Monthly Archives: October 2012

Reading 5 Arsenal 7: Entertaining, Enthralling, Epic

Theo Walcott celebrates making it 4-4 at the Madejski Stadium.

Please………sign da Ting

After getting back to winning ways against QPR, Arsene Wenger had the distraction of the Capital One cup in the form of Reading, before the crunch encounter against Arsenal’s eternal rivals, Manchester United. The gaffer named an 18-man squad that was going to play at the Madejski Stadium and as expected, there was a perfect blend of youthful exuberance and a few experienced old hags.

Young Argentine shot stopper Damian Martinez had another run-out in goal but he had a pretty experienced defensive line in the form of Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou in the heart of the defense, while Ignasi Miquel and the demoted Carl Jenkinson. Francis Coquelin and the Denchster, Emmanuel Frimpong manned the midfield holding roles with Andrey Arshavin playing in the hole behind the center forward.

In attack, Gervinho Olivier Giroud Lukas Podolski Marouane Chamakh…yes, Marouane Chamakh spearheaded the attack with the exciting Serge Gnabry and the pacy Theo “Sign da Ting” Walcott providing support down the flanks. For those that don’t know, the last time Chamakh started a game was way back in January, in the 1 – 0 victory over Leeds United, where King Thierry Henry capped his fairytale comeback with a va va voom finish.

From a neutral perspective, I didn’t expect the team to blend immediately as most of them haven’t played alongside each other for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t expect Arsenal to put up a very malodorous show in the first half.

Right from the onset, Nicky Shorey swung in a corner that was headed goalwards by Sean Morrison. With Lady Luck smiling down at Arsenal, the ball managed to hit the post, bounce off Martinez’s head before ricocheting away to safety. The warning signs were on glaring for Arsenal, at Reading grabbed the lead when Noel Hunt’s low drive was pummelled into the net by veteran striker, Jason Roberts, that had all the time in the world to pick his spot.

Shortly afterwards, it was an all too familiar feeling when Arsenal shot themselves in the foot yet again. Gareth McCleary fashioned a chance for Welsh fullback, Chris Gunter, and his low cross into the box was deflected in by Laurent Koscielny.

It is just me? Or does Koscielny have a penchant for scoring own goals. I know he’s French, like Pascal Cygan and Mikael Silvestre but the last time I checked, he wears the No. 6 jersey, instead of the No. 18 jersey that’s tantamount with own goals.

In rapid fashion, Arsenal was nursing a three-goal deficit when the Gunners failed to clear their lines properly, allowing an unmarked Leigertwood to shoot the ball with a goal-bound shot. Martinez’s response to the shot was equally pathetic, as he merely guided the ball into the net.

At 3 – 0, I was clearly shell-shocked, but a bad night became worse when Gunter, who was having the time of his life with the atrocious Ignasi Miquel, drilled in another cross that was headed home by Noel Hunt with some assistance from the woodwork. With all the defensive attributes and aerial prowess Koscielny and Djourou are renowned for, their collective performance in the first 38 minutes was a classic definition of the word – shite.

With Arsenal having it all to do, Chamakh, Koscielny and Gnabry all had efforts that weren’t good enough to offer the Gunners a glimmer of hope. Up stepped Theo Walcott, that waltzed through the middle courtesy of a brilliant assist from Arshavin before chipping his shot past Adam Federici in goal.

I don’t know what Wenger told his boys during the interval but it’s certainly the type of half time team talk you’ll give in Football Manager using an aggressive or assertive tone. You know, the usual, “Where’s the passion, lads?”, “Show me something else in the second half”…stuff like that.

Arsenal came out of their shells in the start of the second half as the Arshavin – Walcott connection almost reaped dividends yet again, but the side netting came to Reading’s rescue. Chamakh tried to make a claim for a penalty when Gunter was adjudged to have handled the ball but with the way referees have come under the spotlight, the man with the whistle, let sleeping dogs lie.

At the hour mark, Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld (debut, yaaaaaay!) for Gnabry and the Denchster which turned out to be a move worth its weight in gold. Within minutes of being on the pitch, Giroud got on the end of Walcott’s corner to reduce the deficit to two goals, offering his side a renewed sense of optimism.

Get in!!!

Reading’s gaffer, Brian McDermott, made some tactical changes and his team matched the Gunners pound for pound as the minutes ticked away, much to the agony of Arsenal fans. Right at the death, Koscielny atoned for his embarrassing own goal with a powerful header and it’s worth noting that the way the Gunners ran with the ball to the center circle was faster than Usain Bolt’s world record.

