Archive for April, 2011
I feel Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has become too engrossed in bringing out the best or making the most out of the talent(s) of the players at his disposal; most of whom he still regards as ‘youngsters’, as well as looking out for their interests first rather than the team’s that he now finds it quite difficult to win a trophy. The Frenchman; unfortunately for Arsenal, has allowed his emotions toward the Cannon badge side cloud his much better judgment.
For me, the 2010/11 season ranks as the highest level of impotence the Gunners have shown since its unenviable trophy-drought run began after that pyrrhic victory on penalties at the 2005 FA Cup final. Moreover, the north London side has only itself to blame for not winning at least one trophy this season having lost the League Cup final to rank outsiders Birmingham City; no thanks to a lack of communication between a French defender and his Polish goalkeeper, and then allowed a few results to be such as:
Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle United >>> the Toons won with perhaps one of two forays towards the Arsenal goal that day, blessed with a bit of eccentricity on the part of Lukasz Fabianski. Some misfortune for Arsenal at the Newcastle goal meant a sure three points failed to materialize for the Gunners at a time Newcastle was in poor form.
Arsenal 2-3 Westbromwich-Albion >>> With the Gunners in good form, the Baggies were no match for their hosts on paper and Arsenal duly obliged by resting a number of the regular starters. The visitors on their part duly took advantage by racing to a deserved 3-0 lead earned through some breathtaking football by them and it wasn’t till Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri were introduced that the score was made a bit less embarrassing. My failing ego as a Gooner fell a few notches that day though.
Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur >>> It is like a stone forced down the throat losing to one’s fiercest rivals, worse still when the match is lost on home turf with a capacity crowd watching on and gravely worse so when such match is lost having ended the first half leading 2-0. The Lilywhites, much credit to them, picked up and took their game to a level the Gunners; by then too cozy to keep the rampaging second half Spurs at bay, couldn’t cope with thus seeing Spurs record a famous win at the Emirates. Another low blow to my Gooner ego.
Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal >>> Took me five minutes to start typing this part… absolutely indescribably ludicrous result for Arsenal that couldn’t have asked for a better first half display that resulted into a 4-0 lead by half time. A lack of team discipline generally and individual discipline from Abou Diaby meant what shouldn’t have been… became. Thus allowing Newcastle United to prize four points from Arsenal this season. Champion material… not!
Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool >>> Unfortunate injury to Jamie Carragher in a clash of heads with teammate Flanaghan meant eight minutes of added time was given at the Emirates with the game still goalless at 90 minutes. Dutchman Robin van Persie; whose impeccable form in 2011 came to nothing unfortunately, scored a 98th minute penalty and seemed to have earned three points that would have boosted Arsenal’s shot at overturning Manchester United’s lead in the title race. Alas, Arsenal conceded a penalty converted by another Dutchman Dirk Kuyt in the 102nd minute. Both teams did not deserve to lose in all fairness with Arsenal producing another attacking master class on the day and Liverpool doing likewise with their defensive display but when you take the lead after 98 minutes in a game of 90 minutes, you don’t just lose!
Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal >>> Even though the two-goal lead began dissipating after just three minutes, it remains on record that Arsenal led 3-1 at some point at White Hart Lane and oh the joy Gooners were feeling right then. It was no doubt a great game of football for the purists but it was the fans of the Lilywhites that enjoyed the final outcome, a result that meant Arsenal missed out on being just four points behind league leaders Man. United and hence remain in firm contention for the league title with four matches left of the season then. Instead, it allowed Chelsea replace Arsenal in second place on goal difference, six points behind the Red Devils.
It was after this match at White Hart Lane that Arsenal’s window to realistically catch-up with United in the title race closed and yet again, Gooners are left with the cliché “we’ll see next season” being uttered… shut it!
Wenger needs to toughen up and be ‘axed’ to leave. It’d be a win-win situation as Arsenal needs to return to being a real football club and not an avenue for family gathering on the weekends and the occasional weekdays and Wenger could do with a break from football though I’m sure it’s far from his mind, hence a new atmosphere under which he can manage. He is a very good manager so getting another high profile, Champions League assuring job shouldn’t pose an obstacle as winning a trophy has been since 2005.
