Champions League ahoy

With a solid, if squeaky goalwise, win over Steaua Bucharest in a dead rubber game, the Gunners got rid of the blip on the PL radar. Much ado over the draw and loss in the Northeast, but all teams have suffered worse against lower table opposition. The absence of our striker and three-fourths of the midfield didn’t help. Too many Gooners calling for Pro Evo style reshuffles – I’d say, shut up and get behind your team. This is where I admire Mancs – they arrogantly shrug off any blips and insist on their superiority no matter what.

CL-wise, we’ll be drawing opposition of the likes of Real Madrid, Barca, and much worse because of our runners-up position in Group H. Not that Wenger is worried – he points out that we were sunk by PSV Eindhoven last year after topping the group, but sunk Real Madrid and Juve to reach the finals in ’06. Cup games tend to be unpredictable, so even finishing top in Group H would not have been a guarantee of getting past the group of sixteen. Besides, the Arse tend to be at their best when facing top-quality opposition, and playing their peers or betters. Poorer teams tend to try stifling Arsenal’s game – but top teams try to play the game and let the Arse play it as well. I say, bring on Barca – knocking them out in the CL would be sweet revenge. An Arsenal-Barca finals matchup would be heaven, but let’s see how it plays. Draw on the 23rd of December. Let the dice roll.

Is it October already?

And we’re well underway into the season, and at the top of the table. Let me just pinch myself here – Ouch! Okay, this IS reality. Just checking. Wenger, predictably, wants us to enjoy the happiness while warning that it’s still too early to bring out the parades. For me, though, more than the pole position in the title race, it’s the way we’re playing that deserves homilies. We’re creating our chances, converting them into goals, and while we’re still shaky at the back, we have gotten much better.

Kanu believe it

I didn’t. Senderos sent off? When we’re up 2-0? Just about ready for Pompey to sing the blues? But then the decision was fair, by the book. Ref didn’t have a chance, with Big Phil being the last defender. Kanu did go down as if he’d been battered with dinosaur-old Swiss cheese, but Senderos was too clumsy there. He’s a hole in the defense that Arsene’s gonna have to plug. Not a good sign when Gallas is your other option and he’s knackered.

Otherwise, however, we had a fun run. Arsenal flowed effectively, Van Persie’s clean break forcing James into an uncharacteristic error that deserved the penalty. After RvP missed last time, he turned it over to Ade, who sent James the wrong way and coolly slotted it home. 1-0 to the Arse in 8 minutes. Cue palpitation, which is cured when Cesc does a fox-in-the-box on a corner and uses Rosicky’s delivery to slot it in. 2-0.

Post-halftime seemed to be just more of the rest, especially when another corner saw Senderos head into the goal to see his effort parried by James, and cleared before Rosicky could get it in. Then comes the Portsmouth long ball which wasn’t dealt with effectively, with Big Phil eventually having to drag Kanu down. Red card, and this would have been the signal for a Portsmouth revival. They nearly converted the free kick into a goal. This time around, though, we persisted with our attacks instead of camping in our half, and it paid off. Clichy draws a push from Utaka, and Cesc takes the free kick fast.

Hilarity ensues as the Portsmouth defense is caught napping, and Rosicky fires the ball through two pairs of thighs( one of them being the unlucky Glen Johnson who just transferred from Chelsea) and past James for the third. Absolute genius, and this is real cause for optimism. These canny goals are what we need, as it forces teams to get confused amongst the approaches that we can use. Two of the goals came from set pieces. Almost like a pretty Big Sam’s Bolton, eh? Perish the thought.

And then more befuddlement as Utaka’s cross( he wasn’t closed down effectively enough ) hit Kanu’s heel and the ball leisurely travelled into the Arsegoal just out of Almunia’s reach. Flukey, really, and it did give Pompey a boost. Arsenal’s defending was solid, however, and two chances aside, they rarely looked like coming back. Toure did need to blast a cross over the net, but all-in-all, a good performance all around from the Arse. Almunia looked particularly reliable in goal, and you couldn’t blame him for the Kanu strike. He does need to save better free kicks, though; he palmed the Utaka one right into the path of a Pompey shirt and was fortunate to see it fly over. Jens must be feeling the pressure.

I’ll probably post my ratings of the players as soon as I can. In summation, though, a good match, and good containment from the Arse.

Puerta, RIP

One of the reasons we admire footballers is their sheer physicality, their feats of athleticism; that’s the reason we secretly imagine ourselves at play when we see them battle it out on the field.  All the more shocking then, when they prematurely depart the field of play. It’s the Ultimate Red Card in a way; no appeals, the ref doesn’t get fired afterward. We’d prefer them to retire and live their life, to entertain us even after they stop playing, and one day, to disappear quietly into the hereafter. Cue testimonials and hushed reverence.

Antonio Puerta, however, did not have that fortune. He passed away today, apparently from complications due to a heart attack. He had collapsed during Sevilla’s match with Getafe, one they won 4-0. His teammates will hopefully regard that match as a testament to his memory. He had joined Sevilla as a boy, and had stayed 14 years with them, the last three years as a first-team player. He, then, left the field in the Sevilla colors, as he had once taken his first nervous steps on it.

