All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘fabregas’

Wheat, Here; Chaff, There

Posted by hiphopmama on September 12, 2009

van persie man city
As much as I don’t want to say it, I feel like this may have been the week where the contenders separated themselves from the pretenders, or where the wheat finally separated itself from the chaff, if you will. It pains me, mostly because I’m an Arsenal fan but also because I’m desperate to see someone (ANYONE) other than ManU hoist that trophy, with as many changes in that top four oligarchy as possible – other than Arsenal’s place in it, of course.

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United
1-0 Defoe, 1′
1-1 Giggs, 25′
1-2 Anderson, 41′
1-3 Rooney, 78′

So Tottenham playing well was a good thing for me, because, despite their heated rivalry with Arsenal, it was another team putting pressure on the biggies and they had the chance today to knock off the reigning champs. They failed, and big time. They opened the game in brilliant fashion with a laser of a bicycle kick from Jermain Defoe inside of the first 50 seconds putting the North London side up 1-0. But then United did what they always do – slow and steady to the finish line. In the 25th minute, Ryan Giggs curled in a free kick to knot the scoreline, and Anderson blasted one past Cudicini just before halftime to give ManU the lead for good. Paul Scholes had a typical Paul Scholes day, sliding into two dangerous tackles and earning himself a red card in the 59th minute. Being reduced to ten men didn’t hamper United much, though, as Rooney tiptoed right down the lane to slot home Manchester’s third and final goal of the game.

And just like that, Tottenham’s supposed coming-out party was put on ice, if not abandoned altogether, and their 100% record went out the window as well in favor of a clear statement of intent from the defending league champions. Spurs just seemed short of answers today, scoring early but then never really finding anything else to punish ManU with. Perhaps the loss of Modric had a role to play in this, but whatever the case, it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of their stay at the top of the table.

Manchester City 4-1 Arsenal
1-0 Almunia (og), 20′
1-1 Van Persie, 62′
2-1 Bellamy, 74′
3-1 Adebayor, 80′
4-1 Wright-Phillips, 84′
4-2 Rosicky, 88′

I don’t even want to talk about this one. Maybe I’m officially a soccer nut if a loss like this can screw up my whole day, because that’s what it did. I watched the rest of the matches I recorded today after this, but only grudgingly and with the bitter hope that the other big teams would fail too. I’m not going to bother describing each goal, because it will just depress me further. The first was tragically comical in everything from the ball’s lofted trajectory off Micah Richards’ bulbous head to Almunia’s hapless expression as the ball ricocheted off his own melon and into the Arsenal goal. 1-0 City despite Arsenal looking the better side in the opening minutes. Things were pretty even for a while after that, until Arsenal started piling on the pressure in the second half, eventually resulting in a goal by Robin Van Persie to tie things up. For a good ten minutes after that, it seemed inevitable that we would get another and take the lead, but there was some kind of lapse in the aftermath of Adebayor’s very intentional kick to Van Persie’s face and Alex Song’s foul of revenge on his former teammate. City parlayed the resulting confusion into a lightning quick counterattack and a strike from Craig Bellamy to restore their lead. And then Adebayor scored (that’s all the description I’m going to give) before jetting to the other end of the field to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. Cunt. It might have been the fastest I’ve ever seen him run. If he had hustled like that last season, Arsenal might have competed better down the stretch. But no matter. He got his ticket (check?) out of London and over to the trendy new Manchester side, where it must be said he is playing quite well. He reminds me of my separated parents, only NOW doing all the things he should have been doing all along to salvage his former relationship. Do I sound bitter?

There was one silver lining in this match, and it was the return of Tomas Rosicky, including a sweet goal in his first game back. It came on some gorgeous link-up play between he and Fabregas, who lofted the ball to the little Mozart, who in turn needed just one touch to send it on its way. The whole Arsenal side looked better after he was introduced, so everyone just pray he can miraculously avoid anymore injuries for a while and we may have a winning combination on our hands.

