themselves in the foot.

Sadly, many Tottenham fans will be looking forward to this.

Another High Scoring Game

When Arsenal and Tottenham clash in the North London Derby, there is something that is more certain than death, taxes and England losing on penalties – goals.

There was a season where both teams went on a goal frenzy with Arsenal slamming in five while Tottenham blasted in four. In Harry Redknapp’s first North London derby, Arsenal was running away with a 4-2 lead but two late goals from Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon leveled the game at 4-4.

Last season, both sides showed what they were made of from an attacking perspective as Louis Saha and an Emmanuel Adebayor (from a Gareth Bale dive) saw the visitors get two early goals at the Emirates. A surge from the home side saw Sagna, van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott get in on the act to record a stunning 5-2 victory.

Last November, it was a case of deja vu as Arsenal fired five past Tottenham again with all the new signings scoring, Per Mertesacker breaking his goalscoring duck and Walcott completing the rout.

I can assure you of one thing in Sunday’s clash – goals.

The Man on Fire: Gareth Bale

At the age of 16 years and 275 days, Gareth Bale became the second youngest ever player to play for Southampton (Walcott is still the youngest). He also capped his first Saints goal with a stunning free kick against Derby County. After a successful campaign with the Saints that saw him score five goals in 43 appearances, Bale made a big-money move to Tottenham.

In Spurs, Bale began his career as a left back but was moved further up the pitch to the left wing position, where he has had devastating effects. With each passing season, Bale’s scoring count increased for Tottenham and he’s in the form of his life this season with 19 goals thus far.

If Arsenal wants to come out of anything from Sunday’s North London derby, they must find a way to contain Gareth Bale.

I’m looking forward to a great game of football on Sunday.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal Announce Profits and More on Santi Cazorla

12/13: Arsena 2-1 Aston Villa - Santi Cazorla

Chelsea’s loss to Manchester City threw the race for the final Champions League spots wide open, and a team that was running away with the league at the start of the season are now in danger of losing further ground on the coveted European spots, as the man on fire, Gareth Bale, inspired his team to a win over West Ham that made Tottenham leapfrog Chelsea to third place.

You certainly wouldn’t rate the West Ham vs. Tottenham clash as one of the best matches of 2013, but Gareth Bale proved to the football world how high his confidence levels are right about now. However, he’ll be a player to watch in Sunday’s North London Derby and you’ll have another chance to see Arsenal live.

Chelsea will have a keen eye on the proceedings in White Hart Lane as one of the two great North London clubs are odds on to drop points, much to the delight of the Western Londoners with the Blue kit. According to Football.co.uk, Chelsea’s Gary Cahill has revealed that his team is fatigued.

For a team that has a manager who rotates his players more than the amount of times women change their hair, I shouldn’t expect fatigue to be a determining factor for Chelsea’s slump. In my honest opinion, I feel that the players aren’t motivated enough to work their skins off for a manager with no future at the club.

The Blues didn’t really look out of sorts against Manchester City but Frank Lampard’s penalty miss went a long way in changing the complexion of the contest. Had the Blues snatched an away win, the Citizens would have waved goodbyes to the league title while the West London side would have gotten some breathing space from the two North London teams directly behind them.

In a strange twist of fate, Chelsea is just two points ahead of Arsenal and they still have very tough fixtures against Manchester United and Tottenham in the run in to the final Champions League spots.

From an Arsenal perspective, things are looking all peachy and creamy at the moment following Santi Cazorla’s brilliance in the crunch encounter against Aston Villa. Paul Lambert’s inexperienced side were taught a footballing lesson by the Gunners but the home team showed off some frailties that were exposed yet again.

Despite the fact that Santi Cazorla rightly earned his place in the back pages of the tabloids, questions were asked of Arsene Wenger’s side and they decided to be pretty good in some while failing miserably in others.

