Unbeaten Streak Reaches 13 Games


Arsenal moved up to second place in the Premiership standings with a road victory at Wolverhampton on Saturday, winning by the same 4-1 scoreline as in its Champions League romp over AZ Alkmaar three days earlier.

While not as dominating as in recent matches, Arsenal withstood some early pressure from Wolverhampton before benefitting from a couple of own goals from the hosts. The win extends the Gunners’ unbeaten run to 13 games in all competitions, heading into another international break as World Cup qualifying concludes this month.

Wolverhampton started brightly on what would become a rainy afternoon at the Molineux, controlling possession in the game’s first 20 minutes. But just before the half hour, an Arsenal corner sent in by Cesc Fabregas was directed into the net by defender Ronald Zubar, gifting the Gunners the opening goal.

An Arsenal counter in minute 35 resulted in another own goal, as Eduardo da Silva’s chip nicked Wolves defender Jody Craddock on its way past keeper Wayne Hennessey to further deflate the home side’s spirits.

The 2-0 advantage seemed to ignite Arsenal’s free-flowing attack for the rest of the half, and Fabregas put the game out of reach just before the break, slotting the ball home after being played in brilliantly by Robin van Persie.

With the result decided, the second half proved less eventful than the opening 45 minutes. Andrey Arshavin scored Arsenal’s fourth in minute 65, sending a shot from 20 yards past Hennessey after the keeper had punched out an Arsenal corner.

With Manuel Almunia looking to claim a clean sheet in his second game back for Arsenal, Craddock was able to deny the Spanish keeper’s wishes by heading in a Wolverhampton corner two minutes from time.

And though the Gunners again conceded a late goal by its opponents, Arsene Wenger’s side should be pleased with another Premiership victory on the road, with this latest win putting Arsenal above Manchester United and into second position in the league table.

Referring to the goal that denied the clean sheet, manager Wenger suggested after the match: “We have a style where everyone goes forward. You cannot have everything in football, but I believe we have a good balance between offense and defence, and as long as we score as many goals as we do, we can accept that.”

In his post-match interview (featured at http://www.arsenal.com), Wenger admitted that “we had been under pressure in the first 10 to 15 minutes, but after that I felt we controlled the game. Overall we could have scored many more. We know that on every counter-attack we looked dangerous and as soon as we could win the second ball and put it on the ground, we looked always capable to play through their lines and score goals.”

The last week has seen Arsenal score three goals against Tottenham, and four each against Alkmaar and Wolves. “That means we scored 36 goals now in the league. That is not a coincidence. That means we can score goals.

“Of course, if they had scored first it would have been much more difficult,” continued Wenger, who believes his side have a legitimate chance at capturing the Premiership crown this season. “The desire is there. We want to strengthen our belief, but I think the most important factor is that we play for each other as we do, we focus on our performance, and that we continue to develop our style of play,” he added.

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Arsenal Dominate Alkmaar In 4-1 Win


Arsenal moved closer to winning its group in the opening phase of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League, with Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin orchestrating a scintillating display as the Gunners romped to a 4-1 victory over AZ Alkmaar at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening.

Arshavin played the role of creator throughout the match, assisting on three goals as Arsenal dominated their Dutch visitors from the opening moments. Fabregas continued his fine form by scoring two goals, with Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby also hitting the back of the net.

With two games left in Group H, Arsenal now sit on top with 10 points, four more than Olympiacos and six ahead of Standard Liege, who will visit the Emirates on November 24. Victory in that match will not only assure that the Gunners qualify for the competition’s knockout rounds but also guarantee a first-place group finish.

The Gunners were in full flight from the kickoff, with Robin van Persie narrowly missing two early chances for Arsenal, sending a right-footed effort just wide of Sergio Romero’s goal before blasting a short free kick against the Alkmaar wall moments later.

Fabregas’ first goal came in minute 25, slotting one into the near corner after receiving a pass from William Gallas. Just before the break, Nasri doubled Arsenal’s lead after being played in on goal by a fine through-ball from Arshavin.

The home side’s dominance continued after the break, with Arshavin again the provider as the Russian found Fabregas for a one-time finish in the 52nd minute.