Liverpool 4-0 Burnley
1-0 Benayoun, 27′
2-0 Kuyt, 41′
3-0 Benayoun, 61′
4-0 Benayoun, 82′

Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea
1-0 Faye, 32′
1-1 Drogba, 45′
1-2 Malouda, 90′

Two very different victories here, but with very familiar overtones. Liverpool absolutely ran rampant over Burnley, with Yossi Benayoun netting a hat trick and effectively setting up Dirk Kuyt for the fourth by blazing the shot that Brian Jensen parried into Kuyt’s path. Chelsea, on the other hand, needed another late-game winner to beat a bottom half side, but they, like Manchester United, proved that it doesn’t matter how you earn those points, as long as you get ’em. They secured all three today and kept their perfect start going, now having won five games in five tries. Only they and Manchester City can claim a 100% record going forward, with Chelsea having played one more game at this point.

Which brings me to a question I have for my own theory: if the true title contenders are separating themselves from the pack this week, what does this say about Man City? Because I don’t really consider them contenders for anything other than a Europa League, or at least I didn’t before the season started. I’m hoping I’ve just come up with a faulty explanation for the weekend’s turn of events, but I’m beginning to worry. They can’t be the real deal, can they?

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Gunners Go Through

Posted by hiphopmama on August 26, 2009

eduardo pen
Arsenal 3-1 Celtic
(5-1 aggregate)
1-0 Eduardo (pen), 28′
2-0 Eboue, 53′
3-0 Arshavin, 74′
3-1 Donati, 90′

There was never really any doubt as to what the result of this one would be, but with Fabregas nursing a gimpy hammy and considerations for the Manchester United clash this weekend, Celtic got to take their best shot. Or at least they did until my favorite name in officialdom – Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez – saw fit to award a penalty to when Eduardo went down in the face of zero contact from Celtic keeper Artur Boruc. In live action, I thought it was an iffy decision, and the replay showed the keeper pulled away from the challenge at the last minute and probably failed to even touch the Arsenal player. But, as always, these things are hard to call, and from his angle Gonzalez thought he brought him down. So Eduardo stepped up, stroked the penalty home, and the outcome was all but guaranteed.

The final two goals were icing, and both were scored in fine team fashion. Eboue was the beneficiary of the first, when a Bendtner backheel found Diaby on the left wing to set up a lovely cross and finish. Twenty minutes later, substitute Andrei Arshavin got his first Champions League goal for Arsenal when he cleverly shepherded a ball in from Jack Wilshere, turned around the defender, and slotted it past the goalkeeper. Massimo Donati eventually netted Celtic’s consolation goal on a well-taken volley, but the failure to keep a clean sheet won’t trouble the Gunners much as they progress to the group stage of the UCL.

I can honestly say I feel slightly bad for Celtic fans, whose team was robbed of any real chance in this one by the early, and clearly inaccurate, penalty call. But the tie wasn’t lost on this one call alone, and if Arsenal hadn’t scored on the penalty in the 28th minute, they would certainly have done so at some later point because they were pouring on the pressure and Celtic rarely looked likely to score. Even Tony Mowbray admitted as much, stating, “You cannot deny that over two legs, Arsenal had more quality and deserved to go through.” As for Donati’s recommendation that UEFA hand down a two-match ban to Eduardo for diving, I think his hopes for that one are about as low as Celtic’s always were for getting past Arsenal in this one. Did he go down easily? Yep. Way too easily? Probably. But for all the egregious flopping that goes on all the time, I just don’t see it happening. Wenger made a good point here as well, noting that lingering psychological damage after his horrific injury last year may have contributed to his diving (in the innocent way) to avoid contact with Boruc. “I never asked in my life any guy to dive to win a penalty, but sometimes the players go down because there is no other way to escape the tackling of the keeper, sometimes they dive. I do not want a penalty which is not a penalty, but I do not go as far as to say Eduardo dived.” Even with all that, I’ll admit it was probably a dive, but whichever way it was called, the result was always going to be the same. And besides, it’s Eduardo, about whom I’ve never heard any grumblings of cheating before.

So that’s that, Arsenal are through, and the draw for the group stage is tomorrow. What are the chances the English teams are kept on such separate paths again this year?

