Weekend Roundup: Cesc Provides The Christmas Cheer

Apologies for the belated nature of the post, faithful readers. I took yesterday off, and when I take a day off, I take a day off. Anyway, I hope everyone had a fine Christmas holiday, unless you support Tottenham, in which case I hope your Hannukah sucked.

Arsenal fans had extra reason to be cheery on Sunday as we toppled the in-form team of the moment in Villa at the Emirates, where the Villains had never lost. With us level on points and playing as well as they were, this was a crucial match for the Gunners, especially considering the wide-open nature of the title race and leaders Chelsea dropping points like an armless man in a juggling contest.

I think we all breathed a little easier seeing that Cesc had at least been fit enough to make the bench, and in the early going it appeared his services wouldn't be required, as Diaby's physical work in the 18-yard box set up Eduardo, who took a beautiful turn to go one-on-one with Friedel, only to rush his shot and hit it lamely at the Villa 'keeper. A brilliant chance had gone begging.

Arsenal controlled the early minutes, but the momentum shifted Villa's way, and Martin O'Neill's charges had the better of Arsenal for a good 10 minutes, creating a number of chances, and though they were unable to score, some of the stops were rather nervously done. At one point, Almunia nearly took the ball out for a corner without any Villa players around, although luckily this didn't come to pass. Still, Arsenal did weather the storm, and began making some more attacks at Villa's end. The best of these was set up when Eduardo took a ball on the right and crossed to Denilson at the top of the box, who really should have taken his shot. Instead, as though the ghost of Alex Hleb had possessed the Brazilian, he deferred to Nasri on his right, who fired over the bar.

Scoreless at half-time was fair to both sides, and while Arsenal had control of the match in the second half, things had yet to truly get rolling. Ashley Young was booked for diving, meaning the Villa winger will miss his next match through yellow card accumulation. In this match he would continue, Arsenal winning a series of free kicks and corners that they were simply unable to convert. With Fabregas warming up to enter the fray, a corner ball bounced to Gallas in front of goal, whose attempt was blocked by Friedel. Cesc came on for Denilson (who appears to have reinjured his back), and everything changed.

Immediately, Arsenal's attacks gained some bite, with penetrating runs and deft passing, less of the tippy-tappy feel of the first hour or so. A chance began with nice interplay between Arshavin and Eduardo bringing the ball up the left. In the box, Eddie's touch let him down, but a lucky break saw Dunne misplay an easy ball, Cesc jumped on the opportunity and slid it to Eddie, who wasn't able to put any power behind a desperate effort. Shortly after, Cesc created another chance, picking out Arshavin, whose shot was stretched by a well-worked Friedel. Arsenal were rolling and Villa were decidedly on the the back foot.

Cesc took a ball from Arshavin at the top of the box and was hauled down, referee Phil Dowd rightly awarding a free kick. Cesc took it himself and sent a gorgeous curling ball over the wall and into the left corner of the net, the Grove and Nevadas went wild, and Villa just looked broken. It was the second time in two matches that Arsenal had scored a free kick (Denilson had a cracker against Hull), and both broke deadlocked matches when taken. Cesc's presence had made a palpable impact, with Villa's vaunted defense forgetting all positioning sense to chase around El Capitan. 1-0 to the Arsenal, and there was still more to come.

Villa took a few half-hearted attacks at the Arsenal end, each cleared with seeming ease, and at the end, Traore sent a long ball across the pitch to find substitute Theo Walcott running up the right, with Cesc keeping pace. Theo sent a lovely ball sliding into Cesc's path, and El Capitan Catalan Fantastico struck a beautiful ball past Friedel for his second. A brilliant bit of counterattacking play had secured the points for Arsenal, but the celebration was tempered a bit as Cesc limped off, seeming to reinjure his hamstring. We're all still hoping it won't be too severe, as we would certainly miss him (in addition to Song and Eboue away for the African Nations Cup) for some key matches in January if that were the case. Keep your fingers crossed, Gooners.

Ramsey came on for the captain, the damage to Villa having been done. The visitors did get one more chance to grab a goal, with a long ball headed on by Carew into the path of the dangerous Agbonlahor, who battled Gallas into the box. Big Willie made a nice tackle to knock the ball away, but Agbonlahor sped toward the rebound, which was narrowly pushed out by a recovering Almunia, a good bit of keeping.

The icing was added when Diaby took the ball at the center circle, and with a dazzling run, penetrated the Villa defense, finishing with a daisy-cutter taken from outside the box. This may sound crazy, but I believe Diaby is something of a Samson: shave his head = injuries and shity play; full afro = goals galore. If that's what it takes, I want to see Abou rocking a full Oscar Gamble next time out.

A 3-0 scoreline, a holiday gift from the Gunners to their fans, and all was right with the world. Apart from Cesc's hammy, of course. After the match, Arsene defended taking the risk of using a not-fully-fit Cesc in this fixture, and I have to agree with him. That's not to say we couldn't have won the match without him, but if the first 50+ minutes were any indication, it would not have been easy or pretty. The things that Cesc can do on the pitch are unmatched by any other player in the squad, and I would go so far as to say in the world. His vision is unparalleled, his touch is first-rate and his physical strength has improved as well, making him an even more effective weapon against traditional, plodding English defenses.

So, with Chelsea being held to a scoreless draw at St. Andrews by the Brummies followed by a win over visiting Fulham, we are currently 7 points off the lead with two matches in hand. Win both and we're just a point back, and that's not much of a lead, is it? I'll not be reviewing my picks for last weekend, since so many more matches have already been played since, and there are certainly a fair few yet to come. But we do have a mid-week fixture away at Portsmouth, still securely at the bottom of the table with 14 points out of 19 matches. We tanned Pompey's hides when we played them in August at the Grove, gaining a 4-1 win. Things have been slightly better under new manager Avram Grant, as Pompey have gone 2-1-3 with him in charge. However, that kind of performance will need to improve for Pompey to stay up, the hole they've dug themselves being so deep already.

With no news yet regarding the scan of Cesc's injury, and with Denilson (injury) and Eboue (dumb fucking biannual African tournament) unavailable, I think we'll see a lineup something like this:

Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore
Diaby, Nasri
Walcott, Arshavin, Eduardo

Luckily, Cameroon aren't being total douchebags and forcing Song to join his national team so long before the African Cup of Nations begins, so he will be available for the Portsmouth match. Even without a Cesc in the lineup, we ought to have more than enough for Pompey, despite having to travel to Fratton Park. I imagine we'll see some of the Carling kids join the team as substitutes, and one would expect Aaron Ramsey, if not starting, to see significant action. I could definitely see an early Arsenal goal silencing the Pompey Chimes, but the lads must keep both eyes on the task at hand. Liverpool failed to look like playing the seasiders and walked away 2-0 losers to Pompey.

Once Song is away, much will depend on the injuries to Cesc and Denilson for the lineup we put out there. The back line is fairly settled and up front we know what options we do have. In midfield, the question from early on of what we would do without Song in January will be revisited and Arsene's hypotheses for how to deal with the loss will be tested. We have a series of tough fixtures at the end of the January, so maximum points from every match in between will be required.

Apologies again for the brevity of the post. We're at the time of year when the matches are coming thick and fast, so let's all hope Arsenal can weather the storm and come through looking good on the other side. Keep the faith, and above all, you stay classy, Goon Diego.

- B, a Gooner.

The Modern Gooner Holiday Preview!

Merry Christmas, Joyoeux Noel, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, and a Happy Hanuk... Chanook... Hannukah to you all. I don't know if that's right, but spell-check isn't correcting me. And if I missed a holiday to wish you well on, consider it implied. I'm not a fucking calendar, man.

I won't have too much to say this time out, so I'll focus on providing puns, funny videos and dick jokes as there's been little to discuss this week, there being no midweek games. And thank god for that... we really couldn't afford to lose anyone else, and we seem to pick up an injury every match these days. But, always looking on the bright side, at least we've not suffered like these poor bastards. Disturbing viewing. Just disturbing.

A full slate of Boxing Day (or if you're Irish, St. Stephen's Day) matches will be on tap on Saturday, but the mighty Arsenal don't play until Sunday. And just like last season, we're facing Villa on the Boxing Day weekend, although one would hope we could get a more positive result. It's still unclear whether Cesc Fabregas will be back healthy to captain the side, and if not it would be another huge blow to us. We had enough to dispatch Hull on Saturday without him, but this is no relegation-battling side we'll be facing Sunday. Villa are the in-form team of the moment, and are level on points with us, although we are ahead on goal difference and have the crucial match in hand. A win will keep us realistically in the title chase and create some breathing room between us and the Villains. A loss would be crushing, as every point is crucial at this point in the season, injuries or no injuries.