On the bright side, Jack Wilshere was on song, Nacho Monreal created a game-winning assist and Santi Cazorla proved to be the difference between a point and three with his vital match-clincher.

On the bad side, Olivier Giroud had a stinker in attack, Theo Walcott was back to his peripheral and frustrating self, Arsenal made things really hard for themselves, Wojciech Szczesny committed a howler for the equalizer and to top it all off, Abou Diaby got injured.

Carl Jenkinson has stated that the win has been a confidence booster for the team (via Arsenal.com) and his teammates are looking forward to Sunday’s clash with Tottenham. Carl Jenkinson’s manager, Arsene Wenger, also expressed his pride in his team’s response to what he termed as a difficult week (via Arsenal.com).

He also stated that the race for the top four is going to be tight and he took out some time to lavish praise on his Spanish diminutive magician, Santi Cazorla,

“Santi has been absolutely tremendous for us. Today was a very important day for us and he delivered. Great players deliver when it matters. Santi Cazorla is a great player.”

If there was any player that was going to salvage a victory for the Gunners when it seemed as if a draw was on the cards, it just had to be Santi Cazorla. Besides arriving in the box to score two well-taken goals, the Spaniard was ubiquitous in midfield and was at the heart of everything good as Arsenal launched wave after wave of attacks on Paul Lambert’s team.

To make his day in the office absolutely perfect, Cazorla had surpassed his personal best for a season in terms of goalscoring, as he scored his 10th and 11th goals in a quite remarkable campaign for the star. His previous best was the nine goals he managed for Malaga last season.

Like Arsene Wenger, Cazorla’s teammates also ran out of superlatives for his outstanding contribution in his last Arsenal outing. Ze Big Friendly Giant, Per Mertesacker, has hailed him as the perfect footballer (via Arsenal.com), while his compatriot, Mikel Arteta, has shared his views on the threat Cazorla poses while he’s on the left hand side (via Arsenal.com).

With Santi Cazorla dominating proceedings on the pitch, the Gunners have had some activities off the pitch as well, as the club announced its latest financial results (via Arsenal.com),

“The club has no short-term debt and continues to have a robust financial platform.

“The figures show a profit before tax of £17.8 million. This was driven primarily by player sales of £42.5 million.

“Football turnover dropped from £113.5 million to £106 million as a result of four fewer home fixtures compared to the same period last year.

“However, overall operating profits from the club’s property operation increased to £1.9 million versus £0.5 million in 2011.”

The report also confirms the extended partnership with Emirates which will be worth up to £150 million. This comes in addition to deals with Airtel and Malta Guinness and additional sponsorship linked to the pre-season tour.

Arsenal have announced half-yearly profits of £17.8m for the six months up to the end of November last year. Arsenal’s cash reserves also increased by £7m to £123.3m.

When you look at these figures initially, you may want to bring out a smile but believe me if I tell you that these profits were funded by the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United for £24m.

This season, the club has burnt an excess of £40.9m from the acquisitions of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal as well as tying six core British players to long-term deals. The figures show a profit before tax of £17.8 million. This was driven primarily by player sales of £42.5 m.

This ultimately means that if Robin van Persie and Alex Song remained at the club in addition to the new signings, Arsenal would have recorded a loss of £26.6m.

With all these figures shown everywhere, it would also be shocking to know that Arsenal’s current wage bill stands at £155m in contrast to rivals, Manchester United (£162m) and Chelsea (£171m).

When I think about the outrageous amount of pounds paid to deadwood like Sebastien Squillaci, Denilson, Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young and Johan Djourou, it boils me to know that these players are tied to long term deals without producing any output to the club presently.

Squillaci and Arshavin have contracts expiring at the end of the season thankfully, but the other players in the aforementioned list are shipped out on loan with Arsenal still paying a considerable chunk of their wages.

When it came to the point where the club was to hand a contract to players who deserve it, such as Theo Walcott, it took forever and at some point, many Arsenal fans feared that he’d join the exodus away from the club.