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Two Games, Ten Goals, Six Points

Posted by hiphopmama on August 23, 2009

arsenal-portsmouth

Arsenal 4-1 Portsmouth
1-0 Diaby, 18′
2-0 Diaby, 21′
2-1 Kaboul, 37′
3-1 Gallas, 51′
4-1 Ramsey, 68′

That’s a pretty good return on the first two matches of the season, no? Arsene shuffled the line-up a bit, but the result was essentially the same. Sagna and Clichy were replaced by Eboue and Gibbs at left and right back, respectively, and Abou Diaby started in place of Alex Song in the midfield. Eduardo also joined the front line instead of Nicklas Bendtner, who did see a few minutes as a sub. The formation wasn’t as clear a 4-3-3 as it was in the previous games, seeming to slip into more of the 4-4-2 we’re used to seeing, but the movement always looked good and everything was fluid so it doesn’t really matter.

Diaby played somewhat of a rangy role, popping up here and there and making himself very dangerous for the Portsmouth defense. He scored back-to-back goals in the span of a few minutes to put Arsenal 2-0 up, the first on a beautiful move by Eduardo to get past his defender before playing the square ball back to Diaby. Fabregas and Eboue provided the set-up for his second coming down the right flank instead of the left this time. Kaboul’s header pulled Portsmouth within a goal, and Pompey made it a rather nervy affair for a while, raising old questions about Arsenal’s back line. Luckily, Gallas showed up for another goal off a fortuitous bounce to restore the two-goal advantage. An Arshavin free kick pinballed its way around the box before banging off Gallas not once, but twice, and heading for the back of the net. Second-half substitute Aaron Ramsey got in on the action as well, getting in behind the Portsmouth defense and poking one past David James for the Gunners’ fourth.

This was a slightly more unsettling match than the scoreline indicates, at least in parts. After Portsmouth got their goal, Arsenal looked like they might crack and allow Pompey to even the match. Fortunately, they played just tight enough to keep out another goal and then allowed their lovely possession football to salt away the match. I was a tad concerned when Fabregas didn’t start the second half, presumably because of a lingering hamstring issue and also perhaps in preparation for the midweek game against Celtic. It was nothing to worry about in this game, because Ramsey filled in nicely, not only with the goal but also in creative link-up play through the midfield. He’s nowhere near the level of his captain, but at 18 he has plenty of time to work up to that high standard. And what can you say about Gallas? Three goals in three games for the center back? ‘Tis better to be lucky than good, I suppose, although Gallas has looked both this season: good at the back, and lucky in front of goal. I’ll take the combination any day.

One of the more refreshing aspects of this win was the continued high quality of play with the different line-up. There weren’t any wholesale changes, but with four new players in the starting 11 I wondered whether or not the free-flowing chemistry would be the same. It was, and the goals came just as easily. I still have some concerns about the occasional shakiness of the defense, but as long as they can keep the goals pouring in, the possession game should help in that respect. Arshavin is right, though, that squad depth will be important if Arsenal want to contend for the title. Because as amazing as they’ve looked so far – easily as good or better than any other team in the Prem – their continued success comes with a big “if” pertaining to their ability to remain healthy. The season is long and arduous, so it’s not really a question of “if” as “when” the injuries will come. How the team deals with them will determine its fate, and at the moment there isn’t exactly a wealth of riches on the bench, especially backing up the defensive portion of the pitch. But with just a week left till the transfer window closes and the team rolling, I don’t foresee any new additions to the squad. So fingers crossed all around that this group can stay healthy and continue to get the job done.

Of course, as I write this, I’m reading about Fabregas’ hamstring injury possibly keeping him out for the next three weeks, effectively ruling him out for the Manchester United match next weekend. I’m not even going to comment. Just get well, Cesc.

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Random Week 1 Predictions

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

In a very limited number of matches, there have already been quite a few surprises and the question now becomes whether or not particular teams are as good/bad as they looked in their earliest outings. These are my gut feelings as to which teams are pretenders and contenders at this most preliminary of stages.