Speaking of which, Armand Traore is hopeful of a return on Sunday, which would be wonderful. He's shown to be a very capable fullback this season while Clichy and Gibbs have been hurt, and swings in better crosses than either of them, which would be loevly if our forwards were taller than 5'9". Anyway, despite Silvestre's fine form last weekend as an emergency replacement, here's hoping Armand will be in the side, and that he brings his brass knuckles.

As far as good news goes, Nasri will not receive any further disciplinary action for his vicious, dirty, terrible and injury-intending stamp on the foot of Hull's Richard Garcia. If you read my last post, I made it clear that Nasri's actions were stupid, but the carrying on by Garcia is simply disgraceful. Violence has no place in the game, but diving and feigning injury should be left to Serie A. Besides, Wayne Rooney said he's never done it, and he never told a lie or shagged a granny, did he?

As for Villa, Heskey looks doubtful to play, which would mean another start for John Carew. Frankly, as I consider Carew a better player than Heskey, I can't see this as good news for us. We'll have to hope that our defense can cope with Villa's multitude of attacking options. Better news is that Agbonlahor, Ashley "I jerk off on web cams" Young, and Stephen Warnock are each a yellow card from suspension, so here's hoping all three will be naughty. Not that it will help us, necessarily, but in subsequent matches it would be quite handy. Like Ashley Young.

Now, let's take a quick look at the rest of the holiday docket:

Birmingham v Chelsea
Birmingham have been on wonderful home form, while Chelsea have largely been battering oppositions when on the road. Something's got to give...
Prediction: Brum 1-1 Chelsea

Fulham v Tottenham
Both teams have picked up some good results of late, and since my Christmas wishes are all being spent on Arsenal wins and maybe a shiny new striker or goalkeeper in January, I can't waste them on Tottenham losing. But I can hope.
Prediction: Fulham 2-2 Tottenham

West Ham v Portsmouth
Yikes. I keep waiting for the Hammers to pick up a win that they look shoo-ins for, but each time they seem to shit it away. Maybe they should play big clubs every week. Pompey will be confident after knocking off Rafa's boys, but they're playing at Upton Park.
Prediction: Hammers 1-1 Pompey

Burnley v Bolton
Not exactly the match of the week, but could be entertaining. Burnley are quite good at home (as Arsenal learned to their dismay), while Bolton are shit, although not quite as shit as Hull, Blackburn or Wolves.
Prediction: Burnley 1-0 Bolton

Man City v Stoke City
Watch Man City begin to roll off wins. The "New Manager Bounce" ought to see them win their next 4 matches or so. Once can hope for different, but this week it's Stoke at home, which is pretty much a given three points. Mancini has promised a top-4 finish this season, but on the other hand, he does have a mullet...
Prediction: City 3-0 Stoke

Sunderland v Everton
Two up-and-down teams squaring off at The Stadium of Light. Being in the north of England, I find that nickname to be a bit of a misnomer. Maybe northerners have a strong sense of the ironic. Everton's fans will likely look to nick any electrical devices anyway, so the nickname may be fully facetious after this one.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Everton

Wigan v Blackburn
Ugh. NEXT!
Prediction: Poop.

Liverpool v Wolves
Have the Scousers found an opponent they can handle? Possibly, if Mick McCarthy plays his second team. Then again, who knows if Liverpool could handle them?
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Wolves.

Hull City v Man Utd
United may have troubles at the back, but Hull are so bad they may not even get a shot off. And you know Fergie will be in ultra-sensitive-pissed-off-and-just-pissed mode after the red satans shit the bed last weekend.
Prediction: Hull 0-3 United

Not much more to be said today, so please just enjoy your holiday weekend, whatever you celebrate. Kurt will be at the Emirates on Sunday, so we'll have to keep our eyes peeled for him, and those of you that will make it to Nevada's please make your best effort to sing as loudly as you can to make up for those who won't be able to make it in. I intend to be there, and I hope you all do too. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from us at The Modern Gooner, and from Philippe Senderos. You stay classy, and warm, Gooner family.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Roundup: Evil, Wicked, Dirty Foreigner Samir Nasri Cheats Hull Out of Win, Arsenal Back in the Race

A lovely weekend passes, and after Arsenal's stumble against Burnley in midweek, we were kindly granted a reprieve by the football gods as United were dismantled by the Cottagers and Chelsea couldn't top the Hammers. We're back to being just 6 points behind leaders Chelsea with a match in hand (against Bolton). Oh, and we beat the piss out of Phil Brown's equally orange cuntfest of a team, despite missing our Catalan Capitan Fantastico.

Let's be clear: whatever that orange, fake-tanned, headset-wearing cuntmuppet of an Allardyce-acolyte (Brown of course) has to say needs be taken with a grain of shit and flushed. Far more calls went Hull's way in that match, including a phantom penalty they received early in the second half and couldn't convert, as well as getting away with a clear handball in the box, and we still came out 3-0 winners. The bottom line is, we showed up and played football, while Hull did as their manager does, whinging and bleating about the unfairness of the world while doing their best to make sure no actual football was played.

And they did their job throughout the first half, denying our quick passing game when it came to the final third, playing tenaciously in midfield and breaking up our attacks although never really threatening with an attack of their own. They played their game and that was that. Although one must note that excessively rough challenges and intentional interference with the goalkeeper seemed to be an integral part of "their game," embodied by part-time hard man, full-time gypsy Stephen Hunt. The prick was all over the pitch attempting to rough up our players, and nowhere was he more noticeable than in our 18-yard box, attempting to goad Almunia; on one occasion he nearly succeeded, as Almunia forgot to use his brain and intentionally rolled a ball right past Hunt to an Arsenal player, and were (c)Hunt paying attention and been an actual footballer, he could have taken advantage of Almunia's brainfart.

Arsenal persisted in playing football, no matter how often they were frustrated. Nasri acquitted himself well in a more floating role, putting himself about well, hustling to defend and set up attacks, missing an early chance when his shot was deflected and rolled, tamely, at the Hull 'keeper Myhill. The majority of the Arsenal side looked up for it, despite the lack of goals through nealry 45 minutes. Then, all hell broke loose.

Arshavin was taken down at the edge of the box by Geovanni, and with tempers already running high, the tempo rose to, if you'll pardon my expression, a fever pitch when Nasri, for whatever reason, strode over to Hull's Richard Garcia and stepped on his foot. Garcia crumpled to the pitch as though he'd been shot (or "Drogba'd," if you will), and Nasri was immediately surrounded by Hull players who wanted blood, most notably the usual suspect Stephen C. Hunt, and Nicky Barmby. Hunt had a shove at Nasri's chest while Barmby shoved him in the head before Silvestre could separate them. All of this seemed to happen within 2 feet of referee Steve Bennett, who seemed completely oblivious until it had turned into a virtual battle royale. Hunt appeared to throw a punch at Nasri with as much accuracy as he shoots, as Fagan got all up in Sammi's grill. It went nearly unnoticed when my new hero Alex Song had (c)Hunt around the neck. Love that guy.

When all parties were separated and order was grudgingly restored, Nasri and Hunt were booked, and rightly so, but Barmby, Fagan and Song were spared because Steve Bennett is deaf, and perhaps blind as well. Now all the talk is about Nasri being banned by the FA for attempting to injure Garcia. What a load of bollocks. In all honesty, I disapprove of the actions taken by both sides (although I'm biased, so I disapprove more of Hull's actions, of course). What Nasri did was thoughtless and stupid. But if you're going to do something like that where you know you could be red-carded, you had better make it count, none of this toe-tapping business. Garcia ought to have been disciplined for his overacting. I can't get behind cheating as Nasri did, particularly because it was sneaky, but feigning injury like Garcia did is worse, in my book.

One must wonder though: if Nasri were English, would the press be making as big a deal of this as they are? Actually, no one has to wonder that. Of course they wouldn't.

When play resumed, Arsenal won a free kick when Diaby was fouled a few yards outside the box; Denilson was the surprise taker. And boy did the Brazilian make it count, hitting a beautiful, curving ball over the wall that landed in the bottom left corner, past the outstretched arms of the diving Myhill. Arsenal had drawn first blood, and that coming on a free kick, not our usual area of expertise, and we went into halftime 1-0 up.

We started quickly in the second half, Arshavin setting up Eduardo to go one-on-one with the 'keeper, only to make a mess of a brilliant chance, shooting left of the post. The chance of the day so far had been wasted, and Eduardo's season continued on a downward trend.

Hull had their best chance arrive when Fagan tripped over himself in the box and successfully lobbied for a penalty, Bennett pointing to the spot and declaring that Silvestre had pulled the Hull "man" down by his shirt. The video evidence would later exonerate Silvestre and clearly show Bennett to be a complete tit, but Hull got themselves a penalty all the same. Geovanni strode up and shot lower left, blocked by the resurgent Almunia, and the rebound was headed out by our hero, (c)Hunt. And we all had a hearty laugh at Hull's continued failings as a football team.

