Monthly Archives: September 2009

Arsenal Dominant In CL Victory

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Arsenal romped to its fifth straight win in all competitions with a dominating display in a 2-0 Champions League victory over Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

While in control of the group stage match from the opening minutes, the Gunners needed late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin to overcome the stubborn Greek side, who were kept in the game by some fine saves from keeper Antonis Nikopolidis.

Cesc Fabregas did beat the gray-haired Greek with a strike as early as minute 17, but his effort struck the crossbar. The rebound came out to Tomas Rosicky, who fired back on goal only to be denied by Nikopolidis.

That chance was set up by some fine interplay beginning with van Persie and Arshavin, who each had additional efforts in the opening half that were saved by the visiting keeper.

Just after the break, Olympiacos had a header off of a corner saved by Vito Mannone, in what amounted to its best chance on goal for the evening. After that, it was all Arsenal as the hosts looked to capture its second group win in as many matches in this season’s Champions League opening stage.

As the match passed the hour mark, the Gunners continued to apply attacking pressure. But like a number of occasions in recent years, the home crowd were urging on their Gunners in search of an opening goal during a game in which they should have been ahead by a couple goals by that point in the proceedings.

Eduardo da Silva soon replaced Rosicky, who looked his old creative, energetic self with a fine return performance in European competition. And just one minute after Carlos Vela was brought on to add more spark for Arsene Wenger’s side, the Gunners were finally able to break the scoreless deadlock.

The 78th-minute goal was set up by a through ball from Fabregas to Eduardo, whose timely run and cutback pass led to a goalmouth tap-in by van Persie.

Relieved to have finally broken through, Arsenal’s players continued to control possession while looking for a second goal, which came four minutes from time. Substitute Aaron Ramsey controlled a stray Olympiacos pass and fed a ball down the right-side channel to Fabregas, whose low cross was directed in by Arshavin’s crafty back heel flick.

The Russian looked to be slightly offside on the replay, but the goal was allowed. And considering the domination by Arsenal throughout the evening, no one was complaining with the decision on the play.

And though the goals came late, Wenger was not complaining either. “I’m very happy because we had a great first half with outstanding quality,” said the French manager in his post-match comments. “Unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage of it and at half time it was 0-0. It’s difficult to maintain that pace and quality for 90 minutes.

“In the second half our physicality dropped a little and our fluency went a little bit as well. It’s important then not to make a mistake and to dig deep and hope that they die a little bit more than us and take advantage in the last 20 minutes,” continued Wenger in the interview (featured on http://www.arsenal.com). “I think we dominated from the first to the last minute and Olympiacos defended very well. They were well organised and disciplined and gave absolutely everything for 90 minutes.”

That effort from the Greeks could have frustrated a young team such as the Gunners, yet Wenger was pleased with his team’s desire throughout. “I felt that for them to keep that focus, that concentration and the goalkeeper that quality for 90 minutes would be difficult.

“I always had hope but it’s true that we played 4-2-4 at one stage and that is always a gamble because you can be caught on the break,” added the manager. “I felt we kept composure and kept going. What I liked in our performance tonight was that we always played with a desire to keep the discipline in the team because that is very satisfying. We did not do anything crazy. We have matured and a game like that shows it.”

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Vito A ‘Mannone Mission’ In 1-0 Win

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The majority of Arsenal supporters in the U.S. are probably familiar with ESPN’s Chris Berman, the former Sportscenter studio host who would come up with catchy nicknames for some of the athletes featured in highlight reels on ESPN’s nightly broadcasts.

His amusing monikers usually involved some funny wordplay incorporating a player’s name, and I can recall some examples from years past that included NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler “On The Roof,” and baseball players Nomar “Mr. Nice Guy” Carciaparra and Julio “Take Me On A Sea” Cruz.

Well, now that ESPN has begun airing Premier League matches in the States and some highlights of game action from England and Europe have begun to creep into Sportscenter broadcasts, I’ve got the next great nickname for Mr. Berman, based on the strong performance by Arsenal’s fill-in keeper during the Premiership match against Fulham on Saturday.

How about … Vito Mannone Mission?

Adding that one word after the correct pronounciation of the Italian goalkeeper’s name certainly describes the incredible and spirited effort put forth by the Gunners’ third-string keeper, which earned him “Man of the Match” honors in the 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage yesterday.

Whether Mannone’s ojective was to disprove some critics who questioned his presence between the posts for big matches, or to show manager Arsene Wenger that he has the ability to compete for first-team status, the young keeper played brilliantly on the road Saturday to earn his second consecutive clean sheet in the league.

