Internationals Return To Arsenal

Switzerland Israel WCup Soccer

The throng of Arsenal first-teamers who had headed out of London for World Cup qualifying play during the October international break have begun returning to the Emirates, as the Gunners’ fixture list resumes with a home Premiership match against Birmingham City on Saturday.

As of Thursday morning, there have been no new reports of any injury problems for players who took part in the international matches, though some may return with their pride or feelings hurt as some major soccer nations failed to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo da Silva will each miss out on participating in the sport’s biggest competition, as both the Czech Republic and Croatia finished third in their UEFA groups, meaning they don’t even have a chance to earn a trip to South Africa through the region’s second-place playoff setup.

While Eduardo sat out both of Croatia’s matches during the break due to a slight thigh injury he suffered before leaving Arsenal, Rosicky did see action for his country. The Arsenal midfielder captained his side and assisted on a goal in the Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Poland on Oct. 10. He also played over an hour in a 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland on Wednesday, leaving the Czechs to finish behind both Slovakia and Slovenia in their qualifying group.

While Wales had known its fate as non-qualifiers prior to this international break, young Gunner Aaron Ramsey scored his first senior international goal on a free kick in his country’s 2-0 win over Liechtenstein on Wednesday.

Other Arsenal players — and their nations — fared much better during the break. Defender Philippe Senderos (pictured above) headed home two goals for Switzerland in a 3-0 win over Luxembourg, before he and his teammates secured direct qualification for the World Cup (as winners of Europe’s Group Two) by drawing at home to Israel.

Cesc Fabregas also scored for his country in a 2-1 win over Armenia for Spain, which had already qualified for South Africa during last month’s break. Fabregas then left the Spanish side’s camp before its second match, due to family matters, before returning to London earlier this week.

Arsenal forward Carlos Vela was also on the scoresheet in international competition, scoring one of Mexico’s goals in a 4-1 win over El Salvador that secured El Tri a place in the World Cup. Vela also played the full 90 minutes in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Trinidad & Tobago, as Mexico concluded their campaign out of the CONCACAF region.

Nicklas Bendtner and Denmark have also qualified, after defeating Sweden at home last weekend. Though the Gunners forward didn’t score in that match or the loss to Hungary yesterday, Bendtner and his Danish teammates captured UEFA’s Group One and will play in their country’s fourth World Cup next summer.

Traditional power France along with Russia will have to earn World Cup qualification through UEFA’s playoffs among its groups’ second-place finishers, beginning next month. The Russians fell 1-0 to Germany in a battle of the top two sides from Group Four, meaning that Gunner Andrey Arshavin and his national teammates must emerge victorious in a two-leg playoff against an opponent yet to be named.

Such qualification encounters are always tricky, but it seems certain that the Russians will be seeded for the UEFA draw that will determine playoff matchups. France should also earn a playoff seed, after Les Bleus defeated Faroe Islands and Austria to finish second to Serbia in their group. Arsenal defender William Gallas scored in the win over Faroe Islands, then he and club teammate Bacary Sagna were dropped to the bench for the Austria game, which saw Arsenal’s Gael Clichy play the full match.

In Africa qualifying, Cameroon is a win away from securing a spot in the 2010 World Cup. The Gunners’ Alex Song played all of a 3-0 win over Togo last weekend, meaning that the midfielder would join fellow Arsenal members in South Africa next June if Cameroon wins its final group match at Morocco next month.

Theo Walcott may also make the trip to South Africa if selected for England, who qualified for the World Cup in September. The 20-year-old Arsenal forward didn’t make the senior side lineup for its final qualifying action this break, but he did feature for the U-21 team along with club teammates Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere.

1 Comment

Filed under Arsenal

Fabregas Leads Arsenal In 6-2 Win

ars-blackburncelebration

Arsenal continued its winning ways with another scintillating, free-flowing performance in defeating Blackburn 6-2 on Sunday at Emirates Stadium.