  • Manchester United are finally going to fall off their championship pace, but not by as much as many think (or as I would like). I know they’ve looked pretty mediocre in their first two matches, but they are a historically slow-starting team and Sir Alex is a strong enough coach that I’m sure they will eventually settle in and start rolling off games. If nothing else, Rooney will at some point hit a groove and score something like 30 goals in 4 matches to earn them a few points. Will it be enough to keep them at the top of the table? No, but they’ll do better than they should based purely on quality of management.
  • Manchester City will both exceed and fall short of people’s expectations. Now a lot of this depends on whose expectations we’re talking about, but the point is true nonetheless. They will exceed expectations because haters and hypocritically bitter opponents (see Chelsea fans’ “money isn’t everything” banter) are already writing them off as impostors masquerading as the real deal and are predicting middling returns on their investments. While I believe their weaknesses at the back will eventually be their undoing – and while I would love to see them flounder in general – I find it hard to believe that the assembled group of superstars won’t at least mildly improve their fortunes over last year, when they finished 10th. That said, I don’t see them making any drastic jumps in the table, and they will probably be lucky to qualify for a European spot at all. Having splashed out close to £100 million in the summer transfer market, mere qualification will inevitably not satisfy the owners and some supporters, who will have their own ideas about how the money might have been better spent. If a top four spot is in their future, it’s a long-term plan at this point.
  • Last season’s upstarts will be under pressure even if they produce similar results. I expect both Martin O’Neill and David Moyes to be on the hot seat at some point this year, mostly because they got their teams to perform so admirably last year. Everton and Aston Villa secured their positions as the best non-Big Four teams in 2008-’09, but this will be more of a curse than a gift in ’09-’10 as both will be expected to improve upon last year’s performances despite the improbability of this task. Fair? No, not particularly, but I see it on the horizon nonetheless.
  • Tottenham will be all up in the mix. No one doubts that Harry Redknapp produced magic when he took over for Spurs last season, but I fully expect him to continue the upward movement at the club and get the most out of a typically underperforming yet talented squad. Bringing both Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe back into the fold will bolster the team, as will the addition (again) of Peter Crouch. They’re currently sitting at the top of the Premiership table, and while that certainly won’t lost, don’t be surprised to see them hovering around the danger zone till late in the season.
  • Arsenal will surprise people with the consistency of their challenge. Yes they’re still young and still a bit iffy at the back, but they are no joke and this year Wenger’s faith in his youngsters will finally start to pay off. In just two games, we’ve already seen improvement from players like Denilson and Song, neither of whom was dubbed as having much potential to rejuvenate the squad last season. Now, with another season under their belts and that much more savvy to draw on – not  to mention with a healthy Fabregas and Arshavin for the full season – they will take their game to the next level. Look for them to be challenging for the title till the bitter end.
  • Chelsea are indeed that good and will likely win it all this year. They finished not far off the pace last season, and that was after a horrendous run under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Now, with a squad almost entirely carried over from last year’s, further time to gel, and (hopefully) some consistency in coaching, they are poised to reclaim the title and bring it back to London. Liverpool only just missed a chance to win the Premiership last season and would have been the obvious choice to hoist it this year had they not last their midfield maestro Xabi Alonso. Without him pulling the strings in the center of the park and making things go, I just don’t see them mounting the same kind of challenge. Chelsea, on the other hand, have essentially the same team they had last season with the potentially key addition of Yuri Zhirkov to bolster an already strong left side that includes Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, and Joe Cole. Couple that with arguably the strongest central defensive pairing in the league in John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, as well as a playmaker with metronomic consistency in Frank Lampard and you have the recipe for a Premiership champion. I’m an Arsenal fan at heart, but I believe they’re a year and a defender away from true contention, so a Chelsea title would be the next best thing. Say it with me now: Anybody But United.

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Gunners Win In Glasgow

Posted by hiphopmama on August 18, 2009

arsenal-celtic

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
0-1 Gallas, 43′
0-2 Caldwell (0g), 71′

Two games, two wins. Top of the Prem table, in line for Champions League qualification. Yeah it’s early, and neither has much predictive value at this point, but I’ll take what I can get.

While both games witnessed some traditional Arsenal football, they both also featured some atypical goals, and this was especially true today against Celtic. Arsenal are certainly renowned for the flair with which they play and the manner in which they move the ball around the field, but grinding out victories has never been their strong suit. Yet in one of the most hostile environments in Europe, the Gunners walked out with a comfortable win and two crucial away goals in their pocket. And they did it in a rather fortuitous manner, scoring two goals on two deflections. The first came off a Fabregas free kick, which accidentally ricocheted off the back of William Gallas and past the outstretched arms of the keeper. The second resulted from a nice build-up by substitute Diaby and Gael Clichy, whose cross was deflected into the net by Celtic defender Gary Caldwell.