Reading employed some time-wasting tactics and tweets like this saw the light of day,

https://twitter.com/Ebaminator/status/263394499026374657#

Then this happened,

Unbelievable

In a fashion not explainable to man, Theo Walcott stepped up a “hail Mary” strike (as Arsenal.com described it) to level the game at 4 – 4. Mali did it against Angola in a recent AFCON, Newcastle did it against us in the 2010/11 season and most recently, Sweden achieved the same feat against Germany in a World Cup qualifier.

While in sheer elation, Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin threw their shirts into the jubilant Arsenal fans before sheepishly having to request them back for extra time.

Reading looked like a side bereft of confidence after throwing away a handsome 4 – 0 lead (yeah, we Arsenal fans know that feeling) and Arsenal continued to stamp their authority on the game. Two minutes before the end of the first interval, Walcott Giroud Chamakh, yes Chamakh, fired a shot from inside the six-yard box outside the box to give the Gunners a 5 – 4 lead.

Chamakh had a golden chance to make it six but he side-footed a tame effort to the goalie. Arsenal was made to rue that miss when Pavel Pogrebnyak nicked in an equalizer to change the scoreline of this epic encounter to 5 – 5.

Penalties beckoned but I wasn’t confident of Damian Martinez’s abilities so I said a quick prayer and hoped for another goal…or two. Behold, my prayers were answered in the best possible fashion as Walcott capped an exceptional game with a hat-trick that was no less than he deserved.

With Reading chasing the game for another scary equalizer (which they almost got), Chamakh put the icing on a well-baked cake as he chipped the hapless goalie to make it seven.

In all my years as an Arsenal fan, I haven’t seen a game that made me go through so many emotional phases like yesterday’s game against Reading. I started the game with arrogance (simple stroll in the park, I thought), but that was quickly changed to a state of surprise (1 – 0), perplexion, bewilderment (2 – 0) and shock (3 – 0) before getting heavy doses of frustration and despair (4 – 0).

I began the second half with doubt (4 – 1), but it was changed to hope (4 – 2). At 4 – 3, urgency became my watchword and when Walcott made it 4 – 4, my euphoria knew no bounds. 5 – 4 was somewhat orgasmic,  but the equalizer was a bitter pill to swallow. After the final two goals that put the game beyond doubt, the only feeling I had was pride.

What’s not to love about Arsenal?

Arsene Wenger has stated that this victory was a miracle, but I’m here to tell the world that it was entertaining, enthralling and of course, epic.

For those Gooners that missed this game for reasons best known to Aliens scared to attack the Earth because Chuck Norris lives, here are the highlights of the 12-goal thriller.

And for those Gooners that watched the game, we both know that it’s worth a second view.

Sayonara. 

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Thoughts on Wilshere’s Return to First Team Action

Good to be back

After a very long wait that seemed to last all eternity, Jack Wilshere played for 70 minutes in Arsenal’s fortunate 1 – 0 victory over Queens Park Rangers. Wilshere’s potential was very massive at such a very young age and he rose through the ranks before making his Arsenal debut at the age of 16 beating Cesc Fabregas’ record in the process.

His stellar performances in the 2010/11 season were good enough to send Abou Diaby and Denilson down the pecking order and the youngster was rightly rewarded with the PFA Young Player of the Year award at the end of that campaign. He also earned a place in the Team of the Year and was voted as Arsenal’s Player of the Season for 2011.

While he was out for the best part of 14 months, his influence on the pitch was sorely missed, as Arsenal lacked any player that could match his grit, drive, passion and of course determination. He’s arguably one of the best passers of the ball at Arsenal and his passes to teammates upfront pierce defenses like hot knife through butter.

Jack Wilshere goes into every game like a general wielding a sword and a shield ready for battle; and  he is the kind of player that loves football for what it is: the beautiful game. Despite having such a small stature, Jack Wilshere possesses the stamina of an Ox (not Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) and he also regarded as a tireless worker because of his high work rate.

In a team full of football technicians, Wilshere showed his worth as he blended straight into the team, despite being out of action for a considerable chunk of time. His replacements on the pitch, have showed what they are made of this season, but I must commend Abou Diaby for his massive improvement this season, while Aaron Ramsey continues to show his inconsistency in certain occasions.

Arsenal fans are already aware about the massive qualities Jack Wilshere possesses and it was heart-warming to see the reception he received in the Emirates last weekend. In the early part of the game, his touches on the ball coincided with loud roars from the Arsenal faithful and that spurred him to put up a great show.

Amazingly, Wilshere had a 100% pass completion rate in the first half and he almost supplied an assist to Ramsey, but the Welshman’s header hit the cross bar before going over. In the second half, his pass completion rate reduced to 94% before he was substituted for Theo Walcott, earning an ovation as he gracefully came off the pitch.

At the end of the game, Arsene Wenger spoke about how his team deserved to be patient, but when asked about Wilshere’s comeback, the gaffer had this to say,

You could see technically he is there, and he gave everything, and what he is missing he will get through competition. He still misses a bit of the pace of the game, the rhythm of the game, but overall what he did was class.