Six different Gunners scored on a day when Arsenal twice came from behind to overtake Sam Allardyce’s side. But it was Cesc Fabregas who played the starring role, as the team’s captain assisted on four Arsenal goals while also hitting the back of the net once himself in a dominating performance.

Things didn’t start so well for Arsenal in this Premiership match, as Blackburn opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Steven Nzonzi headed the visitors in front off of a long free kick from just beyond the center circle.

Yet the home side didn’t panic and began creating chances straight away, with the equalizer coming just after the quarter hour. Thomas Vermaelen’s left-footed strike from more than twenty yards out was a goal more worthy of a forward than a central defender, but Arsenal fans are beginning to expect such efforts from the Belgian, who remains the club’s top scorer so far this season.

The Gunners continued to attack, with chances for Fabregas and Robin van Persie kept out by keeper Paul Robinson. And on a counter attack in the 31st minute, Blackburn took the lead again when David Dunn’s shot deflected off William Gallas and into Vito Mannone’s goal.

Arsenal only needed two minutes to level things again, as Fabregas slotted a perfect through ball into the left-side channel for van Persie, who fired past Robinson into the far corner for the equalizer.

A similar goal eight minutes before the break saw Fabregas feed Andrey Arshavin for a left-footed shot that beat the Blackburn keeper, giving Arsenal the 3-2 lead after an entertaining first half.

Dunn could have been awarded a penalty in the opening minutes of the second half, but luck turned against him this time after receiving the fortunate bounce for his goal earlier in the game.

And after Mannone saved a Martin Olsson volley, the Gunners began to again dominate possession and opportunities on goal. After van Persie almost scrambled one home from close range, Fabregas got his goal shortly after, lofting his own left-footed shot past Robinson to give the home side a two-goal cushion after 57 minutes.

Tomas Rosicky and Adou Diaby soon had chances to extend the lead but their attempts were denied by Robinson, who had a number of fine saves on the day. With Blackburn now having to make some forays forward, the Gunners had numerous chances to build on their league-leading goal tally.

Theo Walcott came on to replace Rosicky in the 70th minute, and the substitute who was seeing his first action of the season scored Arsenal’s fifth goal. In a match of brilliant goals, this might have been the best; coming off a counter attack that saw Arshavin center a pass for Fabregas, who laid off beautifully for the England winger to slot home with a first-time touch.

Playmakers Fabregas and Arshavin then came off, but Arsenal’s chances on goal did not. Walcott had a shot cleared off the line, before fellow sub Nicklas Bendtner scored his own belter of a goal, rocketing home a shot from distance after collecting the ball on the left wing.

So, six goals from six different players resulted in Arsenal’s sixth win in the team’s last six matches (in all competitions). And it all came in front of the club’s greatest-ever goalscorer, as former Gunner Thierry Henry was in the stands on Sunday.

“Thierry inspired today our goalscoring, because they wanted certainly to show Thierry they can score goals and they are good followers of him,” said Arsene Wenger in his post-match comments. “We are happy to have him with us. He would have scored today certainly.”

The mantle of team leader at the Emirates has moved from Henry to Fabregas, and the Spaniard’s play impressed his manager. “We know that in every game he creates chances,” stated Wenger in an interview featured on http://www.arsenal.com. “What is important for him – what he misses – is to score goals and today he scored as well so that’s a relief for him certainly.

“When we go forward as a whole team we always look like we could score and when you look he is always in the middle of it, at the start or at the end,” continued the Frenchman. “A team goes always naturally through its strong points, the way of the game. So it goes, therefore, through Fabregas.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Arsenal

Arsenal Dominant In CL Victory

ars-arshavinolymp

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.”

1 Comment

Filed under Arsenal

Vito A ‘Mannone Mission’ In 1-0 Win

ars-mannone

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.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Arsenal

Vela, Watt Spark Carling Cup Victory

ars-velawatt

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arsenal

Vermaelen Nets Twice In 4-0 Win

ars-vermaelenwigan

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.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Arsenal

Brave Battle-Back In Belgium

ars-bendtnerliege

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arsenal