To be fair, Arsenal deserved the two-goal margin they got, dominating possession throughout and creating a multitude of chances besides the two that went in. Celtic did have a few nice opportunities, but they were mostly isolated incidents and the Arsenal defense always looked capable of handling the threat. Gallas, who looked to be on his way out around this time last year, has regained his form remarkably and looks to be a team stalwart at this point. He was partnered well by Vermaelen, who seems to be settling in as nicely as could have been hoped for. Sagna, Fabregas, and Denilson all played despite questionable injury status, and their inclusion surely helped stabilize the line-up by providing consistency from one game to the next. Bendtner was slightly anonymous for most of the night, but the rest of the front line covered the gaps, especially Arshavin in his roaming, creative role. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Alex Song, whose steadiness in the holding midfield role laid the foundation for the team’s forward movement by helping secure the back line. He caught a lot of flack last season from fans, myself included, who felt the team lacked both experience and steel in the center of midfield, but he has really stepped up to the plate this season and proved us all wrong. In my own defense, the team was in need of a wily veteran in the middle of the park last year, and could probably still do with another player in that area, but Song is developing right on pace and fulfilling that role better than I could have imagined. Kudos to him, and may he keep it up all this season and the next.

With the 2-0 victory and two away goals, Arsenal have set themselves up for a relatively straightforward home leg of this tie and are clear favorites to advance. With the extra money that a Champions League spot will ensure, I have some hopes, however mild, that these funds may be reinvested in the squad. With Arsene Wenger, though, and given the stellar start to the season he has enjoyed, I don’t put much stock in them. There’s still a little time left before the transfer window closes, and even just one addition could be key in the team’s push for silverware this year. With both Liverpool and ManU having lost important players, the time could be ripe for Arsenal to sneak in and steal one. Fingers crossed on my end.

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Happy Birthday To Me

Posted by hiphopmama on August 15, 2009

arsenal-evertonEverton 1-6 Arsenal
0-1 Denilson, 26′
0-2 Vermaelen, 37′
0-3 Gallas, 41′
0-4 Fabregas, 48′
0-5 Fabregas, 70′
0-6 Eduardo, 89′
1-6 Saha, 90′

So yeah, it’s not really my birthday, not even close, actually. But it’s as good as, with the Premier League starting back up today and finally bringing to an end the mortifying period when European soccer, basketball, and American football are all in their off-seasons. Aside from the occasional MLS broadcast, only baseball is still in action, which is a non-entity in my book anyway, even with the Dodgers leading their division. Praise be unto the lord almighty that they don’t much believe in the concept of “rest” for their footballers in Europe, because their abbreviated off-season has mercifully sprung me from the depths of sporting boredom.

The new season was perfectly inaugurated by my Gunners, who put a hurting on Everton in their season opener. Aside perhaps from Liverpool-Tottenham, Arsenal easily had the toughest fixture of the Big Four sides in their trip to Goodison Park. Plenty had been made of the “losses” of Adebayor and Toure, as well as the limited acquisitions the team made in the transfer market, plus all the usual guff about the team’s (excessive) youth and lack of killer instinct. Yet while Chelsea needed all of extra time to pull out a victory against Hull City, Arsenal made quick and easy work of David Moyes’ side, netting three goals per half, including a brace from captain Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard helped set up the first goal as well, laying it off nicely for Denilson to send one wailing goalward from just outside the box. Newcomer Thomas Vermaelen headed home the second off a Robin Van Persie free kick, and Gallas scored on another header shortly thereafter. Fabregas got his first on a classic Arsenal counterattack to start the second half, tucking it under Everton keeper Tim Howard, then knocked in his second on a quick strike from distance. Eduardo put the capper on it in the dying minutes, slotting home the rebound off a shot Arshavin never should have been allowed to get off. Saha did eventually get Everton their consolation goal in extra time, but it did little to dampen the euphoria of the 6-1 thrashing.

