Weekend Roundup: It's Character That Counts

Bon Jour, mon Arsamis. It was a god-awful weekend on several levels, footballistically speaking anyway. Apart from the football (our result, along with those of the Chavs, Mancs, and fucking Sp*rs), I enjoyed myself very much, having a lovely pheasant dinner on Saturday prepared by a classically trained French chef, with copious amounts of alcohol to wash it down with. Anyway, it's a short holiday week here in America, and I'm not feeling particularly bloggity given the subject matter, but I soldier on for the benefit of our lovely readers here at the Modern Gooner.

As far as the Arsenal result, it was fair considering how we played. There was very little urgency in the whole of the squad, and I would single out only two players on the Arsenal side who performed up to snuff, Alex Song and Bacary Sagna. Both players were consistently involved in play on both ends of the pitch and were rock-solid and often spectacular, winning the ball, cool in possession, distributing well and even creating chances. Well done to the both of them.

The same cannot be said for the rest of the team. For a front three of Eduardo, Rosicky and Nasri, all three were very quiet, and none could put away chances that were created. In the first half, Rosicky had possibly the best chance of the match go right to the 'keeper, and Eduardo with plenty of space and time on the ball in the box, managed to play a lobbed ball to Song that floated wide and out of reach. In midfield, Cesc worked hard but saw little in the way of results, while Ramsey failed to match the exquisite form he showed for Wales against Scotland. Oddly enough, the presence of Diaby would have been welcome if only for his physicality and height.

Sagna as mentioned was terrific, and neither Gallas nor Vermaelen was really below par, though were again unable to deal with the set piece that led to Bent's winning goal. This isn't so much to criticize the defensive pairing that they've struck, which has been quite good. But on the whole, defending the set piece is the one glaring weakness with this side, and from which we are most likely to concede goals. Armand Traore, who was pressed into service at left fullback due to the injuries to Clichy and then Gibbs, was below par, although for a young player who has received limited playing time in that or any position, this is to be expected, and forgiven.

In goal, Manuel Almunia was generally solid, but when it counted, was again a letdown. As the ball pinged around the box, he seemed glued to one spot, and when it fell to Bent's feet directly in front of goal, he reacted slowly and for some reason played the man, not the ball, resulting in an easy goal for Bent and as it turned out, an unexpected three points for Sunderland.

Arsene's choice of substitutes was obvious given the need for attacking in the second half. Arshavin came on for Ramsey but could add little, his best chance a sliding attempt on goal reminiscent of his strike against Atletico in the Emirates Cup, in this case remaining outside the post. Later, the newly returned Vela and Walcott switched in for Eduardo and Rosicky. The addition of Vela made an immediate impact, Arsenal becoming more of an attacking force and the Mexican superstar looking dangerous up front. Theo's impact was also felt, but largely due to his poor performance. It was as if someone had switched out his brain for Diaby's during the internationals, his passes ending as bridges to nowhere that would make Sarah Palin jealous, and otherwise thinking he could dribble through two defenders and cheaply giving away possession. It was as poor a performance by an Arsenal substitute as Eboue had against Wigan last season, leading to the Ivorian's booing-off. Based on Saturday, Theo will need to work awfully hard on his football if he is to become the difference maker we all hope he can be.

The officiating by Alan Wiley wasn't awful (I'll not pull a Fergie and demand a fitness test for the man), but he did miss a clear penalty in the late stages of the match, when Vela, in possession of the ball, was taken down in the box. I won't even fault Wiley personally, as I feel it must be pointed out that following Eduardo-gate, it's almost as if the FA have ordered referees to overlook penalties going Arsenal's way. "Brett," you might ask, "surely you're not insinuating that there's some sort of conspiracy in English football?" Well believe it or not, but I am, and I am serious.

All this is to take nothing from Sunderland, who bossed us around in midfield and generally outworked us all game. Particularly outstanding was the workrate of Lorik Cana, who captained the Black Cats and never once let an Arsenal player rest on the ball. We saw Wolves keep that sort of work up for about 20-25 minutes and then fall apart; Sunderland and Cana (who may or may not be famed Australian actor Eric Bana). While Arsenal controlled the match throughout the first half, Sunderland earned three points on the day, just as Arsenal did not do enough to win or even draw.