And while the first three goals were quality, Arsenal’s final tally may have been the most brilliant of the bunch. On the counterattack, substitute Eduardo da Silva sent Arshavin down the right side with a sumptuous backheel before the Russian centered a ball for Diaby to collect and fire home.

The only blemish on the scoreline was a late consolation goal for Alkmaar on the counter six minutes from time, after what appeared to be a handball claim for Arsenal in the visitors’ 18-yard box.

The 4-1 win extends Arsenal’s unbeaten streak to 12 games in all competitions, and marks the first time Alkmaar manager Ronald Koeman has lost to the Gunners.

Koeman, whose PSV side knocked the Gunners out of the Champions League three seasons ago, believes Arsenal can go far in this year’s competition. “They have a lot of qualities but it’s very young and maybe they miss a little bit of experience that other teams like Chelsea and Barca have,” said the Dutchman in his post-match comments to the press.

“One bad day and you can lose against everybody. It’s not one team better than the rest — it’s very close,” added Koeman. “But Arsenal can go a long way in this competition.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also has belief in his squad and was impressed with the night’s result. “It was a brilliant performance because we dominated our subject technically, tactically and overall we felt never under threat. We played with the needed confidence, technically astute, overall very happy.

“We are consistent and this season it looks like we go for game to game and get stronger and stronger,” continued Wenger (in an interview featured at http://www.arsenal.com). “It’s important to keep that attitude to progress, to improve and to play for each other even more. Then we can believe in our future.”

While the Gunners are now all but assured of a spot in the Champions League knockout stages, the manager admits that “the competition gets more difficult the further you go on. I believe we have quality and I said before the season started that I believe in this team. But it will be down to us to grow as we do at the moment and be consistent. Then we see how far we can go in the competition,” he said.

For now, Wenger would rather “focus on ourselves and be as good as we can. If we meet somebody who is better, we will see,” added the Frenchman. “At the moment, it is more important for us to focus on how we want to play, and we have played the game tonight like we love.”

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Victory In North London Derby


Arsenal continued its league dominance over neighboring rivals Tottenham with a 3-0 win on Saturday at Emirates Stadium, extending to 16 years the period since Spurs last triumphed on the Gunners’ home ground.

Tottenham haven’t beaten Arsenal in a Premiership match for a decade, yet pre-game banter from Spurs manager Harry Redknapp and forward Robbie Keane indicated the visitors were confident in claiming victory in this edition of the North London derby due to a solid start to the 2009-10 season that had positioned them fourth in the league table.

But two Arsenal goals just before halftime silenced Spurs’ spirit and belief, turning a tight match in the Gunners’ favor and allowing the home side and its supporters another instance to claim bragging rights over bitter rivals.

After missing a chance from a tight angle earlier in the half, Robin van Persie was able to direct a fizzing cross from Bacary Sagna into Heurelho Gomes’ net in minute 42. The goal came as welcome relief for Arsenal, who did have the better opportunities on goal in the period but couldn’t separate themselves from Tottenham until that point.

The resulting applause from home supporters exploded into a frenzy just seconds later, when Cesc Fabregas intercepted a Spurs ball off the re-start and weaved his way through three defenders before blasting a strike into the corner of the net for Arsenal’s second goal in less than a minute.

This writer was only able to view the opening 45 minutes (before leaving for work), so the pair of goals just before the break changed what would have been some tense moments for me away from any TV coverage of the match, into a sense of comfort figuring that the Gunners would come away with another victory.

Although Spurs had a couple efforts on Manuel Almunia’s goal in the second half, the result was assured for Arsenal when van Persie was on the receiving end of another Sagna cross at the hour mark, poking the ball home after Gomes couldn’t deal with the centering pass.

And the 3-0 lead could have easily grown to more if Abou Diaby and Eduardo da Silva — who came on for an injured Nicklas Bendtner — converted on clear chances later in the match. Still, the three goals — and the three points gained from the win — were enough to confirm the fact that there still is a gulf in class between Arsenal and Spurs, despite what some players and pundits may have stated in this season’s early days.