A moment of first-class skill from Robin van Persie off a fine pass from Cesc Fabregas early in the second half provided the lone goal that separated the two London sides on the evening. But the true hero for Arsenal was Mannone, who did play like a “man on a mission” and kept Fulham scoreless with a number of great saves on various efforts from Bobby Zamora, Zoltan Gera, Clint Dempsey and Andy Johnson.

In grading Mannone’s display during his post-match comments, Wenger told reporters: “I believe we will give him 10 out of 10 because everything he did was right. For a goalkeeper that is most important. He stopped everything he had to stop, didn’t make any wrong decisions and overall he has shown he has the potential to be a very good goalkeeper.”

While the 21-year-old Italian began the season as the third option in goal for Wenger, his current form and injuries to Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia will keep him top choice for the time being. “Until the next game he is No 1. In this job, you have to go from game to game,” explained Wenger. “He has played a fantastic game today and the consistency is the first sign of quality.

“He is a quiet boy but he has outstanding physical qualities and fantastic reflexes. You saw that today. He kept us in the game in some unbelievable situations,” said the French manager. “You say that a keeper sometimes look unbeatable. Today he looked like he could make the save needed every time.”

Mannone’s heroic efforts were needed on a day when Arsenal’s usual flowing passing game sputtered a bit against a determined Fulham side that had just as many chances on goal. And while the match again exposed some weaknesses of Wenger’s young side, it also perhaps answered a few critics who have argued that this Gunners team can not grind out results when not at their best.

Like the dramatic, comeback win at Standard Liege in its opening Champions League group encounter two weeks ago, Arsenal again exhibited the ability to survive a scrappy affair and earn all three points from a less-than-impressive performance.

“It is good for us to know that you can win that way. People always want us to play well and dominate, but when we do not win they are not happy too. Today I am happy,” stated Wenger when asked for this thoughts on “winning ugly.”

“We had a difficult first half and we only found our game in the second. But I give a lot of credit to Fulham they played very well,” continued the manager in his postgame interview. “You could not see one player who did not tackle and fight. They tried everything. We would not have gone away with three points if we had not shown attitude and spirit.”

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Vela, Watt Spark Carling Cup Victory

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Arsenal defeated West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at the Emirates on Tuesday to kick off its Carling Cup run for the season. Sanchez Watt scored in his initial first-team start for the Gunners, while Carlos Vela also bagged a goal in his return to action after a summer ankle injury.

The Mexican forward, who notched a number of impressive goals in this competition last season, entered the game with Mark Randall after an hour of play. The two substitutes helped turn the lively third-round Cup encounter Arsenal’s way, as the home side gained the upper hand with two tallies during an impressive second-half display.

Selecting eight teenagers for his starting lineup, Arsene Wenger has again decided on featuring Arsenal’s youngsters in the Carling Cup this campaign. To offer some veteran leadership, Mikael Sylvestre and Philippe Senderos slotted in as the Gunners central defenders for the evening matchup.

And it was Senderos who had the first solid chance on goal, heading a corner just wide only a couple of minutes in. The Swiss defender who almost left North London on a transfer this summer was seeing his first action at the Emirates in over a year, having spent last season on loan to AC Milan.

West Brom, who currently lead the Championship standings after trouncing Middlesbrough 5-0 on the weekend, started the match well and had as many chances on goal as Arsenal in the opening half hour. But Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny made some fine saves to deny the visitors and keep things scoreless.

The entertaining first half saw Jack Wilshere create a number of chances for Arsenal, first playing in Sanchez Watt for a shot that hit the post and then narrowingly missing with his own effort. His tussle in minute 36 with former Gunner Jerome Thomas after clashing for a loose ball served as the turning point in the opening half — as the West Brom man was shown a red card for raising his hands and shoving Wilshere down.

Arsenal couldn’t capitalize with the extra man before the break, but started the second stanza strong with a definite territorial advantage. Still, the first clear opportunity on goal in the half fell to the visitors, as an unmarked Simon Cox could only put a header over the bar, just before the hour mark.

That’s when Wenger made his changes, and Vela’s introduction did offer a boost to the home side and its crowd. In the 68th minute, he took a pass from Aaron Ramsey and created some space on the edge of the area before rocketing a shot on goal. West Brom keeper Dean Kiely made a fine block, but Watt pounced on the rebound to slot home the opening goal.