Separated at birth?
This sort of result has become typical for this Arsenal team: a loss away from home to a "lesser" team when facing some sort of hardship (in this case, the injury to van Persie). It's a lack of character in the side, and it's no longer something we can point out as due to youthfulness. It's the lack of iron in the will, of character, that plagues this side, and in my eyes it is in this way that we feel the absence of Robin. We need to know that when the chips are down, the squad, or at least members of the squad, won't give in but will buckle down and grind out a result. So far, we've not seen much of that, apart from away at Fulham and Liege. As I said in the Preview, Sunderland are not some poor team managed by sad-sack Roy Keane. They've beaten us, they've beaten Liverpool and they would have beaten United if not for the humidor-effect of Old Trafford on referees.

Of course there was much more football apart from Arsenal, even if it doesn't command my attention nearly as much. Let's look at how embarassingly poorly I did in predicting the results...

Liverpool v Man City
Prediction: Liverpool 2-2 Man City
Reality: HEY, I GOT ONE!
Man City continue their train ride to Dropped Point by way of Drawsville. Maybe if Their squad had focused on Liverpool instead of Arsenal, they'd have found a way to win.

Birmingham v Fulham
Prediction: Brum 1-1 Fulham
Reality: Brummies 1-0 Fulham
Birmingham used their home advantage to the fullest, crazy-ass Lee Bowyer providing all the goals necessary to get by Fulham.

Burnley v Aston VillaPrediction: Burnley 1-3 Villa
Reality: Burnley 1-1 Villa
Big performance by Burnley, who scored an early goal but were unlucky not to hang on for another big upset win. Unless you're a Villa fan (this week), you've got to feel good for the Clarets.

Chelsea v Wolves
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Wolves
Reality: Chelsea 4-0 Wolves
Not much more to be said here. Chelsea are an exceedingly strong side, and Wolves are exceedingly weak.

Hull City v West Ham
Prediction: Hull 1-2 Hammers
Reality: Hull 3-3 Hammers
Good result for the casual football fan, being that 6 goals were scored, but not much for fans of either side, seeing as neither was able to gain ground on a relegation rival.

Man Utd v Everton
Prediction: Bolton 1-1 Blackburn
Reality: Bolton 0-2 Blackburn
Blackburn pull their heads out of their asses first and claim the points. I really have no time for either of these clubs.

Tottenham v Wigan
Prediction: Spuds 2-1 Wigan
Reality: Ugh. Spuds 9-1 Wigan
In the one result I wanted to be a misprint, the Totts roll NINE FUCKING GOALS on the eminently pathetic Wigan Athletic. All of their defenders should be burned at the stake for allowing this to happen. Tottenham should be burned at the stake on general principle.

Stoke City v Portsmouth
Prediction: Stoke 2-1 Pompey
Reality: Stoke 1-0 Pompey
Ricardo Fuller scores against his old club in what was the most boring match that I saw this weekend. At one point, when I looked up and saw that only 32 minutes had gone by, it felt as though it had been on for four damned hours.

Arsenal's loss and wins for Chelsea and United put us firmly in third, 8 points back of Chelsea going into Sunday's showdown at the Grove. The goose-egg against Sunderland makes this match all the more important for us. A loss puts us 11 points adrift, and even at this relatively early point in the season, that's a huge hill to climb. A win reduces our deficit to 5 points, and the crucial match-in-hand comes into play, potentially meaning just 2 points back. A draw leaves us largely in the same place, but leaves ground for United to gain on us.

No, we won't have last year's hero at the Bridge, RVP, back for this one. But what we do have is a squad of players who ought to be good and pissed off after the 4-1 thrashing they took at the Chavs' hands in the spring, and a Chelsea team that has looked very good at times but quite vulnerable at others. We would be especially lucky if they were to be missing Drogba and Lumpard as well as Cashley for this contest, especially considering our state with injuries right now. Who needs this one the most? Without question, it is Arsenal.

Who wants it the most? That we won't find out until Sunday.

There's a relatively meaningless match tomorrow versus Standard Liege at home, and being that we've already qualified for the knockout stages, I would expect a Carling Cup-type of squad to start. It would be wonderful to get a win and begin to banish the Sunderland match a bit, but the most important thing is to get through the match without injuries, and I think Arsene will select the side accordingly.

Not much else to say today. Let's roll on with the kids for a win tomorrow. COME ON YOU REDS!!!

And, as always, you stay classy, Gooner nation.

- B, a Gooner.