“I said in the press conference (on Friday) that football is not about opinion, it is about performance and what is happening on the pitch,” said manager Arsene Wenger in his post-match comments to reporters. “You have to accept that everybody can have an opinion but what is important is what is happening on the pitch. You can understand that Robbie Keane cannot say Spurs are worse than us because it’s part of the preparation of the team.”

Wenger was pleased to see his side overcome a slow start to emerge victorious in the North London derby. “I believe the fluency lacked a little bit in the first half-hour. We played a little bit with the handbrake and couldn’t find our usual fluency,” added the manager. “But during that period we were serious, and overall, despite the fact we won 3-0 we had a good defensive performance and our back five was very efficient. We dealt well with their offensive problems.”

The win ended a successful seven days for the Gunners after the somewhat disappointing draw at West Ham the previous weekend. “I think it has been a fantastic week for the club because we beat Liverpool (in the Carling Cup), we beat Tottenham, both times with convincing performances and with a style of play which is now within our club. I am very proud of that,” said Wenger, in the post-match interview that can be viewed at http://www.arsenal.com.

Asked in that interview if his team can win the Premiership title, the manager responded: “I think so. Yes, I have said that since the first day of the season and I will not change my mind today. That’s what we want to show, I believe we can.

“We want to show consistency, intelligence and that is not easy. We have other competitors but why should we not challenge?” continued Wenger. “We have the opportunity and the quality and it will be down to our attitude. We need to be preserved a little bit from injuries but I am convinced we have the quality, attitude and spirit in the squad.”

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Gunners Advance To Cup Quarterfinals


Goals from Fran Merida and Nicklas Bendtner gave Arsenal a 2-1 win over Liverpool in their Carling Cup fourth round encounter at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Victory in the entertaining affair between two of the Premiership’s “Big Four” means Arsenal have qualified for the quarterfinals of this competition for a seventh straight season.

While Arsenal’s Carling Cup runs during previous years have seen more youth in the lineup for matches, last night’s game featured a side more balanced with some veteran first-teamers recovering from injuries. That number included Bendtner, whose effort in minute 50 broke a 1-1 deadlock and provided the final margin.

Merida opened the scoring just before the 20-minute mark of an open and exciting first half. Kerrea Gilbert broke up a Liverpool clearance, and the Spaniard collected at the edge of the box before turning to deliver a brilliant, left-footed strike past keeper Diego Cavalieri.

Liverpool’s Emiliano Insua equalized not long after, with his own superb long-range effort that Lukasz Fabianski couldn’t keep out of the net. That left things level at 1-1 at halftime, although Arsenal had more of the chances on goal before the break, including a couple during a goalmouth scramble after a corner that were each blocked.

With the Bendtner goal coming early in the second period, Liverpool did have chances to level again, but Arsenal were able to hold on and thus hand ‘Pool its fifth loss in six games.

“I believe overall it was a game of top quality with two teams who really went for it,” said manager Arsene Wenger in his post-match interview from http://www.arsenal.com. “You had the quality of the passing, sometimes the ball was played through a very short space but at a high pace.

“Liverpool came back to 1-1 and we still managed to win the game. That shows as well we have mental resources,” added the manager. “It was more of a European Cup night than a Carling Cup night, quality wise. We have seen two very, very good teams who play at the top level.”

Asked about goalscorer Merida in the interview, Wenger responded: “He is a quality player and he comes from a very good school (in Spain). I believe we had some top quality on the pitch in midfield, and in that kind of game that is very important. … He came (to Arsenal) at a very young age but our school is on line with the way he was educated, and he shows perfectly the way we want to play football.”

“I scored my first goal for the club so I am really happy and also because the team won against a really tough side,” said Merida, who recently returned from the U-20 World Cup with Spain. “The Carling Cup is really important for young players. We have to show what we can do and also enjoy it because we don’t get many first-team games.

“We know that it will be a really tough cup because there are some strong teams left in the competition,” added the Spaniard in an interview from the club’s official site. “There is no one to fear because we can beat anyone.”