Despite having an extended run of games prior to the match against QPR, Wenger has stated that Wilshere will not be available for tonight’s Capitol One encounter against Reading (via Club Call) but he’ll be in contention for the crunch encounter against Manchester United. Wenger is also worried about the burden of expectation that could be placed on Jackie boy’s shoulders and he’s hoping for the fans not to expect fireworks from the midfielder.

Wilshere on the other hand, has expressed his delight in playing first team football again and he hopes for his team to push on for further challenges as the season progresses.

This season, Arsenal began their campaign on a very bright note with the stand-out feat being the extended run of clean sheets that made everyone wax lyrical about Dark Lord Steve Bouldimort’s influence on the rearguard. As the season progressed, there have been on and off results but the toothless attacking prowess showcased against Norwich and Schalke didn’t go down well with the fans.

Jack Wilshere arrives at a time when Arsenal was badly in need of change, and his return to first team action has been a breath of fresh air in my honest opinion. Against QPR, he always wanted the ball, allowing Santi Cazorla to have more freedom to strut his amazing stuff.

His close control, technique and deft touches was on display on Saturday, but I was a bit concerned with the amount of times he was clattered by the opposition.

While tonight’s game against Reading will allow most of the first team players to get some deserved rest, Arsenal will need every last available man to make the daunting trip to Old Trafford, a ground the club was badly humiliated last season.

To be honest, my expectations for that game aren’t very high, judging from our performance there last season, but this season’s fixtures in the Britannia, Anfield and the Etihad have shown that the Gunners are capable of bringing something off their sleeves, and the fact that we have Jack Wilshere in our ranks gives me butterflies in my tummy.

Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere,

It’s good to have you back.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal 1 QPR 0: Breakthrough for the Gunners in Wilshere’s Comeback

Breakthrough

The disappointing, toothless and shocking loss to Norwich.

The below-par and shameful loss to Schalke 04.

The feisty and somewhat uneasy AGM.

It has been on hell of a week for everyone connected with Arsenal. In our time as fans, we have witnessed our fare share of back to back defeats, but a third defeat on the bounce against a team rock bottom in the Premier League would have had many ramifications.

The defeats against Norwich and Schalke exposed the frailties in a couple of players, so it was high time Wenger used an iron fist on some of his playing personnel. I expected Andre Santos and Ramsey to be on the end of such an action but when I saw the starting line-up yesterday, I was filled with a renewed sense of optimism.

A fit-again Bacary Sagna replaced Carl Jenkinson while Aaron Ramsey replaced Gervinho on the wings with Olivier Giroud coming back into the attacking fold. The biggest news of all, was seeing Jack Wilshere play his first Premier League game in 17 months, wearing the sacred No. 10 jersey that has been worn by legends like Dennis Bergkamp as well as arseholes like William Gallas and Robin van Judas Iscariot Per$i£.

QPR had a very woeful away record in the Premier League as they had amassed just a point from a possible 33 with their last maximum points away being a victory over Stoke in November 2011. Mark Hughes spoke about his fears of Wilshere starting for the Gunners and it’s fair to say that his nightmare became a reality.

Sagna and Ramsey worked well on the right with Sagna using his burst of pace to evade ex-Gunner, Armand Traore, before drilling the ball into the box. Pepe Diakhite was on hand to block the cross from getting into his danger area.

Every touch of the ball from Wilshere was met with a rapturous roar from the Emirates faithful, which propelled the young Englishman to put up a show to savor. Wilshere’s first telling contribution was to waltz into a pocket before firing the ball across the goalmouth but no Gunner was around to kill off the chance. Wilshere was on the thick if things again, as he lofted a cross to Ramsey, but the Welshman’s header hit the cross bar and went over.

Wilshere continued to run the show, as he executed a neat one-two with Santi Cazorla before blasting a rather tame shot goalwards but Julio Cesar spilled the shot and smothered it in his second attempt.

Andre Santos had a stinker against Schalke on Wednesday, but he was exposed yet again by Shaun Wright-Phillips. However, Thomas Vermaelen tracked back to cover Andre Santos’ tracks this time.

Giroud wasn’t having much joy up front, but he managed to slam a shot from quite some distance, giving Cesar a chance to parry the ball for a corner. When Vito Mannone was faced with such a situation last week, he parried the ball straight into his danger area, allowing Grant Holt to kill off the contest.

Late in the first half, Andre Santos fashioned a chance for himself with his right foot, but that was easy pickings for Cesar.

Arsenal began the second half with more urgency as Per Mertesacker nodded Mikel Arteta’s dead ball with a goal-bound header, but Cesar was on hand to make a good save. That was the first of a plethora of saves from the former Brazil No. 1.