While Ramsey and Vela soon had additional efforts on goal against the tiring visitors, the second goal came 15 minutes from time. Randall worked his way past a couple of defenders and lofted a sumptuous chip over Kiely that hit the crossbar. Vela stole in to control the rebound and score from inches out, providing the game’s final margin.

Home supporters were pleased to see the return of the Mexican, as was his manager. “When he came on straight away he made a difference because he is dangerous in his control and in his movement.

“His class gives you something special but I feel overall it was a good game,” said Wenger in a post-match interview. “It would have been a great game certainly if it had stayed 11 against 11 but we were patient, we played with cohesion and intelligence. We didn’t make mistakes and in the end the natural outcome was there.”

The manager believes Vela isn’t ready for Premiership action just yet, stating: “He was not even ready to start tonight but he needs to work. We have Van Persie, Bendtner, Eduardo and Vela as strikers, because we count Walcott more as a midfielder, as a right-winger.

“Of course he is in my plans, he can play as a winger as well,” added the manager. “He can play wide left, wide right, he can play central, he gives you plenty of options.”

Vela will almost certainly be an option in Arsenal’s next Carling Cup match, with the Gunners set to find out their next opponent on Saturday, when the draw for the fourth round will be held.

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Vermaelen Nets Twice In 4-0 Win

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Arsenal’s lone summer signing Thomas Vermaelen continues to impress in his initial performances with the club, as the Belgian defender scored two goals to lead the Gunners to a 4-0 win over Wigan at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Emmanuel Eboue and Cesc Fabregas were the other goal scorers for Arsenal, who returned to Premier League action just three days after a dramatic comeback victory at Standard Liege in midweek Champions League play and produced a more comfortable and commanding performance in the home win.

After some missed chances on goal for the Gunners early in the opening period, Vermaelen’s impressive header off a Robin van Persie corner opened the scoring in minute 25. And while van Persie and Eboue had clear opportunities to extend the lead before the half, both failed to find the net.

The Gunners continued their dominance after the break, and the lead was doubled before the 50-minute mark. Vermaelen controlled a loose Wigan pass and after a nice exchange with Eboue curled a beautiful shot past keeper Chris Kirkland into the corner of the net. The finish worthy of a striker gave the former Ajax man his fourth goal of the season, which amazingly leads the team thus far this season.

More Arsenal pressure minutes later produced the third goal. An Eduardo da Silva volley off a Gael Clichy cross hit the post, and the rebound fell to the Croatian who fired through a crowded box and into the net. While Eduardo headed toward one corner to celebrate, Eboue sprinted to the other as he claimed the goal, and replays did show that the ball deflected off the Ivorian’s leg on its way into the net.

With the match result thus determined before the hour mark, the only question was what the final score would be. Alex Song almost got on the scoresheet with a fine effort of his own after an interception, but his left-footed shot struck the post. And van Persie had another effort denied, as the Dutch striker missed out on a number of chances throughout the match.

Arsenal’s fourth came in the final minute, as Fabregas tapped home a cross from substitute Nicklas Bendtner just before stoppage time. The win ended the Gunners’ two-game losing streak in the league, moving them into seventh place in the Premiership table while holding a game in hand on most of its competitors.

Arsenal has now scored 17 goals in its five league matches, a fact that pleases Arsene Wenger. “What is good since the beginning of the season is that we have scored goals. We scored four today but we could have scored more.

“Even in the away games – Man United and Man City – we could have scored more. That shows we have the potential,” continued the manager, whose post-match comments included his thoughts on Vermaelen’s progress in his short time with the club. “I thought he could adapt quickly but not as quickly as that. Let’s be honest.”

In addition to the goals from the Belgian defender, Wenger is also happy with the central defensive partnership that Vermaelen is forming with William Gallas, as the Wigan win marked the first clean sheet for Arsenal this season.

“It is good for the confidence of the team that we did not concede today. It is little bit of the price to pay for our style of play,” said Wenger in an interview on arsenal.com. “We had maybe ten chances today and gave two away. But I think we’ll be more and more solid when we get used to the way we want to play.”

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Brave Battle-Back In Belgium

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Arsenal avoided a third straight road loss by coming from two goals behind to defeat Standard Liege 3-2 in the opening group stage match of this season’s Champions League campaign on Wednesday.

Hoping to steady the ship after back-to-back Premiership losses in Manchester, the Gunners only made things tougher on themselves with a couple of early mistakes that had Standard Liege 2-0 up less than five minutes into the game at Maurice Dufrasne Stadium in Belgium.