It was all done in typical Arsenal fashion, too, making it that much sweeter to watch this group of youngsters pull off what Wenger always believed they could. The question now will be whether or not they can replicate this kind of performance, but for now I’m not going to let pragmatism cloud this victory. I was a bit surprised to see them come out in the formation they did. The 4-3-3 itself wasn’t really a shock, but Bendtner playing out wide with Arshavin in the center of the front line was not what I expected to see. Wenger clearly knows more than me, though, if you didn’t already know that, because Bendtner played beautifully on the wing and Arshavin gliding around in the middle. The Dane used his size to control the ball well and used his skill to set up his teammates in and around the box. It was his good work on the flank that helped pave the way for Denilson’s opening goal. So while unexpected, his performance out wide was excellent, and Arshavin can obviously play anywhere on the field he likes. With Eduardo still working his way back to full fitness and Rosicky’s potential return on the horizon (I can dream, right?), Arsenal’s prospects for the season are exciting if they can hold their mettle in the middle of the park. Let’s all pray Alexandre Song keeps eating his Wheaties and the center-backs stay fit, so we can ignore the team’s thinness at those spots and revel in the creative potential of the squad. Today, at least, we look like we can win it all.

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Two Out of Four

Posted by hiphopmama on April 15, 2009

adebayor-villarreal

Arsenal 3-0 Villarreal (Agg: 4-1)
     1-0 Walcott, 10′
     2-0 Adebayor, 60′
     3-0  Van Persie (pen), 69′

Porto 0-1 Manchester United (Agg: 2-3)
     0-1 Ronaldo, 6′ 

Of the four teams through to the Champions League semifinals, you could say that two of them came off my wish list – the two London teams, to be exact. I couldn’t be happier at Liverpool going out, except if Manyoo had bombed out as well. Instead, the always well-coiffed Cristiano Ronaldo ensured his team a place in the final four with a superb strike from 40 yards that sailed past Helton and was enough to seal the deal. Porto presented a few dangers, but they were mostly manageable and nearly all from set pieces, which Man Utd defended decently enough.

Arsenal put on a much more impressive display against Villarreal. Walcott broke the deadlock early when some weak defending saw him through, and he chipped one beautifully over the Villarreal keeper. The Spaniards never looked particularly threatening, other than the first few minutes of the second half, but after that the Gunners kicked it into another gear. Adebayor atoned for some boneheaded play with a lovely finish on the counterattack off another Fabregas pass. They topped it off with a Van Persie penalty kick on what was admittedly a dubious call made by the referee’s assistant. 

These two teams will face each other on April 29th, while Barcelona will face Chelsea the 28th, and once again we see the Premier League with three of the final four Champions League teams. Even with that numerical advantage, you have to give the edge at this point to the Spanish representative, Barcelona, who are once again on the rampage after a tiny hiccup in form in La Liga. Good luck to Chelsea in that one. As for Arsenal, they are the underdogs of the bunch, but I could see them pulling off an upset against the reigning champs, setting up a possible rematch with Barça. Just two more weeks to wait.

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That Crucial Away Goal

Posted by hiphopmama on April 7, 2009

Villarreal 1-1 Arsenal
    1-0 Senna, 10′
    1-1 Adebayor, 66′ 

As expected, this was a fun game to watch, although as an Arsenal fan the second half was much more fun than the first. Villarreal came out guns blazing and took the early advantage on a brilliant long strike from Marcos Senna, who found himself in too much space and nailed it to the back of the net. Things then went from bad to worse for the Gunners when they lost both Almunia and Gallas to injury in the first half, and they went into the break looking a little worse for wear. 

One inspirational halftime speech later, Arsenal were a different team and spent the second half pinning Villarreal back in their own half instead of vice versa. Typically, they had plenty of chances but neglected to finish them, waiting for that most brilliant of opportunities to level the scoreline. Also typical was the fashion in which it arrived, on a silver platter from Fabregas to Adebayor, who corralled with his chest it in the middle of the box, then took it on the volley, whipping a ridiculous scissor-kick past Diego Lopez.

Arsenal looked the likelier to score after that and spurned a few more clear-cut opportunities, and Villarreal almost made them pay for it. Senna hit a couple more whistlers just past the bar and the last few minutes saw the Spanish side pour forward on a number of occasions. As injury time dwindled, Arsenal struck back on the counterattack but the cross from Clichy was blocked out for the corner which ended the game. 