We went and opened the gap further when some nice interplay between Song and Diaby in the box ended with Diaby (who had his best match in recent memory) sliding a pass across the 6 yard box to find Eduardo who scored despite looking like doing everything he could to miss. Vintage Arsenal football, a 2-0 scoreline, and a goal that will no doubt go a long way to restoring Eddie's confidence.

The third was pure class by Diaby, as the lanky Frenchman split defenders coming from the left and dished to Arshavin, who gave it back to Diaby as he continued his run. Abu made space from the defender and thundered a right-footed shot past Myhill. 3-0 to the Arsenal, and the match was well and truly won. Should have been 4-0 as well, as substitute Theo Walcott frustrated everyone again, going one-on-one with Myhill and chipping well wide to the left of the post. But a win by three goals and a clean sheet is never anything to sneeze at, so we'll take the points and be happy.

At the end of the day, it was some of the more unsung Arsenal players who rose to the occasion, with Diaby, Denilson, Almunia and the out-of-form Eduardo taking center stage. Denilson, apart from his injury woes, has been consistently improved this season, and we all know the class of Eduardo when he's in-form, so hopefully onward and upward for these two. I won't rain on Diaby and Manuel's parade, but I will say that if either or both can find consistency, we'll be in great shape. If not, this match will be one of many that make a lot of us scratch our heads about these two. Lastly, a virtual round of applause for Mikael Silvestre, who had his best match in an Arsenal shirt. He was solid in defense and attacked the left wing just like an Arsenal fullback should. Well done, Sylvester. OHHHHHHH BABAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!

As mentioned, other results played a key part in our fortunes this weekend, so this is how things all shook out:

Portsmouth v Liverpool
Prediction: Portsmouth 1-2 Liverpool; Reality: Pompey 2-0 Liverpool
The Scousers fortunes continue to sink, dropping all three points to the bottom-most team in the league. Rafa benitez continues to place the blame on everyone but himself and his players, who all looked like mailing this one in. Everyone's expecting a managerial change at Merseyside, but what seems most eveident is the need for a shift in attitude at that club.

Aston Villa v Stoke City
Prediction: Villa 2-0 Stoke; Reality: Villa 1-0 Stoke
Villa face a rather more stiff fight from Stoke in this match than most anticipated. They were in the end liberated by a lovely cross from Ashley Young that was smashed in for a nice goal by Big John Carew.

Blackburn v Tottenham
Prediction: Rovers 1-3 Spuds; Reality: Rovers 0-2 Spuds
Not much suspense in this one, really. Rovers are a relegation-battling club this season, and sp*rs couldn't afford to let another one of those slip, like they did when they lost to Wolves. At home.

Fulham v Man Utd
Prediction: Fulham 0-1 Man Utd; Reality: Fulham 3-0 Man U
Wow. Wow. Can't say I saw that one coming. One would expect Fulham to put up a good fight at home against a team like United, but they totally dominated this match. United will point to their decimated back line as the reason, and they'll get as much sympathy as we got from them when dominated with similar injury circumstances last spring.

Man City v Sunderland
Prediction: City 1-1 Sunderland; Reality: City 4-3 Sunderland
City turn on the style and turn off the defense as they stick 4 past Sunderland, who reverted to their red-card per match custom. Impressive youngster Jordan Henderson made a nice showing for Sunderland in a losing effort. In spite of the win, Mark Hughes got the sack shortly after the match ended, as the classy City owners already had Roberto Mancini in-house, ready to announce as their new hire. I'm sure their next kit will be equally classy; I picture all velvet, and gold leaf on EVERYTHING. While I can't agree with the way they treated Mark Hughes, Fuck Mark Hughes. He's a real shit and the game is better off without him. Hopefully Mancini will fall flat on his face; he appears to have a small-scale mutiny among the players of Hughes-devotees looking to jump ship now that that knob is out of the picture. I couldn't care less about Man City. Bunch of drama queens.

Wolves v Burnley
Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Burnley; Reality: Wolves 2-0 Burnley
Wolves take advantage of home field and drop a tough, scrappy opponent, after resting 10 of 11 regulars midweek against United. Mick McCarthy's Mensa application is denied yet again.

Everton v Birmingham
Prediction: Scouser Blue 2-2 Birmingham; Reality: Everton 1-1 Brum
I think we can safely look at both of these teams as top-half clubs, but no further. They're well-matched, and a draw seems a fair result.

West Ham v Chelsea
Prediction: West Ham 0-4 Chelsea; Reality: Hammers 1-1 Chelsea
Two goals, one for each side, and both arising from questionable penalty decisions. Both sides had very good opportunities to win the match outright, but neither could grab the reins. But to be fair, the Hammers were the only side that looked like trying to win over the last half hour or so. And Mike Dean puts his name back into consideration as worst referee in England. Mr. Dean, the fact is that you're an ugly man; please stop making questionable decisions so the cameras will steer clear of you and we'll all be that much happier for it. Thanks guy!

Wigan v Bolton
Prediction: Wigan 0-0 Bolton; Reality: PPD
Bolton will eventually have a season in which every match is postponed, and at season's end, they'll be 92 points behind the leaders but with 38 matches in hand.

I want to take this moment to thank everyone who came out and celebrated the Arsenal Hulliday party with us at Nevada Smith's. It was a great success, we all had a blast and there was great spirit throughout the match and afterward, despite the wintery weather making its presence felt. Everyone got enough pizza, so Kurt and I were lucky that we had brought enough to feed everyone, and the baked goods, courtesy of our own Ashley Hannan and Kurt's wife Heidi, were a big hit as well. Special thanks to the two douchebag United supporters who stuck around after getting their ASSES HANDED TO THEM just to sing back at us and unite our crowd. Nothing better than a couple of tools embarassing their entire fan base (apart from the other assholes) to bring an rival together, so for all of the Arsenal fans at Nevada's, we thank you.

Anyway, next season's party will be much more organized, I promise. The idea for a party at all was one that came to me on Tuesday afternoon, so thanks again to everyone for making an effort and making it a success. Bravo y'all, can't wait to do it again. Special shout out to the Charm City Gooners who were in attendance at Nevada's on Saturday, we're glad you could make it out, and hope you all made it home safe and sound.

No midweek matches for a change, but we do have Aston Villa on Sun., 12/27. They're the hottest team in the league at the moment and the best defensive team, so it certainly won't be easy. Hopefully our boys are up to the task... more to come on Friday. As always, you stay classy, Gooners of the world.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Preview: Outworked by Burnley and The Arsenal Hulliday Party

Greetings, well wishes, salutations and a hearty Welcome Back to you all. Quite a bit has gone down since I last wrote, and the Arsenal outlook in this tempestuous season has shifted yet again in the interim. I think we'd all do with a bit of consistency, but what fun would that be, eh?

After last weekend threw us right back into the thick of the title race, a slate of midweek games has seen Arsenal make that title challenge much more difficult for us. It's the same old story of course, it's this Arsenal team's modus operandi: put yourselves in dire circumstances, unexpectedly pull yourselves out, rinse and repeat. Since we've not been entirely eliminated from contention by the sport media just yet, I would almost expect us to blow it again this week against Hull, just to make things that much more difficult and crush any lingering spirit in the fans.

After a glorious and all-important win put us 6 points off of first-place Chelsea with a match in hand against Bolton, I think we were all flying rather high, considering our next two matches were against premier league minnows Burnley and Hull, so we're were looking at a good chance to keep pace or possibly make up points against Chavs and United.

Apparently no one told Burnley the plan. After a blistering start which saw us score within the first 15 minutes for the first time this season (despite twice scoring 6 in a game) on a beautiful finish from Cesc Fabregas, and a near-miss from Arshavin that ricocheted off the far post, we seemed to just lay back. It wasn't long afterward that Burnley were given a clear penalty when Vermaelen clearly made contact with Bikey in the box, and Alexander converted over the catastrophic Almunia.

Fabregas and Arshavin remained seemingly the only players with any engine in the side as most everyone else seemed to fall asleep. Diaby, back from injury, was active if unimpressive (although not nearly as bad as he has been), Nasri disappeared for stretches and Theo Walcott continued to show us why he's now more Francis Jeffers than Thierry Henry. Alex Song put in his usual fine shift, but was kept plenty busy as the back four were all over the place. Gallas and Vermaelen again dangerously spent too much time going forward and not enough time minding their defensive responsibilities, while Silvestre's turn at left fullback was again as unbalanced as Anne Heche on a vicodin and red wine bender. Sagna failed to impress but did work hard and run all over the pitch, often being let down by a lack of support from Theo, and later Eduardo.

