Weekend Roundup: Balloons and Brummies and Upsets, Oh My!

Welcome back, nation. It's good to see you again. Pull up a chair, make yourself a drink... sorry the post is so late going up, I've been in meetings most of the day. Never really saw the sense in meetings, especially since most of them are scheduled in order to create more meetings. It's like putting a racecar on a treadmill: you know your wheels are turning, but you never get anywhere.

Getting into Nevada's on Saturday, following yet another root-canal-like-international break, was like seeing old friends after a long separation. The familiarity you share isn't something that cna be brushed aside, despite what might have changed in the interim. Except in this case, nothing had actually changed. Jack was pulling pints and Chelsea fans acted as though they were in a library. I got through two full singings of "John Terry's Mother is a Thief" without so much as a reply.

Of course, the Chavs had good reason to shut their mouths. Villa was beating them 2-1 in the 60th when I got there and were still up by the same margin when the final whistle blew. Chelsea looked flat, as though they were mailing in yet another performance, which of course, they were. Even in the last 10 minutes, there seemed to be little urgency to the Blues' play, and the loss was a just one in relation to the effort they put in. Villa on the other hand attacked with intent and defended as though their survival depended on the result, and the three points were well-deserved. Upset number one in the books, and a good weekend of football was on the cards, for everyone but the Chelski.

Oh yeah, and Liverpool. One of the more ridiculous occurrences I've seen in the sport gave Sunderland a 1-0 home win over the Scousers. A red balloon (or beach ball, depending on the report you read) that had been thrown onto the field and was never cleared away provided a deflection of a Darren Bent strike, putting the ball in the net. Every rational mind would necessarily refer to that goal being given as an atrocity, reproachable and ridiculous.

However, football is not rational, so fuck Liverpool. This is the luckiest team in England, so it's about time some rotten luck fell their way as well. Karma's got to have some real nut-shots lined up for these peckers, they're so overdue. And in my own honest opinion, after viewing about 30 replays of the incident, I can't see that Bent's strike might not have gone in anyway. Anyway, this sort of thing is due for Liverpool.

As for real football, Arsenal took on Birmingham for the first time since Eduardo's leg was broken at St. James in January 2008. Eduardo and Martin Taylor, the biggest figures in that match, were both out due to injury. On the pitch, this was a match much like any ofther Arsenal match against a second-tier opponent. To my own surprise (and I assume that of many Arsenal fans), instead of Fabianski being in goal with Don Vito on the bench, Mannone started with Almunia on the bench.

Arsenal started off quickly, controlling the run of play, but in the first few minutes, a tough, but one has to say fair challenge by Brum's Liam Ridgewell got the ball, but also got tangled with Theo Walcott. Theo went down holding his knee and came off for a few minutes, returning to action and showed why he is so dangerous with a blazing run down the right flank and a long shot that was only kept out by good goalkeeping from Joe Hart. Theo's knee must've been worse than he let on, however, for he was subbed off about 30 minutes into the match for Andrei Arshavin... more on him later.

After a quarter of an hour was gone, the first goal was in. Robin van Persie continued to show his quality, latching on to a long pass from Alex Song (who put in another fine performance on the day--he's yet to have a bad game in my opinion), and stuck a low shot from a tight angle across goal into the bottom right corner. Robin has really started to come into his own as a striker and is on a brilliant run of form, so let's hope he keeps it up.

A few minutes later, the home fans were delighted again, when the Man of a Thousand Songs, Emmanuel Eboue, played a ball into the box on the right to Rosicky, who passed across, and when Theo was unable to reach the roller, Diaby latched on and finished with aplomb, top-right. 2-0 to the Arsenal, and the Gunners were flying.

Birmingham attacked, to their credit, and after winning a corner, the play saw a ball played high into the Arsenal box, headed straight up into the air by Diaby. Mannone went for the ball and got a piece of it, but weakly knocked it down, and Lee Bowyer placed it past our Italian King to make it 2-1. Mannone tried to argue that he was impeded by Larsson, and while one can see his point, a bit more conviction in his leap for the ball would likely have seen it cleared or claimed.

Arsenal's passing and movement was typical of the first match back off of an international break, players shaking off the rust and reaquainting themselves with their teammates, so it was far less a crisp performance than, say, Blackburn at home. The score remained 2-1 through halftime and after, although that's not to say that neither side created chances. Robin seeing his free kick from inside the box ricochet off the bar, and Mannone making up for his earlier miscue with a sprawling save of a Ridgwell shot, which was hoofed clear by Gallas. On the whole, I felt Don Vito put in a solid performance, and with some more time in the squad should continue to improve.