At this point in time, there’s a cloud shrouding Bacary Sagna’s future and if the Gunners don’t give him a deal he feels he deserves, he might just opt for the petro-greens of a club like Paris St. Germain for instance.

We claim to be a club all about the profits yet we somehow manage to sell our best players when they’ve reached they have reached the climax of their careers.

Gone are those days when Arsenal sells of a player after so many years of service and it’s pretty shocking to know that Arsenal’s “oldest player” in the squad is Lukasz Fabianski that joined the club in 2006.

Folks like Ivan Gazidis tell the world that there’s money to spend but this financial results clearly show that after Wenger bought his attacking trio of Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla, he was probably told that he had to sell to balance the books.

While many Arsenal fans were happy to see the back of Robin van Persie even if his sale to Manchester United was a bitter pill to swallow, the sale of Alex Song for no just cause remains an aberration and you can’t be blind to state that our midfield has fared very well without him.

That’s yer lot for today.

Sayonara.

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5 Lessons Learned from Arsenal’s Win over Aston Villa

Oh Santi Cazorla!!!!

Apologies for my blogging inactivity in recent days. I’ve been having serious issues with my Internet Service Provider – one day, it’s as efficient as Lionel Messi in front of goal, another day it’s Marouane Chamakh 2.0.

Let’s just say it had a “Moroccan Effect” over the weekend.

****

After back to back home losses in different competitions to Blackburn and Bayern Munich, Arsenal had it all to do against an Aston Villa battling for their Premier League lives.

The Villans had the unwanted record of being the team with the second worst attack as well as the second worst defense in the League. Paul Lambert had a great time in his Norwich days but he has clearly struggled with his Villa side that is now a complete shadow of the team that competed for European places in Martin O’ Neill’s reign.

Arsene Wenger made some changes to his starting lineup as Carl Jenkinson replaced Bacary Sagna that picked up a knock during the warm up, Nacho Monreal returned to the setup after he was cup-tied in the Champions League, Abou Diaby came in Aaron Ramsey’s stead and Olivier Giroud returned to the XI.

In a game that had its glimpses of quality as well as Arsenal having the lion’s share of possession, the Gunners had just enough in the tank to see out the threat the visitors posed, when it seemed as if a draw was on the cards.

The victory put the Gunners within touching distance of that coveted Champions League spot and their cause when certainly helped when Chelsea dropped points.

Without further ado, here are some lessons learned from Arsenal’s victory over Aston Villa;

A Better Start to the Game, for a Change

Arsenal has been culpable for very torrid starts to games this season, especially in the first half before they come out firing on all cylinders in the second 45 minutes. There were times when the Gunners managed to salvage draws like the Liverpool game for instance, but there have been others when the surge wasn’t good enough to gain any point – Bayern Munich, anyone?

Against Aston Villa, the Gunners came out of the blocks with a quick-fire goal from the outstanding Santi Cazorla, that brought an end to that recent unwanted trend of poor starts to games.

With crucial games against Tottenham, Bayern and Everton coming up, the Gunners could do with better first half performances because all Hell could break loose if Arsene Wenger’s men fail to turn up.

Tottenham’s red-hot Gareth Bale believes that his team is better than Arsenal. A win against Tottenham in next week’s North London Derby would go a long way in putting Bale and his team in their place (Arsenal’s shadow) and it would be nice seeing Bale eat his words, with a banana of course.

I’m sure you get my drift.

Wojciech Szczesny Needs Some Competition

Everyone knows that Wojciech Szczesny is Arsenal’s undisputed No. 1 goalie. His deputies, Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski, haven’t done enough to prove to Arsene Wenger and the fans that they are good enough to displace the Pole.

With both players on the club’s payroll and no potential suitors coming anytime soon (Mannone was linked with a move back home), it would seem a bit awkward getting a new goalie with these men still around.

Believe it or not, I like Szczesny. He’s a great guy, has a very good attitude and he’s really outspoken but he can make that odd mistake from time to time, even in a game he’s doing well.