So the Gunners take an even scoreline and the critical away goal home to the Emirates for the second leg, and you’d have to think they’re pretty satisfied with that outcome. Having started so poorly, tying it up alone was encouraging, but getting that potential tie-breaker makes the result even more harsh from the Villarreal perspective. The Yellow Submarine (can someone please explain that nickname to me?) played a great first half and seemed poised to take their one-goal cushion with them, but Adebayor’s absurd strike one-upped Senna’s and snatched the moral, if not actual, victory away from the home team. Who would have thought, a couple months ago when Arsenal were in the midst of their slide, that they would be a rejuvenated squad getting their best players back and looking to head to the Champions League semi’s? Not I, for sure, but I will remember not to doubt them again.

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Happy Transfer Window

Posted by hiphopmama on January 1, 2009

It’s a brand new year, which means it is also officially mercato time. Now is the hour for ridiculous and absurd speculation to spill forth from every news source, reputable or not, about the never-ending rumors concerning players’ futures with their clubs. This is the first January I’ve really paid attention to it, so I’m hella excited for what will transpire. Here are a few of my hopes, in more or less vaguery:

  • Mikel Arteta to Arsenal. Good ol’ Arseblogger has been calling for this one, and I am all in favor. I have been a fan of the Everton midfielder since I saw him drill one of the goals of the season in ’05-’06, and with Fabregas out for essentially the rest of the year, he would be a wonderful candidate to fill in for him. He is a seasoned player with plenty of Premier League experience who is great on free kicks. Unlike so many in the Arsenal squad, he would be ready to make an immediate impact, and he seems well suited to the Wenger style of play. Please make this happen, guys.
  • Some kind of defensive help at Real Madrid. They’ve already inked Diarra (the second) and Huntelaar, but neither will directly solve the defensive woes that have proven so costly this season. To be fair, they played remarkably well in their match-up with Barcelona, holding them scoreless for 80+ minutes with a limited squad, but Canna and Salgado are old, Pepe is iffy, Marcelo can’t be bothered to defend, and Heinze is shit. That leaves the always stellar Sergio Ramos and  a rejuvenated Metzelder as the only working cogs on the Madrid back line, which doesn’t bode well entering the second half of the season. I would also like to see a legitimate goal-scoring partner for Higuain up front, but I believe the offense will sort itself out if the defense can do its job at even a marginally functional level. It hasn’t been doing that so far, and you’ve seen the results.
  • Anyone non-primadonna under 30 for AC Milan. This squad is ridiculously stacked with big names that cannot or will not get the job done. Ronaldinho is an enormously talented player, but the money they shelled out for him could have been better spent elsewhere, as this season has made clear. What’s done is done, but they need to avoid sinking money into hopeless products that can’t deliver on their promise. Names like Shevchenko and Emerson sound nice, but they are well past their prime and far from productive with this team. Not that anyone wants them, but they, along with others like Dida, should be off-loaded to free up room (and money) for some younger players with less notoriety who might be persuaded to play within the team concept to achieve better results. With Kaka, Dinho, Pirlo, etc., there’s no reason some talented youngsters couldn’t shore up the side.
  • A new mentality for Chelsea. While thinking about this little wish list, I was easily able to come up with desirables for the other teams I root for, but I got stuck at Chelsea. There is clearly something amiss lately, despite the fact that they’re just 3 points back of league leaders Liverpool, but it’s not because of any major holes in the team. Essien’s injury has been the most costly, but Mikel has been a wonder as his replacement. Carvalho’s absence was painful as well, and if Scolari would have played Ivanovic in his stead more than Alex, the damage might have been more limited. Anyway, Ricky’s already making his way back into the lineup, so that’s a non-issue. (If Terry can keep his ass on the pitch, that is.) With a healthy Drogba and a surging Anelka, the strike partnership has all the makings of greatness, although recent (and not-so-recent) grumblings suggest the Ivorian may be on his way out. Bosingwa has been a revelation at right back, emerging as one of the team’s most consistent performers, and with Lampard leading the midfield there aren’t many gaps to fill. I suppose you could wish for better than Malouda on the left and perhaps find someone better to partner Anelka up front – especially if Drogba continues the histrionics – but the team’s biggest deficiency is psychological. It’s cliche at this point, but some of the old Mourinho toughness needs to come back. They were playing pretty football at the beginning of the season, building up an insane goal differential, but teams have adjusted and now they can’t pull out close victories either at home or on the road. Terry’s red card exploits surely cost them, but it’s hard to imagine them conceding the kind of painful late goal that hurt them against Fulham in years past. I’m not smart enough to know how something like this gets fixed, but if you’re being paid the big bucks to steer the ship, you better be able to figure something out, and fast. Oh, and stop playing Deco so damn much. Almost everyone else can see that he’s worthless out there. Joe Cole has no business fighting for playing time with him. Barça didn’t want him, and neither should you after this display.