QPR came off their shells when Adel Taarabt and Esteban Granero created a chance for Junior Hoilett with a delicate chip but the Canadian forward strayed fractionally offside. Wright-Phillips continued to get the better of Andre Santos before crossing a ball was almost attacked by Bobby Zamora but Vermaelen made a superb interception to avert the danger. Shortly afterwards, it was Sagna’s turn to make another vital interception to pick the ball off Hoilett’s pocket.

Arsene Wenger brought in the calvary in the form of Theo Walcott and Gervinho for Wilshere and Lukas Podolski. I guess I didn’t get my wish of seeing Podolski play for 90 minutes.

Gervinho almost made an instant impact when he evaded a defender before firing his shot into the side netting. The first glaring chance of the game arrived when Walcott sent a cross into the box that was knocked down on a platter for Santi Cazorla in the penalty spot but the Spanish magician blasted his effort over the bar.

In the previous two games, Arsenal failed to create any chance whatsoever but against QPR, they were back to their profligate best.

The pendulum of the game swung in Arsenal’s favor courtesy of an act of sheer stupidity by QPR’s Stephane M’Bia. With Arsenal fighting hard for that all-important goal, it was expected for the players to be combative and this was on display when Vermaelen and M’Bia raced to the corner flag with the ball as a worthy price. Vermaelen shoved M’Bia in his attempt to get the ball, earning QPR a free kick but a dysfunctional chip went haywire in M’Bia’s head as he kicked the Arsenal skipper in retaliation, rightly earning a red card for his stupidity.

Minutes after the sending off, Gervinho was on the end of a swift counter attack launched by Arsenal but after sending his cross across the box, he hit the turf and couldn’t get up again. After some treatment from Arsenal’s medical staff, a stretcher was brought into the pitch, and Andrey Arshavin was brought on to replace the substitute.

With minutes slowly fading away, Cesar showed off his amazing reflexes when he responded quickly to intercept an imminent own goal from Ryan Nelsen.

However, Arsenal’s breakthrough arrived when Arshavin dinked a cross into the box that was headed goalwards by Giroud, causing Cesar to make another spectacular save. Ramsey and Jose Bosingwa charged for the ball which was floated into Arteta’s path but the Spaniard’s header hit the cross bar and he slotted in the rebound to send the Emirates into rapture.

Many debated that the goal was offside, but I’ll let them know when I give two fledgling fucks.

Ramsey and Santi Cazorla had chances to put the game beyond doubt but Cesar continued to make more impressive saves. In the dying moments of the game, QPR almost delivered a sucker punch when Taarabt floated an over-the-top pass to Granero but the Spanish midfielder fired a rather panicky shot, despite having a great first touch. Stand-in right back, Mackie made a slalom run that saw him evade a host of Arsenal players but Mannone stood his ground to make the save that was the difference between a win and a draw.

When Sagna fouled a player at the edge of the box, chills went down my spine and my heart leapt from my chest to my mouth when Granero fired the shot but it hit the side netting. The ref’s whistle was like music to my ears, as Arsenal has finally secured that all-important win before the trip to Old Trafford to face van Judas Iscariot and his fellow Devils.

Mannone (7.0) made a vital save at the end of the game and finally secured a clean sheet, a feat he hadn’t achieved in a while.

Andre Santos (6.5) put up a better show than that torrid outing he endured on Wednesday’s night.

Sagna (7.0) was a breath of fresh air and his fight with Carl Jenkinson has begun in earnest.

Vermaelen (8.0) was very combative and made a couple of vital interceptions.

Mertesacker (7.5) nullified the threat Bobby Zamora posed.

Arteta (7.5) scored the goal that brought Arsenal’s breakthrough.

Wilshere (8.5) was ubiquitous on the pitch and was always involved in every attack till his substitution.

Cazorla (7.0) had a good game but he could have done better with the chance he had.

Ramsey (7.5) worked really hard for his team.

Giroud (7.0) provided a good focal point for the attack and was unlucky not to score the winning goal with that thunderous header late on.

Podolski (7.0) put up a very efficient outing and protected his left back well.

Walcott (7.0) instilled some life into the Arsenal attack with his pace.

Arshavin (7.0) crossed the ball that instigated the scramble that led to the match clincher.

Gervinho didn’t play long enough to get a rating.

Unlike the Norwich and Schalke games where Arsenal was piss poor, a victory was no less than the Gunners deserved for the effort they put into this game. Despite the heroics of Julio Cesar, the Gunners kept pushing till the end and they managed to grind out a result against all odds.

As the saying goes, that’s what champions are made of.

Sayonara.

I’d be honored if you vote for Gooner Daily, in the Best Sports blog category of the Nigerian Blog Awards. Voting is still ongoing.

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