In the game against Aston Villa, the visitors leveled the tie with a gift on a platter from Arsenal’s undisputed No. 1. Villa hit Arsenal on the break from a corner kick and a punt further up the pitch was nodded straight to the opposition by Carl Jenkinson.

Andreas Weimann was unmarked at the edge of the area and unleashed a shot that would have been easy pickings for a keeper of Szczesny’s caliber but it breezed past the goalie despite putting a hand to it.

Had Weimann scored that goal in the 89th minute, Szczesny would have been on the back pages not Santi Cazorla.

Nacho Monreal’s Continued Impact

When Kieran Gibbs hurt himself against Liverpool, many Arsenal fans turned to panic mode because there was no able deputy in that department.

Andre Santos has been shambolic all season long and Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t been too impressive in his center back position, not to talk of him filling in at left back.

Up stepped Nacho Monreal from Malaga, Arsenal’s newbie that received a baptism of fire in his debut against Stoke City. This was followed by another impressive performance against Sunderland before he tasted his first defeat in Arsenal colors in the humiliating FA Cup loss to Blackburn.

When Arsenal hosted Aston Villa, Monreal returned to the team after a much deserved rest in midweek and put up a show that would give Kieran Gibbs a run for his money. When the chips were down, Monreal timed his run to perfection before drilling a pass into Santi Cazorla’s path.

The rest they say was history.

Jack Wilshere’s Influence

Since his long-awaited return from injury, Jack Wilshere’s influence in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield has been unrivaled. He has even scored two well-taken goals against Montpellier and Swansea this season.

With Santi Cazorla deployed on the left flank from the start, Wilshere was given the advanced playmaker role where he excelled admirably. Besides his trademark bursting runs that left his opponents for dead, Wilshere was directly involved in both Arsenal goals.

For the first, he made a burst forward before sending a through ball to Cazorla. The Spanish magician still had a lot to do but with a stroke of luck, he guided the ball past Brad Guzan.

Wilshere also had a hand in the match-winning goal when he lofted the ball to Monreal. The fullback did well to evade his marker before supplying a cutback that was latched home by Santi Cazorla.

Arsenal Can Always Count on Santi Cazorla

He opened his goalscoring account against Liverpool at Anfield and it was followed closely by a left-footed stunner against West Ham in Upton Park. He smashed in Arsenal’s consolation goal in that putrid outing at Old Trafford before getting in on the act in the North London derby.

He stole the show with a hat-trick against Reading before doing the double over West Ham with a cheeky back-heeled finish. After settling the contest two weeks ago when Arsenal visited the Stadium of Light, Santi Cazorla spared Arsenal’s blushes with a brace against struggling Aston Villa to give his team a chance in contending for a Champions League spot.

All game long, Cazorla was a constant threat to the Villa back line and he terrorized their rearguard with his intelligent play and canny movement. When a chance afforded itself after an initial blocked shot, Cazorla sweetly placed the ball past Guzan to give his team the lead.

Late on, he reacted quickly to Monreal’s cutback with a tidy left-footed finish to give his team some much-needed relief.

Arsenal can always count on Santi Cazorla like 1, 2, 3 and he’ll be there.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on Arsene Wenger’s Future With Arsenal

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What does the future hold for Wenger?

There’s this feeling that usually comes after a defeat and it’s more or less like a very bitter taste in the mouth.

In the case of a club like Arsenal, the timing of Wednesday’s defeat to Bayern wasn’t helped by the fact that the loss could signal another wait to end the trophy drought for another season at least.

A season that promised so much with the new signings as well as those clean sheets in a row has gone downhill ever since with the Gunners only motivation being a fourth place finish in the League. With a high possibility of leading the team to another trophy-less campaign, what does the future hold for Wenger?

Is Arsene Wenger’s run with Arsenal near its end? If you were to read recent reports, you would think that it was.