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Nasri Returns For Liverpool Match


Two days after making the bench for Arsenal’s disappointing draw at West Ham in the Premiership, Samir Nasri will be included in the Gunners starting lineup for tonight’s Carling Cup tie with Liverpool.

The French midfielder — along with goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski — played in a reserve match last week upon recovering from long-term injuries, and both are set to make their initial appearances of the season for Arsenal’s first team in the Cup match at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners will look to return to winning ways after wasting a 2-0 lead at Upton Park on Sunday, when West Ham scored two second-half goals to earn a point. The draw still saw Arsenal move up one place to third in the league table ahead of rivals Tottenham, who will visit Arsenal on Saturday.

But before that Premiership derby arrives, Arsene Wenger’s side aim to advance past another big rival in the Carling Cup, hosting a Liverpool team fresh off a 2-0 home win over Manchester United this past weekend.

While Nasri and Fabianski will be on the pitch against the Merseysiders, Jack Wilshere will be left out, according to Richard Clarke’s report on http://www.arsenal.com. The 17-year-old Englishman has starred in this domestic cup competition the past couple of seasons, but will sit out this encounter due to an ankle problem, according to Wenger.

Clarke added that “Armand Traore (groin) is also missing, but Wenger will be fielding a relatively experienced side. He intends to use the game to give Eduardo (thigh) and Nicklas Bendtner (groin) a start. Both came off the bench against West Ham on Sunday but, before that, they had missed a few games with injury.”

“Eduardo and Bendtner will be back. But we still have Rosicky, Denilson and Walcott out,” said Wenger. “Jack (Wilshere) had a knock on his ankle and will be out unfortunately. It is a question of days but we made a trial with him on Sunday and we are resigned to the fact he will be just too short to play.”

While a number of Arsenal’s veteran first-teamers will sit out the Carling Cup match to allow younger players to see action, Philippe Senderos and Mikael Silvestre are included in the team. The two defenders will be joined by teenagers Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Fran Merida, Sanchez Watt and Francis Coquelin in a balanced squad, as Wenger looks to give the youngsters experience in a competition that the Gunners have found some success in during recent seasons.

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Alkmaar Earn Draw With Late Goal


Arsenal were moments away from capturing all three points from its Champions League group match at AZ Alkmaar on Tuesday, only for the hosts to claim a last-second equalizer with a stoppage-time goal from David Mendes da Silva.

The single point earned from the 1-1 draw maintains the Gunners’ place atop Group H, with seven points from its first three games. But Olympiacos’ win over Standard Liege yesterday in the other group match — thanks to its own stoppage-time goal — has the Greek side just one point behind Arsenal, halfway through the competition’s opening stage.

So, what could have been a comfortable five-point margin for Arsenal in the group, with one foot firmly in the knockout rounds, has been reduced to a single point. This leaves some additional work for Arsene Wenger’s side before qualifying out of the group stage, but the Gunners do have two of the remaining three Champions League matches at home to help secure its spot in the next round.

While not dominating this latest midweek European encounter, Arsenal did seem in charge for most of the match in Alkmaar. The visitors had more of the chances in a quiet opening period, with Robin van Persie denied on two clear attempts on goal.

Arsenal did break through with a goal ten minutes before halftime. Andrey Arshavin collected a misplaced Alkmaar pass and fed the ball down the left channel to van Persie, who unselfishly centered for Cesc Fabregas to direct into the net.

Alkmaar looked a bit more dangerous in the second half, going close a number of times. And with the Gunners not playing up to the standards of its seven-match win streak, the outcome remained in the balance.

Arsenal substitute Carlos Vela looked to have given his team a penalty chance six minutes from time when he was taken down by Moussa Dembele. But referee Martin Hansson waved play on, giving Alkmaar hope for a last gasp opportunity on Vito Mannone’s goal.

And that chance came deep into injury time, from a free kick inside Alkmaar’s own half. Graziano Pelle nodded down the long kick for Mendes da Silva to volley home, leading to jubilant cheers from the home crowd as their team snatched a point at the death.