Shortly before the end of the first half, Cesc came off, and not one of us watching was clear on the reason why; some speculated it was part of a new "tough love" strategy from Wenger, others claimed it was because he assumed we could win the match without him, and I even heard some mention it was a feigned injury so that he could be kept from playing for Catalunya in a friendly. While this is a ridiculous sentiment, can someone please let me know why Spain has so many countries within itself popping up? I know Catalunya is historically a region very different from Castille and Catalans don't speak Castillian Spanish, but this has been one country for hundreds of years, and they seem to have done okay for themselves. Don't fix what isn't broken, as they say. Although I have to admit, I'd be very pleased if the south decided to secede from the Union tomorrow. We should have cut everything south of Virginia off long ago. Maybe we could generate some kind of Lex Luthor event where the midwest, south and Massachussets just sort of fall into the ocean while preserving the northeast, Illinois, and the west coast. And maybe some kind of biblical flood that wipes out the population of Alaska minus the animals and the 10 sane people in the state.

And back to the football. As it turns out, Cesc injured his hamstring, which is always an iffy thing, so well done to Arsene for getting him off before it got worse. As it stands, it doesn't appear to be that bad, but Cesc will miss Saturday's clash with Hull, sadly. Sad as well was the performance turned in by the young Welshman Aaron Ramsey coming on for the gimpy Cesc. He is a young man yet, turning just 19 on Boxing Day, so inconsistency is a consistency with him, but it's still frustrating given the amount of talent Rambo possesses.

Fair play to Burnley, who outhustled our team throughout most of the first and the entire second half. They were unlucky to have a goal ruled offside that would have been the winner, of which Almunia made a dog's breakfast. It looked like he got scared to touch the ball and backed off it like it was radioactive. These gaffes are becoming far too frequent and we've been lucky to escape without suffering more for them than we have in recent weeks. It's time to drop the Spaniard before he can do more significant damage to our chances at trophies. He seems like a decent bloke, but I'm not looking to attend a dinner party at the 'keeper's home. Peter Schmeichel was one of the biggest pricktards that European football has ever seen, but he was a fantastic goalkeeper and will be remembered for that. I just get the feeling that Arsene has this team so mollycoddled that all talk of mental toughness feels like lip-service and all talk of physical toughness, outside of a handful of players, is laughable.

1-1 was the final result, and with as uninspiring a performance as we put in, we were lucky to get the point. With wins from Chelsea, United, Tottenham and Villa, the pressure is well and truly on us from above and below. Saturday's showdown with Hull will provide yet another litmus test for this team, but much will depend on the other fixtures on the docket, so let's have a look at those:

Portsmouth v Liverpool
Pompey are among the worst sides in England right now, and Liverpool, after a disappointing loss to Arsenal, bounced right back with a result over Wigan. It should be an easy call, but Liverpool is looking to bankrupt bookies this season.
Prediction: Portsmouth 1-2 Liverpool

Aston Villa v Stoke City
Villa are the in-form team of the moment, and will certainly view Stoke City as a tune-up before clashing with Arsenal on the 27th. This would play to the advantage of the underdogs in most cases, but this is Stoke we're talking about, and Villa seem focused right now.
Prediction: Villa 2-0 Stoke

Blackburn v Tottenham
Tottenham broke a string of bad results (including a home loss to Wolves) by dispatching City in midweek. They'll travel up north looking to get a result over Rovers, and as poor as Blackburn has been, they're liable to just turn over and get boned. Which is how Harry Redknapp likes it, apparently.
Prediction: Rovers 1-3 Spuds

Fulham v Man Utd
Fulham have impressed, and even won this fixture last season when Scholes was dismissed for impersonating a goalkeeper and Rooney was dismissed for being a complete cunt. Can't see that happening this time around, although Scholes is still a dirty bastard and Rooney is still an insufferable prick.
Prediction: Fulham 0-1 Man Utd

Man City v Sunderland
City finally take a loss (to Sp*rs, no less), but Middle Eastlands faithful shouldn't fret, as they'll be back to their drawing ways soon enough. Like now.
Prediction: City 1-1 Sunderland

Wolves v Burnley
Arsene should be less concerned with the team Mick McCarthy plays on his way back to the Championship than with the team he still has available to select from. Burnley are less convincing away than at home, but should be full of confidence after outplaying Arsenal on Wed.
Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Burnley

Everton v Birmingham
Toughest call of the bunch. Everton have been the definition of inconsistent this season, losing matches they ought to win handily and getting results where they have no business doing so. Birmingham's home form has kept them in contention for Europe, let alone staying up, but they've been let down away.
Prediction: Scouser Blue 2-2 Birmingham

West Ham v Chelsea
Easiest call of the bunch, I'm afraid. West Ham have looked like a team that knows it's doom is sealed and are playing with the least amount of spirit and confidence of anyone in the league. Chelsea are top of the table for a reason.
Prediction: West Ham 0-4 Chelsea

Wigan v Bolton
Ugh... both of these teams suck. Bolton play defensively, especially away, and Wigan don't score enough to make this interesting.
Prediction: Wigan 0-0 Bolton

Finally we come to Arsenal v Hull. We're back at the Grove for a change, although that will come as small consolation for a team with half the squad (including most of the top players) out injured and most of the attackers on the worst form of their lives. Eduardo, if called upon, needs to stand and be counted. His injury problems have clearly made him gunshy (evidenced by his backing off a winnable ball in the box against Burnley because the 'keeper was advancing), and he must get his head right or his form will continue to suffer. Ramsey, if selected, must show up and not allow himself to be outworked or taken out of play. Someone apart from Arshavin will need to make himself a goal threat, and I'm hoping Nasri will be that man. The back four will need to pay attention to their defensive responsibilities and every man on the pitch will need to work his socks off. I'm just hoping Almunia and Theo are passed over by the manager this time until they can remember what is was that got them to this level.

As for Hull, they're still in the thick of the relegation fight, and apparently the players are as sick of Phil Brown as the rest of football is:

Hopefully that's in our favor as well, but it won't mean a thing if the Gunners show up with the lack of effort and urgency that they did against Burnley. Perhaps another "hair dryer" session from Arsene would work, but most likely not. It's up to the players, really. But none of that detracts from the fact that Phil Brown is an orange-skinned, headset-wearing, Fatass-Allardyce-worshipping cuntmuppet who deserves to be trampled to death by small children (because it would take so much longer, you see) after watching the mighty Arsenal thump his side 5-0. That's not a prediction, mind you, it's just what he deserves.

Hopefully you'll all be able to make it to Nevada's this Saturday for the Arsenal Hulliday party. We'll be providing pizza, I'll hopefully have a bunch of Christmas crackers (not the kind you eat), and Ashley has promised some baked goods (including the now-famous chocolate-bacon cookies), but any contributions would be more than welcome. Also, if anyone is feeling in the holiday spirit and wants to chip in with a few bucks, that would be great since this is all out of Kurt's/my pocket. If not, that's cool; I know we have some poor students in our numbers and we've all got xmas shopping. But more than anything, we'd like to have a nice turnout so we can celebrate the Arsenal and the supporters club that we've grown into from just a few isolated pockets of fans in Nevadas from the beginning of last season. Kickoff is at 12;30, but we'll certainly be getting things going prior to that.

Also, I'm sure Kurt would want me to mention that an Arsenal shirt would make an excellent gift/stocking stuffer for any fans or people you're trying to brainwash. There are details available on the official site.

UPDATE: Arsenal have drawn F.C. Porto in the first knock-out round of the Champions League. It could have been a sight worse, that's for sure, and while Porto are former champions (2004) and are no pushovers, I'll take that draw.

That's all for today Gunner addicts. Again, I hope to see you all on Saturday, but for those of you who are abroad, on holiday, or in other parts of the country, have a pleasant holiday season and COME ON YOU REDS!!!

Until next time, you stay jolly, Gooner family.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Roundup: A Season Salvaged, But Questions Remain Between the Sticks

This weekend really couldn't have gone much better for Arsenal fans, could it? United lose at home to Villa, Tottenham lose at home to Wolves, Chelsea and City both draw, and we pull out a most crucial of results at Anfield over Liverpool, injuries be damned. So where we were 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea after losing to the same just a couple of weeks ago, we're now 6 points off the lead; win our match in hand and it's only a three point deficit, and that can certainly be made up, especially if we continue to take care of business against teams that we should beat.

It's hard to believe, but Liverpool do seem to fall into that category these days. Some of their problems can be put down to key injuries, to be sure: Torres and Gerrard have spent a good deal of time out, and Aquilani is only now getting back to fitness. One can point at the loss of Xabi Alonso in the offseason (and replacing him with the aforementioned Aquilani) as being a complete and total error in talent evaluation; clearly Benitez didn't think his side would be so aimless and that with Mascherano in the squad he could afford to let Alonso go. Benitez also invested money in the defense, bringing in Glen Johnson as his big signing, although the Scousers have continued to leak goals. Whatever the reason, I can't remember Liverpool's overall form being so poor for so long.