With the home supporters in a frenzy before the match — the first-ever CL group stage appearance for their team — even they were surprised by the shocking developments in the opening moments. After Eduardo da Silva failed to clear a corner for the hosts two minutes in, Eliaquim Mangala collected at the edge of the area and fired one past Vito Mannone, the young keeper starting only his second first-string game for Arsenal.

The 21-year-old Italian keeper’s next touch of the ball was again to pick it out of the net, courtesy of a penalty struck by Milan Jovanovic. The Standard striker converted from the spot in the fifth minute after referee Eduardo Gonzalez ruled that he was clipped in the box and brought down by William Gallas.

Caught cold in the initial European encounter, the Gunners continued to struggle throughout the first half, as their vaunted passing game failed to take hold. While beginning to control possession, Arsenal had few solid chances on goal until the last minute of the half.

Abou Diaby’s surging run in minute 45 led to a fine goal from Nicklas Bendtner, who slotted the ball past Sinan Bolat and cut the lead in half, giving Arsenal hope for the second half.

The second period almost began like the first, as a blunder by Alex Song gave Standard a chance in the first minute only for a Gael Clichy tackle to thwart the opportunity. Seconds later, Tomas Rosicky almost played Bentdner in for an equalizing chance but the Dane was stopped by a perfectly-timed challenge from Mangala.

Arsenal soon gained control, with the home side content to retreat and look for chances on the counter. Although the visitors’ pressure didn’t lead to many chances, the Gunners were beginning to wear down the Standard defense.

Aaron Ramsey replaced Rosicky just before the 70-minute mark, and just as two more substitutes were set to be inserted nine minutes later, Arsenal levelled the match from a free kick. A goalmouth scramble off a floater from Fabregas saw Thomas Vermaelen bundle home after a touch from Song, who could have been ruled offside on the play.

But the goal was allowed, and with Standard’s players looking a bit deflated, the Gunners continued to pressure for the game-winning goal. The next few minutes saw an Eduardo strike saved superbly by Bolat, while a Vermaelen effort from a corner was cleared off the line by a defender.

Another Arsenal corner (in the 83rd minute) did produce the deciding goal, with the Gunner’s third tally coming off the knee of Eduardo, who was only allowed to play when UEFA annulled its two-game ban of the Croation one day prior to the match.

The visitors then held on in the closing minutes for the spirited 3-2 comeback win, ending the losing streak while opening its Champions League campaign in winning fashion. And while the match again exposed some weaknesses of Arsene Wenger’s young side, it also perhaps answered a few critics who have argued that this current Arsenal team can no longer grind out results when not at their best.

Wenger believes the dramatic win will boost the spirit of the squad, telling reporters after the match: “I believe it was important. When you are at a big club, you cannot afford to have too many defeats on the trot. It was important to respond, after being 2-0 down. This will strengthen belief within the camp.”

“We know that inside we are strong enough to turn games like this, and that is what we proved in Liege,” added Tomas Rosicky, who started his first match in a year-and-a-half for the Gunners. “We knew that after the two defeats in Manchester, we needed a result.”

After the long spell on the sidelines, the Czech midfielder admitted in an interview (featured on ESPN’s soccernet.com) that he is not yet in peak form. “I am not anywhere near my best, and still have plenty of room to improve. I will get better.

“I am fired up to win a trophy and enjoying being back. It is good that I can be part of this team back again,” continued Rosicky. “Offensively we are very strong and I can help with that.”

The strong, flowing offensive attack is certainly evident at Arsenal, yet some critics still argue the North London side need an improvement in defensive steel along with an added mentality to “win ugly” at times to be considered true challengers for trophies this season.

Wednesday’s initial Champions League match was certainly one in which the Gunners prevailed when not at their best, suggesting that winning mentality could emerge at Arsenal in the team’s quest for domestic and European honors this 2009-10 season.

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Leaving Loss For Later Viewing

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Having only viewed some highlights of Arsenal’s 4-2 loss at Manchester City from the weekend, I don’t yet feel compelled to watch the entire match that I had recorded while I was out on Saturday.

I know I’ll get around to watching it later this week, but the disappointment of realizing that the Gunners basically outplayed both Manchester sides on the road without coming away with any points from these last two Premiership games is too frustrating for me on this Monday.

I have read some match reports and post-game banter and reactions from players and pundits alike, but I think I’ll wait until after the opening match of the Champions League group stage before viewing the entire match for myself.