Rest in peace, Antonio. Do tell us if they play football in heaven.

This is the season….

Been a long time since I blogged on Arsenal. Really long. Well, longer than I expected. After the Henry will-he won’t-he ( he did) there was hardly any stuff worth writing about. Did consider blogging when Eduardo came in, but couldn’t be bothered anyway.

Scintillating preamble, check.

For all the doom and gloom surrounding Titi’s departure, I feel Arsenal haven’t been materially affected. Sure, we’re not spanking teams 3-0 anymore, but I actually like the new-look Arsenal. We have the usual gazillion chances( ever wonder why Arsene has all those deep wrinkles? ) but we actually have a goal at the end of it. But for Lehmann’s bloopers we’d have a perfect record after 3 matches. Too optimistic, maybe, but what distinguishes this team is that everybody is at the same playing level. No superstars to see here, move along. Just the scrappy 1-0 goals. Love it.

Customary Arsenal optimism, check.

That leaves us with what Arsene is thinking about our chances this season. He’s not gone the way of the Three, bringing in people left and right. We do need people on the left and right : a good winger would still help us really stretch our opponents. We still play too centrally at times, and pay the price. Adebayor is good at getting out on the wings and crossing in, but a dedicated winger would really help us. As Arsene remarked some time ago, everybody wants to play in the center. Maybe if they made buildings on the sides of the Grove that would help? Regarding the new signings, I think they’ve gelled well with the team – Eduardo hasn’t got in his goals yet but he does look a threat and keep the defenses busy. Bacary Sagna has been great as well; pace, movement, and good ball skills. I’m looking to see how good he can get for us.

And also good, the away win at Sparta Prague. Czech.

Et tu, Henry?

Pumped about tomorrow’s La Liga? One of the most dramatic chases ever; tomorrow’s trio of matches will decide who among the three will get the title. Real Madrid are favorites, needing to exceed or equal Barca; Barca must exceed Real Madrid to win; and Sevilla will be hoping to win while plumping for Real and Barca to lose. A win for Sevilla with draws for Real and Barca would still give Real the win, on head-to-head, I think. If Real do get the title, they have to do a lap for Barca because Barca gave them the title with lousy play. They looked to be cruising to their third title but crashed and burned horribly. Losing the Copa del Rey after being thrashed 5-0 by Getafe didn’t help either.

Speaking of Barca, the Henry saga rolls on. Apparently the French daily L’Equipe got an inside on a supposed deal between Wenger and Barca, either to sell Henry, or an Henry-Eto’o swap. Both could be on the cards, given that Eto’o isn’t happy at Barca. So what happened to my boasting that Henry couldn’t go? Well, it seems that there’s more to the story than was being let out. I’m not yet rolling out the farewells but chances do seem higher this time around. Of course, nothing’s over till Lampard sings.

As expected, Henry’s dithering is drawing a lot of flak on sport blogs far and wide. To me, he has been a major contributor to Arsenal’s success, and I do appreciate his goals over the years. Condemning him in case of a move to Barca would be churlish, as would calling him a has-been. He still has some football left in him, and he can still be dangerous. However, I didn’t appreciate his dishonesty; if a deal was on, he should have come out clear; a sudden appearance in the Grove clutching his ticket to Barcelona would not endear him any further to Arsenal. I doubt he wants to leave a club which gave him his superstar status so casually.

Va va voom?

‘Henry goes to Barcelona’ title goes here

No, I’m not going to talk about Henry much, despite the title. Much ado has been made about his dogged refusal to make a concrete denial of his move to Barcelona being touted around half of Europe. Barcelona to me seems to be a team in tatters. A team that can drop the league as easily, can’t be said to have the best prospects for Henry to end his career with. Even if Madrid were to be thumped by Mallorca( I think) and Barcelona have Gimnastic for dinner, giving them the title, it hasn’t been the Barcelona of yesteryears. To me it looks like a club rife with rampant egos, scattered minds and a lack of cohesion. Can’t see what he would contribute. Eto’o will stay, as will Messi. Ronaldinho will move, leaving them without their chief, albeit unreliable, midfield maestro. Where will Henry get his supply from? All he’s doing is increasing Le Boss’s wrinkles. So while he’s being noncommittal at the wedding vow renewal, let’s turn our attention away from this media circus and let the Spanish media choke on their recycled trash.

The transfer market is relatively quiet, with Newcastle snapping up Viduka and doubling in size; Boro meanwhile have got Tucay Sanli from Fenerbahce. And Malouda has been tagged with a 17m pound fee by Lyon. That’s easily too much for an average player, but I can’t see Arsenal having many choices in terms of cheap experienced players, unless Wenger pulls a winger out of his hat. Not that he wears one. Ah well. Will we see Malouda prancing around in the Grove? Can’t say.

Not much going around elsewhere. Man City are in trouble after the proposed takeover by Thaksin fell like a tackled Robben. Serves them right for dealing with a person whose financial fortunes were hanging by a thread, his morality be damned. And damned be the media who churn the Henry soup in hopes of finding les croutons.

What was that line about too many cooks?