It was getting late when Cesc took a toss from Vito and was nearly uncontested up the pitch, finally slotting a pass to Arshavin on the left corner of the box. The Russian's quality was evident as he calmly dribbled into the box, created a window of space and finished low into the right corner to secure the points. The Brum defenders almost looked scared of AA, just giving way before him instead of challenging him. Clearly he is the type of player that Arsenal have lacked in previous seasons, and his game-changing ability, experience and energy, are among the biggest differences between an Arsenal side from last season, which might have allowed Birmingham to equalize and frittering away two points. Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham was the final score, the expected three points in the bank, and with Chelsea and Liverpool losing, and Man City drawing with Wigan,

I don't know about anyone else, but this goalkeeping situation is much like that in which Almunia took the job from Jens Lehmann in 2007-2008: Starting keeper puts in string of shaky performances; Starting keeper is "injured"; Backup keeper comes on and impresses; Starting keeper stays "injured," returns to find himself now backup keeper.

Part of me feels bad for Almunia. After all, he waited a long time to get his chance at the # 1 shirt, and has put in some fine performances in his time. However, I remind myself that I'm not a Manuel Almunia fan, I'm an Arsenal fan, and as the situation stands, Arsenal have a better chance of winning with someone else in goal, and despite letting one in on Saturday due to indecision, Vito Mannone, in my humble opinion, gives Arsenal that better chance, but I respect anyone who would disagree.

Matt Califano had the picks this weekend, so let's have a look at how he's done so far, shall we?

Aston Villa v Chelsea

PREDICTION: Villans 2-2 Chelski; REALITY: Villa 2-1 Chelski

As I've already discussed this, here's a look at Animals close up with a wide-angle lens.

Arsenal v Birmingham

PREDICTION: Arsenal 4-0 Birmingham; REALITY: Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham

Frankly, I didn't see Brum scoring in this one, so I can't fault Matt's pick. We nearly did score 4 anyway.

Everton v Wolves

PREDICTION: Everton 2-0 Wolves; REALITY: Everton 1-1 Wolves

Will the real Everton please stand up? Frankly, this looks like a bad campaign for all teams from Merseyside, red or blue.

Man Utd v Bolton

PREDICTION: Man U 3-0 Bolton; REALITY: Man U 2-1 Bolton

For being at home, I expected ManUre to win by a larger margin. But then, ManUre stinks.

Portsmouth v Tottenham

PREDICTION: Pompey 1-3 Tottenham; REALITY: Pompey 1-2 Tottenham

Oh Totts, you never cease to disappoint your fans. This is the equivalent of a biggest turd competition. There may be a winner, but it's still a big pile of shit.

Stoke City v West Ham

PREDICTION: Stoke 1-1 Hammers; REALITY: Stoke 2-1 Hammers

West Ham continue their march toward the Championship in fine style, losing to a Stoke side with no discernible attacking prowess.

Sunderland v Liverpool

PREDICTION: Black Cats 2-2 Scousers; REALITY: Black Cats 1-0 Scousers

Sunderland are the real deal, here getting a little help from a boy from Colorado and an 80's pop song. Also, Matt texted me on Saturday and wrote: "My scousers pick was almost right on! I just didn't have the balls to pick the win." Cheer up, Maffu, there's no shortage of balls.

Blackburn v Burnley

PREDICTION: Blackburn 2-1 Clarets; REALITY: Blackburn 3-2 Clarets

Burnley can't seem to buy a win away from home. Poor li'l fellers.

Wigan v Man City

PREDICTION: Wigan 1-3 Shitty; REALITY: Wigan 1-1 Shitty

Zabaleta sent off, Adebayor is injured, and City drop 2 points.

Fulham v Hull City

PREDICTION: Fool-Ham 2-1 Hull; REALITY: Not yet played.

Matt's Whites should be relegation-bound Hull, but we'll have to wait and see on this one...

Arsenal take on Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar in Holland in European competition tomorrow. Theo will miss this match due to injury, a knee problem that appears will keep him out for at least a month. After just coming back from an injury, it's a very tough break for our boy, but let's hope he can get fit quickly. He's had more than his fair share of injury worries through his short Arsenal career; I do hope he can shake off the injury-prone tag. Meanwhile, still out are Samir Nasri (broken leg) and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski (knee); Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo (both groin); and Denilson (back) and centre-half Johan Djourou (knee). Sometimes I think it's a wonder we can ever field a full side.

This will be Arsenal's third Champions League match, I would caution any supporters who think this will be a cakewalk. As I mentioned, Alkmaar are the Dutch champions, and an away match in Europe is never going to be an easy trip, although a trip to Holland isn't so bad. However, I can't see Arsene allowing his players to frequent any "coffee houses" or the red-light district. All business, that one.

One last note, I wanted to let you know to watch out in coming weeks for a few new features that will be appearing on The Modern Gooner. Austin Williams will contribute from time to time a write-up of the week's experiences at Nevada Smith's, while our Senior London Correspondent, Gareth Baldwin, will have a bi-weekly section on the day's events from Ashburton Grove. I'll be letting everyone know when these will be appearing, and we're very excited for them. Our little TMG is growing up!

That's all for now gang. Until next time, you stay classy, Gooner nation.

- B, a Gooner.