Arsenal play at Standard Liege on Wednesday, and I’m hoping an initial win in European competition will put the Gunners back on track for a successful run in domestic play, and put this Gooner in a better mood when finally deciding to view the Man City match on tape.

Unfortunately, the loss at the City of Manchester Stadium had some similar aspects to the defeat to United two weeks ago, including a freakish own goal and a second-half spell that saw the opponents reverse what looked more like an Arsenal victory.

Yes, the Gunners again seemed more likely to take the points two-thirds of the way through the match, only to be overtaken during a late stretch — when City scored three goals, including one from former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor — leaving Arsenal left to rue another missed opportunity after losing in Manchester for the second time in two weeks.

The nature of both results makes them very “difficult to take,” a phrase used by manager Arsene Wenger when commenting on the 4-2 loss in a post-match interview.

“The turning point was when it went to 2-1,” said Wenger. “We conceded a stupid second goal and after that we were exposed, and I don’t think it was the third or fourth goal [which were turning points].

“Even at 4-2 we had a chance to come back to 4-4, but we lacked a little bit of belief to really come back because I felt that there was enough room to come back,” continued the manager, in an interview with Chris Harris from http://www.arsenal.com.

Returning home empty-handed from the last two league matches, the Gunners have six points thus far this season and currently sit in ninth place in the Premiership table, which could be cause for concern. “It’s worrying,” added Wenger. “The only thing I can say is we played four times, and three times away, and unfortunately we lost these two games and that’s very difficult to take because we have to learn to take the maximum with the performance we produce and we didn’t do that.

“Defensively we had not a good enough performance (against Man City). Now we have to focus on our next game and we have to live with the disappointment of losing.”

I guess that’s true, but this supporter is going to take another couple of days before viewing the full video of that disappointing loss.

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Arshavin Out After Aggravating Injury

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With Premiership clubs returning to league action this weekend, it looks as though Saturday’s major clash between Manchester City and Arsenal has lost some of its “big-name” luster, as both City’s Carlos Tevez and the Gunners’ Andrey Arshavin will miss this match.

Yes, the injury curse that seems to regularly hit Arsenal players during international breaks has struck again, as Arshavin has aggravated the groin problem that surfaced earlier this season. He is now set to sit out for a week or more, according to manager Arsene Wenger’s comments in media reports Thursday.

The diminutive playmaker was kept out of Russia’s lineup for its match last weekend with Liechtenstein, but did play the full 90 minutes in the 3-1 win over Wales on Wednesday, when the groin problem flared up again.

Wenger was quoted in an article on ESPN’s Soccernet, saying that Arshavin “should not have played. He will be out for Saturday, for Wednesday (at Standard Liege) and certainly as well for Wigan. I took him out at Manchester United because of a groin problem.”

The story indicates that Russia coach Guus Hiddink apparently let Arshavin decide himself whether he was fit to play in the Group Four match at the Millennium Stadium, saying: “If (Arshavin) cannot play, then he won’t play. His improvement has been significant but he doesn’t take stupid risks.”

Tomas Rosicky, who hasn’t seen competitive action for the Gunners in over a year because of injury, played for almost an hour for the Czech Republic in its qualifying match with San Marino on Wednesday, meaning that the midfielder could see action for Arsenal soon.

Other Gunners in action for their countries in World Cup qualifying play Wednesday included three who scored goals, with Nicklas Bendtner, Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo da Silva each hitting the net.

Bendtner actually scored in both of his country’s games during this international break, yet Denmark was only able to draw in each contest. The Danes still sit atop UEFA’s Group One, though both Sweden and Portugal closed the gap with wins on Wednesday.

Fabregas’ goal was one of three scored by Spain in a home win over Estonia, which earned the country automatic qualification for the 2010 World Cup from UEFA Group Five.

England also officially qualified on Wednesday, defeating Croatia 5-1 at Wembley to capture Group Six. A late goal from Arsenal’s Eduardo was the only tally for the visitors, who now look to qualify through the UEFA playoffs for second-place finishers in group play.

France may also have to gain entry that way, as its two matches during this international qualifying period were both draws and left Le Bleus four points behind Serbia in Group Seven.

Arsenal defenders William Gallas and Bacary Sagna each played full matches in both of France’s qualifiers, while Abou Diaby and Gael Clichy did not see time on the pitch in either match.

The four Frenchmen were among the first to return — without injury — to the Emirates after the break. But Wenger noted that all of Arsenal’s first-teamers had not arrived back with the club yet, “so we have to wait a bit to see what damage has been done by the international games.”

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