Yet coming into this match, I personally was not feeling so confident. Injuries continued to pile up and limit Arsene's selection, especially up front, while Liverpool had a full squad for what seemed like the first time this season. As expected, Arshavin reprised the role of central striker, and while due to his small stature he's not particularly well-suited to the role, it cannot be denied that he is our most dangerous player going forward, so Arsene's move to put him there against Stoke looked inspired. We looked for more from the Russian, particularly at Anfield after his 4-goal salvo there last spring.

In the first half, the Gunners put on an exercise in sloppy football. We were poor in possession, and played dangerously at the back against a team still very skilled on counterattacks, and were nearly punished several times. I know Arsene stresses always moving forward, but I think holding Gallas or Vermaelen back occasionally could do us some good, considering on several occasions both were in the opposition's half. Beautiful, attacking football must be balanced by defensive effort. While I understand the manager prefers to play a high line at the back, that line shouldn't always be the halfway line or the opponent's 18 yard box.

Liverpool managed a goal in the minutes leading up to halftime. I have a couple of issues with this. Firstly, Howard Webb awarded Liverpool a free kick in our half on a play in which I could see no foul; but we all know Webb likes to make himself part of the game and be noticed at every turn. On the ensuing free kick, as ever a ball into the box, Almunia came off his line and halfheartedly waved at the ball, knocking it directly to the feet of Kuyt who poked the ball in, and well done to him.

The first mistake, Webb's, isn't anything new. He's not the best referee in England, but he's got everyone thinking so because he's made himself the most recognizable by making controversial, occasionally silly calls. It's who he is. The second mistake, Almunia's, was all too typical of his play and frankly inexcusable, and it's one of the reasons I shudder when opponents are given free kicks in our half these days. A good, consistent 'keeper will see the ball and either jump out and claim it (or at least punch it clear) or to stay on his line and allow the defenders to deal with it. Almunia's actions were indecisive, and he ended up doing half of both, which is the one thing you cannot do. He flailed at the ball and allowed a very easy goal. I know that some are calling for Fabianski to replace Almunia, but I don't see this as much of a solution, as I find Fabianski to be generally as indecisive as Manuel is. I'd much rather see Mannone in goal until a replacement can be found in January, although the odds of either of these things happening are as slim as Lindsay Lohan's are of winning an Oscar.

We were down at halftime, and the atmosphere at Nevada's was somber for the Arsenal faithful. Our possession and passing were both wretched and our defense and goalkeeping were equally poor. I don't think any of us were very confident at the restart that we'd be able to pull a result based on what we'd seen in the first half. But something funny happened along the way: according to Captain Cesc, our illustrious manager Mr. Wenger went completely off-script and delivered a verbal kick in the anus to our underperforming boys, and what's more amazing is that it seems to have worked. Maybe Arsene had grown tired of defending this team at every turn only to have them let him down. Whatever the reason, he pushed the right motivational button because the sloppiness and defensive carelessness that characterized our first half were noticeably absent in the second.

Arsenal pushed forward skillfully, Alex Song collecting the ball behind the midfield and distributing to Cesc and company to start attack after attack. Just a few minutes after the break, Arsenal were level when a Nasri cross in the Liverpool box was deflected by Carragher and poked past Reina for an own goal. The chants of "We've got Glen Johnson" arose from the Arsenal support in Nevada's, while the Scouser fans there reverted to form and hushed right up. There was spirit in the Arsenal side for the first time in the match and we could all feel it.

A few short minutes after that, a clipped pass from Cesc found Arshavin scooting around Johnson at the edge of the box and with a bit of space, the Scouser-killer fired a shot into the top left corner and in off the post. It was as good a goal as you're likely to see and all the more so because it gave us a crucial lead. That's five goals for Arshavin in two matches against Liverpool, and while I'd love him to have that kind of performance record against everyone else, I'll take what I can get. Vodka shots were ordered and consumed to the health of the Tsar of North London.

Arsenal again proved that the best form of defense is attack, keeping Liverpool back on their heels and unable to sustain much attacking of their own; indeed, they didn't even force a save from Almunia in the second half, despite Diaby's presence, coming on for Walcott, who I'm convinced is made of glass or tootsie-pops or something. In spite of Webb's help (who had decided to book Arsenal players for so much as standing too close to Gerrard or Torres), Liverpool never really threatened our end, and the points went back to the Grove. Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal.

I think what we can all take away from that match was the determination the side showed in the second half. It's not something that has been so apparent in recent weeks, and it's a welcome change if that refusal to lose becomes a regular feature in the Arsenal side. We were gifted a weekend in which to redeem ourselves, and that is precisely what happened. Too often in the past we've faced weekends in which all the breaks had fallen our way, only to throw the advantage away with a disappointing draw or loss. This was certainly a step in the right direction, on top of the vital three points.

And the rest of the weekend's action was just as scintillating with some big results going away from what most had predicted (not just me). Let's have a look:

Stoke City v Wigan
Prediction: Stoke 1-0 Wigan; REALITY: Stoke 2-2 Wigan.
A match in which neither side were used to winning, so neither did. Stoke had been in the top half of the table, but I can sense a slide coming on...

Birmingham v West Ham
Prediction: Brum 1-1 Hammers; REALITY: Brum 1-0 Hammers
West Ham had done a great deal to pull themselves out of the relegation zone, but since then have done everything they could do to get back in it. Maybe they're trying to make an exciting end of the season for their fans, I don't know. Birmingham, on the other hand, have looked very good this season. I don't relish that trip to St. Andrews that the Arsenal have coming up.

Bolton v Man City
Prediction: Bolton 0-2 City; REALITY: Bolton 3-3 City
City's defense puts another shambolic display on in front of Shay Given, Craig Bellamy is sent off for general cuntishness, and Bolton still can't pull out three points. And fuck Adebayor as well.

Burnley v Fulham
Prediction: Burnley 0-2 Fulham; REALITY: Burnley 1-1 Fulham
Burnley are a scrappy side, especially at home, as United can attest. Fulham remain on good form but a draw will leave their fans disappointed.

Chelsea v Everton
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Everton; REALITY: Chelsea 3-3 Everton
The result that changed the weekend. At Stamford Bridge, Everton come in and put on an offensive display that was only countered by some exceptional skill from Didier Drogba. Chelsea would certainly lose points to United, no?

Man Utd v Aston Villa
Prediction: United 2-1 Villa; REALITY: United 0-1 Villa
No, as it happened it was United losing a point to Chelsea. Villa got a lovely goal from Agbonlahor's head from an Ashley Young cross, Rooney wasted some gilt-edged chances and was booked for one of the more insanely obvious dives you'll ever see, and Brad Friedel put on a clinic in proper goalkeeping, including a wonderful stop of a Berbatov shot in the second half. He's the anti-Almunia, all decisive, all action.

Hull City v Blackburn
Prediction: Hull 2-2 Blackburn; REALITY: Hull 0-0 Blackburn
Both clubs in danger of relegation, and not a goal to be seen, although some reports stated that Altidore should have been awarded a second half penalty for Hull. However, Phil Brown is a giant, diseased, fake-tan-having cunt, so fuck him.

Sunderland v Portsmouth
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Pompey; REALITY: Sunderland 1-1 Pompey
Again, let me get this straight... Arsenal lose to Sunderland, who promptly lose to Fulham and draw with fucking Pompey? Football is a mad sport.

Tottenham v Wolves
Prediction: Sp*rs 2-0 Wolves; REALITY: Sp*rs 0-1 Wolves

Arsenal feature in a midweek clash up north with the Clarets of Burnley, which ought to be interesting at least. Again, they're a tough little side, and I wish them well, but not in either fixture against my Arsenal. We'll have to hope that Goliath beats David's ass in this case, because after nearly taking out Chelsea, the Clarets pulled off the upset of the season in beating United. I shouldn't have to say it, but LET'S NOT BE MANCHESTER UNITED. Apart from being insufferable cunts (Scholes, Rooney, that one guy from Nevada's), we certainly don't want to be the next giants to be slain. I have no problem being the big bad Arsenal, with all the money and the great manager, blah blah blah. Stick it Burnley... you're not making your reputation on our good name and record. I enjoy having you in the Premier League, I hope you stick around, but come Wednesday night, may god have mercy on your souls.

As for squad selection, the impressive Armand Traore and the sickly Theo Walcott both left Sunday's match with injury worries, and Arshavin came off after 90 min., hopefully as a precaution. This is on top of our already extensive injury list. Diaby is back this week until he picks up another injury, and Eduardo made the bench on Sunday, so he may end up in the side as well. Fingers crossed we'll see Ramsey and not Diaby in the starting lineup. It'd be nice to give Cesc a rest as well, but things being as they are I don't see it.

Lastly, Another Arsenal Blog has a quick look at the ridiculousness of Giggs' PFA award and the disgraceful way in which the British media have completely ignored Wayne Rooney's cheating, especially the dive he pulled on Saturday. Much as I admire Giggs, he's right on both counts. Any Man U fans reading this, be warned, it's partisan.