While Arsenal might seem content with a road draw in this competition, the result seemed more like a loss to defender Thomas Vermaelen. “We were in control, there were no big chances for AZ but in the last minute they scored. It feels like a defeat,” said Vermaelen in an interview on ITV.

“You know that in the last five minutes of a Champions League match, anything can happen,” said manager Wenger during his post-match interview (seen online at http://www.arsenal.com). “They have thrown everything forward and felt they could only score on a set piece, and that is what happened.

“It is frustrating because we looked closer to scoring a second than conceding, but credit to them, they did fight well and went until the last minute,” continued the Frenchman. “We are still in a strong position. We have three games left, two at home, and I believe to win one game will qualify us.

“What I want is for us to continue to play like we do, focus to play better,” added Wenger. “In football, you have to produce the maximum result with your game, and tonight that did not happen.”


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Walcott Injured In Premiership Win


Arsenal defeated Birmingham City 3-1 at Emirates Stadium on Saturday to capture its seventh straight win in all competitions, but the Gunners have lost Theo Walcott to another spell on the sidelines after the young winger limped off the pitch during the first half of the Premiership victory.

Robin van Persie and Abou Diaby scored early goals to give Arsenal a 2-0 lead over Birmingham before twenty minutes had elapsed on Saturday. With the home crowd expecting another easy victory for their high-scoring Gunners, Birmingham pulled a goal back before halftime when Lee Bowyer directed one home from six yards out after reacting quickly to a failed clearance from Vito Mannone.

Arsenal lost some of its fluidity in attack after the break, but did have some chances on goal to extend the lead in the second half. And after some nervy moments late on for Arsene Wenger’s side, Andrey Arshavin settled things in minute 85 with a neat finish off a counter attack, slotting the ball past keeper Joe Hart for the final tally.

Manager Wenger was pleased with the 3-1 result, but did tell reporters in his post-match interview (seen on http://www.arsenal.com) that the recent international break may have affected some players’ performances. “We were cruising, in control, two goals up and it looked like we could get more,” said Wenger. “You were wondering who would score the third goal. But we made a mistake defensively and they got back to 2-1.

“In the second half we did not have the same fluency or control in the game, not the same pace, but in the end I still believe 3-1 is a fair result because we had plenty of chances,” continued the manager. “Birmingham regrouped very quickly when they lost the ball and we lacked a little bit of sharpness. I feel also we tried to force the situation a little bit individually, especially in the second half, and that’s why we didn’t score more goals.”

“When we stick to our game, when we focus to play our game, it looks like we can play the ball through any space and that we can create space just as we want,” added Wenger. “That is something fantastic but we have of course to be focused on that and keep our composure.”

Walcott, replaced by Arshavin just after the half hour mark on Saturday, was on the receiving end of a crunching tackle from Liam Ridgewell earlier in the match and looked to be having a problem with a knee.

News from the club after a doctor’s scan on the knee on Monday was not good, with Walcott set to be out of Arsenal’s lineup for longer than first expected.

“We thought it would be just 48 hours, but it is a medial knee ligament, which is what I feared after the game. He will be out for three to four weeks,” said Wenger in a press conference the day before the team’s Champions League match at AZ Alkmaar in Holland.

The Birmingham City match was Walcott’s first start of the season after missing a couple of months due to a back injury suffered in preseason. The 20-year-old has managed just 54 minutes of competitive action this term, coming off the bench a week ago to score a goal on his return against Blackburn.

Other injury news from Wenger revealed that Tomas Rosicky has been ruled out of Tuesday’s Champions League encounter. Also diagnosed with a knee problem, Rosicky is expected to be fit in a few days, according to a quote from Wenger in an article from Chris Harris on http://www.arsenal.com.

However, Gael Clichy has been passed fit for the Alkmaar match, after recovering from an ankle injury that left him out of the Birmingham game. Carlos Vela also makes the trip to Holland, after returning to London later than other Arsenal first-teamers out on international duty last week.

But Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo da Silva, Denilson and Johan Djourou remain on the sidelines, according the report from Harris, who added that Samir Nasri and Lukasz Fabianski will each begin their comebacks from long-term injury spells by playing in Tuesday’s reserve team match at Wolverhampton.

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