According to EuroSport News, Arsene “flipped his lid” during a press briefing for the squad’s Champions League match on Tuesday with Bayern Munich and told reporters that the reports of his signing a two-year deal was “bad information.”

The Telegraph reported that the boss was to be handed a new two-year deal with a fat transfer kitty of £70m, regardless of whether he qualifies for the Champions League or not.

I watched the bit where Arsene seemingly “flipped his lid” but that seemed like a mild bit of frustration on the part of the manager revolving around a question that had little to do with the upcoming match.  However, his comments to the print media later were very interesting.

While speaking with the print media, Arsene went into a bit of a rant and there is some cause for concern.  Here are his comments:

 “I am sure you would miss me when I am gone.  When we lose to Blackburn at home, I am not sure that is your first worry.

“My contract ends in 2014. I will have completed 30 years without interruption at top level. While I may not be quality, I have commitment for sure. One day I will give you the list (of clubs) I have not signed for and you will see that I am committed to this club.

“You can criticize me and say I’m a bad manager. I’d never come back to you on that. When you criticize (our position in the table) then it is true. I can only say I am sorry, you are right, we are far too far away from Manchester United.

“We are of course criticized for that, but we are not the only ones. Some clubs have invested more money than us for years and they are behind as well. We accept that kind of criticism. I just think that when I worked for 16 years in this country I expect a certain respect.”

Whether his comments to the pressers were hints of retirement remains to be seen.  It definitely would be different seeing Arsenal without Wenger at the helm.  He is similar to other great coaches in sport and is perhaps the one face everyone identifies as the face of the team even beyond the players.

The team’s official gaming partner Betsson and other corporate sponsors have only known Arsene as the team’s manager.  When signing contracts with Arsenal, they know that the team is stable with management in place.  Now that certainty and stability could indeed come into question if his comments have any meat to them.

I’ve read a couple of articles on the internet outlining a million and one reasons why Wenger should be sacked. Some dwelt on his stubbornness, lack of transfer activity, horrible starts to campaigns, his rigid tactics and many more reasons that best suited them.

I’m certainly no AKB (Arsene Knows Best) and I’m not a WOB (Wenger Out Bridage) as well. I love my club with my heart and irrespective of the decision the board makes with Wenger, my devotion and addiction to this club won’t flinch.

Wenger ushered in the good times in the start of his coaching career at Arsenal but the last eight years haven’t been fruitful with classic cases of what might have been,

  • If Thierry Henry converted his chances against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.
  • If the club dealt with Didier Drogba in the 2007 Carling Cup final.
  • If Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini didn’t suffer injuries in the title-chasing 2007/08 Premier League campaign.
  • If we could have defeated Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League semifinals – I don’t think we would have beaten Barcelona though.
  • If Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny communicated better in the 89th minute of the 2011 Carling Cup final.

In the times of trial and tribulation, many players were quick to jump ship and sought greener pastures but the manager remained steadfast despite the fact that he was heavily linked with some teams – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, the French National Side, just to name a few.

Unlike a faction of the fans that want the boss out, his players have stood by him and Thomas Vermaelen has stated that he’s still the best man for the job (via SkySports). Elsewhere Theo Walcott has urged his team to bounce back with a win against Aston Villa this weekend while Mikel Arteta has urged everyone to keep the faith.

The folks at the top have backed the manager as well.

Last season, Arsene Wenger labelled fourth place as a trophy and I’m very certain that every Arsenal fan would give anything to end the season in that position.

Sayonara

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Arsenal 1 Bayern 3: Quality of Possession More Important than Quantity

Many football neutrals wrote Arsenal off before this contest and who could blame them? Bayern Munich are in hot form at the moment, sitting 15 points clear of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga as well as not conceding any goal in 2013 prior to yesterday night’s game.