That's all I've got for today gang. Enjoy the afterglow of the weekend and a good win. It's not every week we've got this much going for us. Here's to continuing results for the Arsenal. As always, you stay classy Gooner nation.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Preview: The Kids Are Alright, But Nobody's Fit

Bon jour, mis Arsamis. I don't expect this to be a particularly long and involved entry, but I've said that before and ended up with many many pages written, so let's see how it pans out. However, when that's happened in the past, I haven't necessarily had a crippling hangover and little to discuss regarding Arsenal, so Magic Eight Ball says, "All Signs Point to a Brief Post.

Arsenal did have a midweek match against Olympiakos in Greece, the last of the group stage. Having already won the group and secured advancement in the competition, Arsene understandably fielded a largely Carling Cup team, with a handful of senior squad players to balance out the large number of teenagers on hand. Silvestre was, to my knowledge, the only player over 30, and beyond him, the oldest player was the 24 year old Polish 'keeper Fabianski.

Not that the manager had much choice of course. It seems everyone in the first team is either injured or questionable due to injury, apart from Alex Song, who Wenger played for the full 90, which in my opinion was risky to the point of foolishness. This was a meaningless match, the result meaning absolutely nothing in terms of the competition at large. Song has gone from a Carling Cup player and useful defensive sub to being the lynchpin of the Arsenal midfield and has, to my knowledge, played more minutes than any Arsenal regular this season. Having him travel to Greece midweek to take part in a game that didn't matter and risking injury to a player who has been crucial to the club's success this season was certainly not worthwhile. Thankfully he came through unscathed. Arsene needs to recognize that while he's still rather young, Song is no longer one of the up and coming youngsters, he's a full-fledged starter now. He's our new Wall.

Understandably, the more experienced Olympiakos won the match, 1-0, but the youngsters acquitted themselves well, controlling possession throughout and creating some chances that just weren't taken for a variety of reasons. Carlos Vela had a couple of good opportunities that he should've done better with, while Aaron Ramsey had a header that would've been in had a defender not accidentally drifted into the play. Several players looked a bit out of their element; Wilshere, Vela and Walcott spring to mind. But in a hostile environment, against a team that needed a result to advance from the group, and on a European night, it's not hard to see why. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey and Song stood out in midfield, Ramsey looking particular good out there. The Welshman was active all over the pitch, strong in the challenge and harrying the opposition for possession, and driving forward with the ball. Song and Ramsey played particularly well together, Song collecting and distributing to Ramsey, who organized the attack.

In the end, while it was a loss, it was to very good team and on the road, and the young gunners can hold their heads up high regardless. Unfortunately, this will be the last we see of many of them, as a number will doubtless go out on loan, including Jack Wilshere. Considering the number of injuries the squad has suffered and the lack of attacking options at the moment, I don't know how wise that is, but if it gets the boy some experience, then he should go. I know Celtic have expressed interest, and Tony Mowbray likes his sides to play football rather than hoofing it around like much of the Championship and First Division sides are wont to, so if Jack will move on for the remainder of the campaign, he could do worse.

The proper Arsenal first team, what's left of it, will travel to Merseyside to face the Scousers at Anfield. We all know how this fixture played out last season, Arshavin netting four times and our shambolic defense allowing four as well to earn a draw. This time, most of our back four is intact, while our attack will be missing some very key components. Eduardo is doubtful to play, van Persie will obviously take no part, Rosicky shocked us all by picking up another long-term injury, the list goes on. I expect a side like the one played against Stoke last Saturday, although Eboue and Rosicky, who started that match, will miss due to injury, and Traore is still a question mark. With Clichy and Gibbs already out, frankly I think we need to stop buying fullbacks at china shops.

We can expect Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, and Silvestre/Traore, Song, Cesc and Denilson, with possibly Ramsey and Nasri in the mix, and Arshavin up top. Can the owly one get it done at Anfield again? I would hope so, and the way he was timing his runs at the Stoke defense last week was masterful, but one would expect better from Liverpool, althought they've been leaking goals worse than we have this season, which is saying something. Also, they're playing us at our worst time this season, with injuries mounting amid a squad that was already a bit thin. Also they'll have their "talismanic striker" (I love that term) Fernando Torres back, so they'll have a boost there as well. I think Rafa will play a defensive lineup, knowing our attacking prowess and his own side's defensive frailty, but it will be interesting to see how this one shakes out.

That of course is on Sunday. There's plenty of football to be seen in addition, however, so let's see what's on the menu, shall we?

Stoke City v Wigan
If you're watching this match and not a fan of either team, I think you should check your heart rate and breathing because you may be dead.
Prediction: Stoke 1-0 Wigan

Birmingham v West Ham
Every match will be critical for both of these teams still trying to avoid relegation. Expect a scrappy match.
Prediction: Brum 1-1 Hammers

Bolton v Man City
Shitty are rolling, coming off wins over the Arsenal reserves and a more unlikely victory over the Chavs, and Bolton are... well, they're Bolton.
Prediction: Bolton 0-2 City

Burnley v Fulham
Burnley can't seem to get out of their own way at times. Fulham have been hot, led by Clint "AMERICAN, FUCK YEAH!" Dempsey. They play a more defensive style of football, but they should be able to finish off the little Clarets.
Prediction: Burnley 0-2 Fulham

Chelsea v Everton
Will the real Everton please stand up? Landon Donovan won't arrive in time to keep Chelsea from unleashing the dragon against the Merseysiders. With the way Everton's defense has looked, Tim Howard has to be a little bit worried. I think Arsene should buy him and spare him these headaches. Just saying.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Everton

Hull City v Blackburn
This contest will be like trying to figure out which shit sandwich tastes better. No matter the result, there are no winners here.
Prediction: Hull 2-2 Blackburn

Sunderland v Portsmouth
Sunderland can beat us, but not Fulham? Am I missing something? Luckily for them, Pompey are an utter mess. It's going to take some serious spending in January (and probably a new manager) to save the seasiders from a visit to Coca-Cola Land.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Pompey

Tottenham v Wolves
Last week, when I previewed the Tiny Totts away at Everton, I said, "If the Spuds can't beat this team, they're as sorry as we all think they are." That goes double this week. They're at that rat infested sewer of a ground they call home, hosting one of the worst sides in the league. Another collapse would be delicious, but unlikely.
Prediction: Sp*rs 2-0 Wolves

Man Utd v Aston Villa
An interesting match, made less so by the fact that it's at Old Trafford and will be referee'd as suck (no, I didn't misspell 'such'). Villa have been a hot team of late, but unfortunately they just won't have enough to get by Man U and the man holding the cards, in this case, Martin Atkinson, who is being administered a fitness test by Fergie as we speak.
Prediction: United 2-1 Villa

Which brings us to Liverpool v Arsenal. With the season that the Scouse have turned in thus far, and with Arsenal dropping players and points throughout November, this fixture has lost a bit of lustre for the common fan. Liverpool won't finish in the top-4 this season unless they have a major reversal of fortune, and Arsenal's title hopes are not what they were earlier in the season, although they're better than they were headed into last weekend. It's critical for the Gunners to take maximum points from this fixture, and a trip to Anfield has not been this inviting in quite some time.

What Liverpool do have is another player who can change a game with his mere presence, in the form of aforementioned Torres. The Spaniard is a pure goalscorer, and despite only just coming back from injury, I can't imagine he'll need much time to shake off the rust. On a positive note for Arsenal, he's still not fully fit, having only come off the bench in midweek to play the final 20 minutes against Fiorentina.

So what does it come down to? Will our injuries prove too devastating? How many goals will Arshavin score? Who is... The Shadow? These are the questions that will need answering. On Sunday, we'll know more after 90 minutes of asking.

Not much more to say, really. So I'll leave you with a look at our Russian mastermind against the hubcap thieves:

You stay classy, Gooner nation.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Roundup: Off the Skids & Arsene's Walking Wounded

Willkommen, bienvenue and Welcome to yet another Weekend Roundup. For the for the first time in seemingly ages we have a bit of positive news to balance out the shitstorm of negativity that has been blowing full-storm in Arsenal's general direction.

Arsenal took on Stoke City at home and got the type of result one would generally expect from such a contest, a 2-0 victory. The scoreline certainly flatters the Potters as they were never truly in it; indeed, it seems that I've been writing this type of sentence on an almost weekly basis, but Arsenal should have scored more than those two goals if they could just have taken their chances. But such is the norm in Arsenal-land these days, when even winning a penalty does not necessarily mean a goal scored.