Like I said, not much in the way of specifics there aside from Arteta, but that’s all I’ve got. For serious transfer rumors, I’m sure you’re consulting a much more reputable source anyway. However you slice it, Arsenal and Real Madrid are two of the big name clubs that desperately need some reinforcements and I hope they get them. Especially the Gunners, because they are a treat to watch when firing on all cylinders, and injuries have absolutely ravaged them this season. The same is true for Madrid, but I feel less sympathy over their plight seeing as they’ve won the last two Primera Liga titles and are generally a detestable bunch. Why I continue to root for them, I have no idea, but at this point it is what it is. Best of luck to all parties in the transfer market and the rest of the season.

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All Aboard the Gunnercoaster

Posted by hiphopmama on November 30, 2008

Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal

  • 1-0 Johan Djourou (og), 30′
  • 1-1 Robin Van Persie, 59′
  • 2-1 Robin Van Persie, 62′

Friggin’ remarkable. Flippin’ incredible. Effing insane. I’m trying to stop cussing since my daughter will repeat the last word in any sentence she hears, so that’s the best I can do to convey the sheer ridiculousness that is the Arsenal season and this game in particular. They essentially didn’t concede a goal to Chelsea all game and scored three of their own. One of those they happened to put in their own net via Johan Djourou, but Van Persie made up for it by scoring two of his own for the right team. 

Everything looked to be going according to expectations. Chelsea were dominating possession with their beautiful passing game, and they certainly appeared to be the likelier of the two teams to score. That’s sort of what happened when Almunia made a boneheaded play, throwing the ball out right to Chelsea right back Jose Bosingwa. The resulting cross came dangerously across the six yard box, and Djourou slid in to deflect it. That it ended up in the Arsenal net was as much his fault as the goalkeeper’s, which I’m sure Almunia knew. 

The first half ended inauspiciously, and the beginning of the second looked to bring more of the same, with Lampard narrowly missing a chance to put Chelsea up two goals. Instead, Robin Van Persie was the happy recipient of a no-call by referee Mike Dean, who was well positioned but still declined to blow his whistle when RVP received a pass from Denilson in an offside position. Because Dean appeared to be in the right place to make the call,  announcer Robbie Earl (?) made the case that the ball deflected off a Chelsea defender, thus keeping him onside. I’m not sure this qualifies as being “played by” a Chelsea player instead of a teammate, but whatever the case, the goal stood and Arsenal tied the game.

There was no dispute about the second goal, which came a mere three minutes later. Van Persie secured the ball on the edge of the area, made a beautiful turn, and fired an accurate shot to the bottom right corner, seemingly surprising Cech and sneaking it past him. And that was all she wrote. Arsenal did have to hold on the rest of the way, including four minutes of added time, but it wasn’t as much of a struggle as you might have thought and they played steady enough to get the win. 

There have been so many of these dramatic ups followed by abysmal downs that I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions from this game one way or another. But with Cesc now 2-0 as captain, you get the impression this *might* just be the start of something good, or at least something not bad. It still wasn’t the greatest game, but it built steadily on their performance against Dynamo Kiev and hopefully set them up for a streak of good games. If they can continue this progression, inch by inch, they can begin to restore some of the confidence they sent packing over the course of their dreadful start to the season. They can prove their renewed mettle Tuesday in a Carling Cup match against Burnley and then again on Saturday at home against Wigan. Two winnable games that Arsenal must capitalize on if they want to right the ship. I’m betting they can pull it off.

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