Arsenal needs a leader, Francesc Fàbregas is an exceptional talent and a world-class supplier of passes and team creativity but with so much at stake, it takes charisma and firm composure to lead a football club of Arsenal’s stature and Fàbregas is only just assuming these qualities as a player.
Finally, at least one more defender in the mould of Thomas Vermaelen would greatly shore up the backline and give a viable alternative in the event of Vermaelen missing virtually the whole season as he did this season.
Having won the UEFA Champions League in 2005/06 (2-1 vs. Arsenal) and again in 2008/09 (2-0 vs. Manchester United), Spanish giants C. F. Barcelona now appear to be favourites to once again reclaim Europe’s most prestigious club competition following the semi-final first leg matches. According to statistics (from Opta Sports) no club has overturned a 2-0 defeat in 15 attempts at the semi-final stage of this competition, a result the Catalans achieved on April 27 against fierce rivals Real Madrid; all the better at the Santiago Bernabeu home of the Merengues.
The result may have been different had Real’s Portuguese defender and a sturdy defensive midfielder of late Pepe not been sent off quarter of an hour into the second half with scores still goalless, albeit it would be biased to let that take the shine off the very well executed brace by Argentine phenomenon Lionel Messi whose second saw him weasel past four white shirts before finally slotting past Iker Casillas for his 52nd goal of the season in all competitions for Barcelona and 36th goal in all his Champions League appearances, which has seen him go past German legend Gerd Muller on the all time top-scorers list.
Meanwhile a repeat of the 2008/09 final is on the cards after the Red Devils finally got two goals past the impressive Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 in the second half after the German goalkeeper kept his side in the tie with a string of saves in the first half. Barring what happens to any of the teams’ players in the second leg matches, Manchester United stand in better frame to match the ingeniousness of Barcelona. However, it would be very difficult for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to reclaim a trophy it won in the 2007/08 season.
First factor going against United is the unfair fluidity Pep Guardiola’s charges have attained when it comes to team play, which leaves opposition teams either having to play a faster pace game, have at least a 90% completion rate in its passing game and then have a minimum of three players that each can produce a moment of magic from any part of the pitch. There also is going about grinding the game to scrap, not allowing Barcelona the fluidity they have perfected and successfully implemented in a majority of matches in all competitions this season before then going about to win such match.
And yes, United’s attacking third comprising an in-form Wayne Rooney with goals and assists paired with this season’s revelation in perhaps all of Europe, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez with his great technique at positioning and not just goals scored but important match winners time and again that have seen him earn himself a starting shirt ahead of Dimitar Berbatov (left out completely in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Germany) can pose quite a threat to the rampaging Catalans.
This is complemented by Edwin van Der Sar who stands stalwart between the sticks, the imposing Nemanja Vidic who is the heart of the Red Devils’ defence and a midfield based more on effectiveness than on flair through veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs alongside Michael Carrick and Anderson with Nani especially and Antonio Valencia most capable of the flair part of the business.
All that said, whichever of the aforementioned midfielders Sir Alex puts in the starting line-up must play like they sometimes have over this season in order to not see Rooney having to come deep just to get a feel of the round leather, a scenario the Red Devils team must avoid otherwise Chicharito would be left isolated upfront and Rooney would have been taken some distance from a range where he can actually cause damage.
It would be the best starting Scholes as he has the ability to achieve a pass completion rate the Barcelona forwards enjoy supply from their midfield while starting Giggs would be a better idea than starting Luis Nani as the vastly experienced Welshman has been more consistent over the season and more so lately than the Portuguese whom one isn’t sure would turn up on match-day. Carrick is also capable of achieving a good pass completion rate but like Nani, one can never know which Michael would turn up on match-day.
Based on this seeming uncertainty in midfield that normally would not be glaring against most other oppositions, United may still just find Barcelona a riddle a bit too hard to sort out.