Yes, even that occurred. Andrei Arshavin, strangely enough starting in the central striker role, had already wasted a brilliant chance when Cesc's perfect through-ball set him one-on-one with Sorensen, who played it perfectly while Dr. Drei's touch took him too wide. This time the diminutive Russian's control of and movement on the ball won a penalty by forcing Rory Delap into a bad challenge in the box, referee Mark Clattenburg pointing to the spot. Captain Cesc strode up and took what amounted to a rather poor penalty. Sorensen, who really did have quite a good match overall, was leaning to his left and seemed to move early in that direction before the shot. Cesc unwisely shot in that direction, with little elevation and no pace, making for a fairly easy save for the Stoke 'keeper.

The match remained scoreless, although Arsenal controlled the match outside of about the 5th to 10th minutes, when Stoke controlled the ball and bombarded our box with long balls and Delap throws. While no goals were allowed, Almunia didn't exactly cover himself in glory, looking gunshy and bewildered for most of these. I've made the point before, but I'll do so once more: I don't find that any of the three options at 'keeper right now inspire a great deal of confidence.

Despite a few more chances for the Gunners, the deadlock wasn't broken until Arshavin was put through into the box by Fabregas again, but this time controlled well and used his strength to position himself for a brilliant finish across goal to the bottom right corner. After a number of chances had gone begging, Arshavin and Arsenal were finally on the scoresheet.

But bad luck wouldn't entirely desert us, as a few minutes later, a cross from Traore (who really had a fantastic game, his best match yet in an Arsenal shirt) was deflected by (I believe) Faye, hit the far post, and ricocheted to Cesc's feet for the captain to finish from close range. Or he would have done, if Eboue hadn't picked the worst possible place to be standing at that particular moment. The Ivorian unintentionally cleared the chance off the line and our Catalan was snakebitten yet again. I do my best to give Eboue the benefit of the doubt, largely because he tries his ass off and seems like a fun guy, and his songs are simply the most fun to sing, but he had a pretty poor match this time out. He performed brilliantly the last few times he'd gotten on, which I put down to being played at fullback, where his best performances have always seemed to have come. Arsenal were 1-0 up going into halftime, but probably should have been been 4-0 up but for poor finishing and rotten luck.

The second half began as the first left off, Arshavin taking a short pass from Eboue into the box, his sliding shot parried wide of the right post by Sorensen. Shortly afterward, Stoke's best chance of the match went unscored, as Lawrence's long ball found Tuncay all alone headed for the Arsenal goal. I don't know how he managed to blow it, but the Turk was caught from behind by Gallas, who interfered with the shot enough so that it dribbled to Almunia. The clean sheet remained intact, while the chances were coming fast and thick for Arsenal, the brilliant Arshavin being denied a few times more. Eboue seemed to pick up a knock (surprise! Another injury for Arsenal), and was subbed off for Aaron Ramsey, and it didn't take long for the young Welshman to make his mark on the match, a brilliant run ending with a lovely shot from the edge of the box that Sorensen just couldn't handle.

So 2-0 to the Arsenal, and while there were several more chances on the day, Lady Luck had already rationed out our share for the day. A 2-0 win over the 9th place team in the league, who had been on a run of several consecutive clean sheets, is nothing to sneeze at. There were a number of positives to take from this one, even apart from a win after three big losses to English teams (the Liege win thrown in to break up the monotony, I suppose). Denilson looked effective in the holding role (Song missing out due to accumulation of yellows), Arshavin seems to have gotten his shit together after going temporarily insane following Russia's elimination from the World Cup, Nasri put in a good shift, and we finally kept another clean sheet, which should do the defense's confidence a world of good. While it should've been a more comfortable margin of victory, with the form we've been on, I'll take 2-0 every time.

So we're off the schnide, but more injury news continues to pile up. Eduardo will be out for another week it seems, Rosicky (who I hadn't known at the time was hurt) will be out until some point in January. We've also got short-term injuries to Traore and Gallas, Theo and Diaby, and won't get back Bendtner or Clichy til around Christmas. And all of this is in addition to the long-term injuries to van Persie, Gibbs, and Djourou, the forgotten man in Arsenal's defense who isn't Philippe Senderos. Arsene commented on our extensive injury list this season (like every other it seems), saying:

"It is true [that we pick up more injuries than the other big teams], you cannot deny that. We cannot say there is no reason for that but we have not found it."
Well what is it? Are we feeding our players magic injury pills? Is there something in our players' diets that causes them to be as brittle as uncooked pasta? Is everyone else on steroids? If that's the case, I think I speak for all Gooners when I say start shooting 'em up!

We've long known that Arsenal always seem to have more injuries than EVERY other team, so much so that I have removed the phrase "if we stay healthy" from my vocabulary. There's not enough wood to knock to keep our players healthy. That Arsene has acknowledged this is both disturbing and comforting. At least he's trying to find the answer; godspeed, Monsieur Wenger.

Now we get to have a look at how the rest of the league panned out...

Portsmouth v Burnley
Pompey finally find an opponent they can handle. All the best to you both in the Championship next season.
PREDICTION: Portsmouth 1-1 Burnley; REALITY: Portsmouth 2-0 Burnley

Aston Villa v Hull City
Villa put Phil Orange/Brown's charges to the sword, ending a run of good form. It appears that even a team uniting against their shit manager isn't enough to overcome a team full of actually good players.
PREDICTION: Villa 2-1 Hull; REALITY: Villa 3-0 Hull

Blackburn v Liverpool
Jesus H Christ, how bad are Liverpool? Don't answer that... Arsenal play them on Sunday, when I'm sure they briefly find their best form.
PREDICTION: Rovers 2-3 Scousers; REALITY: Rovers 0-0 Scousers

West Ham v Man Utd
The Hammers are no match for a United team playing some fantastic football lately. Why doesn't Wayne Rooney ever get a massive injury like everyone on Arsenal? His secret is having sex with grannies.
PREDICTION: Irons 0-2 United; REALITY: Irons 0-4 United

Wigan v Birmingham
Well, at least there were goals. When these two teams face off, it's almost a waste that one of them has to get points when so many other teams could put them to some use.
PREDICTION: Wigan 0-0 Birmingham; REALITY: Wigan 2-3 Birmingham

Wolves v Bolton
Wolves ain't dead yet! Put them against a team outside the top-10 and watch them perform!
PREDICTION: Wolves 1-2 Bolton; REALITY: Wolves 2-1 Bolton

Man City v Chelsea
I would've bet you anything you liked before this weekend that Chelsea would curb-stomp the Billionaire Boys Club, but that's why they play the games. Ade was in the Christmas spirit and even gifted the Chavs a goal, but the rentboys couldn't salvage a point even when given a penalty in the dying moments. City do themselves, United and Arsenal a favor by knocking the Blues back down to earth, making them look like unorganized, grabasstic pieces of amphibian shit.
PREDICTION: City 1-3 Chavs; REALITY: City 2-1 Chavs

Fulham v Sunderland
Fulham pull off a sensational home win, picking off a very good Sunderland team at Craven Cottage. Tim Howard saves another penalty given in the 95th minute to seal victory for the English-Slang-For-Closeted-Homosexual-s.
PREDICTION: Fulham 0-1 Sunderland; REALITY: Fulham 1-0 Sunderland

Everton v Tottenham
I said: "Everton are just god-awful this season, and I just can't see why. Apart from a handful of injuries, their squad is largely the same as last season's, and I don't think David Moyes has forgotten how to manage all of a sudden (although there's something wrong with that guy's mouth... it's just creepy). If Spuds can't beat this team, they're as sorry as we all think they are."
Turns out I was right and Tottenham are a sorry sack of shit. Everton are still lousy, and in a match where sp*rs were clearly the better side and which they dominated for long stretches, they took a 2-0 lead and couldn't finish it off. I assume we won't hear a peep from the lilywhites' fans for another 3 weeks, just like after Arsenal crushed them at the Grove.
PREDICTION: Everton 1-1 Tottenham; REALITY: Everton 2-2 Tottenham

Arsene will most likely take a Carling Cup side to Greece to face Olympiakos, having clinched the group already and considering the mounting number of injuries the side already have. We may see a few senior squad players make the trip to supplement the youngsters, but unless Philippe Senderos recently murdered a member of Wenger's family, he has no reason NOT to play him, considering Silvestre may have to start at left fullback. Also, Alex Song should not play this match under any circumstances.

I would have to think Wenger will be sensible and take a reserve side to Piraeus (and you thought they played in Athens, didn't you? Come on, admit it) considering the large numbers of injuries to the squad and a vital match against Liverpool on Sunday. It will still be good to see the kids get another run-out, after the disappointment to Man City last week. One also has to keep in mind that there will be no further cup matches until mid-January, so this will be the last time we see most of the youngsters until then, while others will likely go out on loan. That is, of course, unless the injuries continue to mount, in which case Mark Randall may finally find his place in the first team, much to my chagrin.