Arsene Wenger responded to the team that succumbed to defeat last weekend, making wholesale changes to his starting lineup. Nacho Monreal was cup-tied so Thomas Vermaelen was drafted as a make-shift left back, allowing Per Mertesacker to partner Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the defense. Wenger also introduced Aaron Ramsey in Abou Diaby’s stead but many eyebrows were raised when Olivier Giroud was relegated to the bench with Theo Walcott starting through the middle.

Before kickoff, both managers exchanged pleasantries and the commentator gave me a food for thought,

“Jupp Heynckes is leaving anyway but no one knows the fate of Arsene Wenger”

Arsenal began the game on a high and tore Bayern open when Jack Wilshere teed up Santi Cazorla with a pin-point pass at the edge of the box. The Spanish magician saw an onrushing Walcott but his delivery was very poor for a player of his high standards.

Despite being on the back foot from the start of the game, Bayern got the lead with their first meaningful attack. Thomas Mueller drifted on the right before swinging a tame cross that evaded Arsenal’s rearguard. Out of the blue, Toni Kroos popped up like a weasel at the edge of the box before firing a sweet shot that bounced past Szczesny.

Franck Ribery and Phillip Lahm threatened from the right hand side with a cross that was superbly blocked by Vermaelen. Kroos swung in the resulting corner and Daniel van Buyten evaded Mertesacker easily to head the ball goalwards, forcing Szczesny to make a tame save but Mueller was on hand to tap in the away team’s second goal.

Arsenal pushed on for a glimmer of hope in the first half but Mertesacker’s shot was blocked by van Buyten and Kroos. Lady Luck smiled on the Gunners when David Alaba slipped in front of Sagna on the right hand side, allowing the French fullback to locate Walcott on the edge of the box. The English forward blasted his effort on a defender and that chance went begging.

Right at the death, Bayern almost went three up when Mario Mandzukic’s header missed Szczesny’s goal by a lick of paint.

Many expected Arsene Wenger to make positive changes at the start of the half with the Gunners chasing the game but the manager persisted with the same side at the start of the second 45 minutes.

10 minutes into the second half, Arsenal won a fictitious corner kick when Cazorla’s shot deflected off Podolski’s back but the official pointed to the corner flag. Wilshere lofted in the corner and after the ball evaded everyone in the six-yard box, Podolski held his nerve to nod the ball to an unguarded net.

The impregnable Bayern Munich defense finally conceded a goal in 2013 and they looked quite shaky from there on. Walcott fired a free kick that was punched to safety by Manuel Neuer and at the other end, Szczesny saved Kroos’ drive.

Wilshere made one of his trademark bursting runs and showed great determination to win the ball back but he lost his balance at the vital moment. Wenger made the changes the fans expected throwing Giroud and Tomas Rosicky straight into the action for Ramsey and Podolski.

Both players almost contributed to what would have been a fairytale equalizer for Arsenal. Rosicky retrieved the ball in midfield and floated in a sumptuous ball to Walcott. The winger played a delicious pass to Giroud but the Frenchman blasted his right-footed effort straight at Neuer with a gaping goal in sight.

If Arsenal had the Lewandowskis, Higuains, Benzemas and Falcaos of world football, that would most certainly be the equalizer. Quality.

As expected, Arsenal was made to rue that miss when Mandzukic laid on the ball for Arjen Robben and the Dutch winger uncharacteristically passed the ball to Lahm. Lahm reached the touchline and drilled in a cross that was sent home by Mandzukic, after he challenged for the ball with Sagna.

Wilshere did a neat one-two with Rosicky but his tame shot was straight at Neuer. Late on, Vermaelen won a free kick on the edge of the box and everyone was hoping from a good delivery from Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard’s cross was poor and Arsenal’s best shot of a late goal was gone with the wind.

Even with 522 passes (78% completed), 114.74 km covered and an average possession of 54% for Arsenal, Bayern Munich got the stats that really mattered – three vital away goals.

It’s fair to say that quality of possession was more important than quantity.

Sayonara.

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