That's all I have for now, Gooners and Goonerettes. We have more football on Wed. and Sun., so the schedule's chock full right now. If we can string a few more league victories together and hope United and Chelsea drop a few, we're right back in it. Although I'm going to keep on doubting, as it seems to make us play better. Also, if you have no expectations, you'll never be disappointed.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Preview: An Unbiased Look at Arsenal's Shortcomings

It's been a long time apart, my Arsenal chums, and I apologize for the long spell between posts. Since the last, we've seen Arsenal recover from a loss to Sunderland with a fairly convincing win over Standard Liege to seal up Group H in Champions League, followed by the devestation of Chelsea coming to the Grove and simply dismantling us, and most recently, the Carling Kids being bounced out of the tournament by a bigger and one would have to say better Manchester City side.

Let me start by saying I didn't see the Chelsea match. I got to Nevadas a few minutes after kickoff and was told by New Door Guy that they were at capacity. So I waited through the first half, and judging by the shouting inside was able to discern that the two goals scored had been for Chelsea. At halftime, no one left, so I went home, and by the time I got there the match was mercifully over. I have to say I'm glad. Having watched the highlights, if you can call them such, our defense was exposed by Drogba once again, which demonstrates that we are still ill-equipped to cope with the big, physical strikers, of which Drogba is probably the best. The first goal was a masterstroke on his part, although I thought in hindsight that the marking wasn't nearly tight enough. The second, the OG by Vermaelen, was simply a result of no communication and concentration, and would have been claimed by a better 'keeper. The third flattered the scoreline, but was deserved, seeing as everyone but Almunia knew where Drogba was putting the ball.

We were outmanned and outgunned, and while I'd love to sit here and tell you all that there are 5-plus months left in the season, there's a lot of football to be played, and we can certainly catch up Chelsea in that time, my heart just doesn't believe it. We're 11 points back of the leaders now, and even if we win our match in hand (Bolton), it'll be 8 points, which is bad enough. Yes, we've seen 8-point deficits made up in the past (I'm sure most of us remember Arsenal leading by 8 in 2007-08 in January and finishing third). But since the injury to RVP, we've looked toothless in attack, while continuing to leak goals.

I don't want to remain all doom and gloom, and it's not the end of the world. We've clinched the top of our group in Champions League, and the FA Cup, a much more meaningful bit of silverware than the Carling Cup, has yet to get going. We're still in with a shout in those competitions, and the team we tend to field is, I think, very well suited to European play. But both Chelsea and United are alive and well in both of those competitions, and judging purely from the current state of things, we seem to be missing some elements necessary to beating those teams and that sort. So, as it's now December and nearly halfway through the season, and since we all know what this team can do well, I'm going all Negative Nelly and including the areas where Arsenal are currently falling short (no pun intended).

First off, as I'm sure we've all seen mentioned in plenty of other places, we have a problem with the size of our squad. I don't mean the number of players in the squad, all things considered we have enough bodies. But the bodie we have are mostly midgets, footballistically speaking. Look at the lineup we put out against Chelsea last Sunday: Almunia (6'4"), Sagna (5'9"), Gallas (5'11", listed at 6'1"), Vermaelen (5'11"), Traore (6'), Song (6'1"), Fabregas (5'9"), Denilson (5'11"), Nasri (5'10"), Arshavin (5'4", somehow listed at 5'7"), Eduardo (dubiously listed as 5'10"). First, let me state that the heights I list are provided by Wikipedia, not always the most accurate source, but the official club site doesn't list players' heights, so that's what I had to work with. Apart from Almunia, who among those names is capable of getting above a crowd of players to head a ball? Apart from Song, Vermaelen and perhaps Gallas, which of them would be able to physically boss opposing players when the need arises?

And I'm not faulting the players for being short, it's not as though that's something they can remedy through effort. And I know I need to stop living in the past, but Arsenal was once upon a time populated with taller, more physical players who could use brawn when finesse proved ineffective, as happens often enough in English football. Players like Vieira, Bergkamp, Pires, Parlour, Gilberto. These were players of that calibre, supremely skilled yet tall enough to ride Space Mountain. Has Arsene meant to shift his gaze away from players of this ilk, or are they in short supply? When the "men against boys" comment goes around, it's not purely a judgment of the respective skill levels; to a degree, Arsenal resemble a youth team because, physically, they are built like one.

Lionel Messi is perhaps the greatest player in the world, but I suspect a team of 11 Messi's would ship quite a few goals. Then there is the issue of health: smaller players tend to be bounced and tossed around in the course of matches; therefore, they tend to sustain more injuries. It's not as though the players I mentioned earlier were never hurt, far from it. But you wouldn't call them injury-prone either, would you? I do believe this to be true. It's either that, or Arsenal have saved money on a physio by hiring a medieval re-enactor for the job.

Next, there is a certain defensive frailty about this squad that goes beyond the physical. Our back four should, physically, be able to stand up to anything most teams can throw at them in attack. But one of the things that allows the 4-3-3 formation to work well when it does, is a full shift put in by all 11 men, and that includes defending by all of the midfield and even the attacking players, and this is where we have rather often come up short, especially without van Persie in the team. Eduardo and Arshavin are brilliant creative players, but neither one is often to be seen harrying a defender to win a ball or sprinting back to help defend. It is crucial to have these contributions as our fullbacks spend enough time going forward to be considered half-wingers, one of whom (Traore) is our third-choice left back and is still learning on the job. Part of what impressed me the most in our opening match against Everton was how easily the 4-3-3 could be an effective defensive formation as well, assuming everyone worked hard on defense. We have gotten away from this and have paid for it.

Third, Manuel Almunia. The Spaniard/naturalized English 'keeper has had plenty of problems, and has certainly been given more chances afterward than the man he succeeded, Mad Jens Lehmann, ever was. Lehmann made two goalkeeping errors to begin the 07-08 campaign and lost his place permanently. Almunia has been solid at times, positively nerve-wracking at others ever since inheriting the number 1 shirt. I would say exactly the same of both Fabianski and Mannone when they have been given runs in the team. At least Mannone made for better songs. I don't want to go on sandbagging any of our players, but it's not as though this is the first time anyone's questioned Almunia's abilities or decision-making in the sticks, is it? If you were to ask someone to name the 10 best goalkeepers in England, how many do you think would include Manuel? And that's 10 'keepers out of 20 teams! Manuel Almunia makes some amazing saves, but he also makes some absolute howlers. The one adjective I would not use to describe him as a goalkeeper is "consistent." Sadly, that is the first word I would want to describe my 'keeper.

Apart from the lack of a suitable central striker due to the concurrent injuries to Bendtner AND van Persie (and let's face it, I don't think anyone, even knowing Arsenal's injury history, expected a situation this dire), which Arsene has already said he will address in January, is where the biggest issues lie. Are things all bad? Absolutely not. We have a great many skilled attacking players, and once they start to click on again, things will certainly look a bit more positive. Add to that the expected return from injury of players such as Bendtner, Clichy, and even Diaby (dear god am I actually pining for Diaby's return?), and the lack of height and physical presence will certainly not be as stark in contrast with what we're seeing now.

One final negative note (of course) is the news that Theo Walcott has apparently picked up another knock, presumably to his vagina, and will be unavailable yet again. I know Theo is an immensely popular player, particularly in England, but for the life of me, apart from his being the lone Englishman getting regular first-team minutes (when healthy), what has he ever really done for Arsenal? The bulk of his quotes that I've seen over the last 2 seasons have been mostly about England and the World Cup. He seems to have played nearly as often for England as he has for Arsenal. Theo to me is a player with great physical gifts but who seems to be getting by largely on reputation. It's time for young Mr. Walcott to get his mind (and hopefully his body) right and start putting in performances for Arsenal. And a little mind-correction with regard to international football might do Comrade Arshavin a world of good as well. Russia are out. Finish crying, then pull your socks up and go to work.

Well the title of the post is, in part, Weekend Preview, so I'll not make myself a liar. I've droned on quite a bit already, so on with the picks:

Portsmouth v Burnley
Pompey haven't looked as awful as I'm accustomed to seeing them this season, despite being trounced by United. Burnley have shown a bit of spark, but will need to show a bit more if they're to stay up.
PREDICTION: Portsmouth 1-1 Burnley

Aston Villa v Hull City
Villa have been on good form, but Hull seem to have gotten their shit together in spite of Phil Brown's ugly orange face and complete lack of managerial acumen.
PREDICTION: Villa 2-1 Hull

Blackburn v Liverpool
Blackburn have been better at home than they have away, and the Liverpudlians have been kind of shit everywhere, but not so shit as to drop them out of a European place altogether.
PREDICTION: Rovers 2-3 Scousers

West Ham v Man Utd
I'd love to see the Hammers pull one out here, I really would. But it's just not in the cards.
PREDICTION: Irons 0-2 United

Wigan v Birmingham
Two shit teams locking horns in a match that is sure to have more than its share of dull, listless play. Boo.
PREDICTION: Wigan 0-0 Birmingham

Wolves v Bolton
Both of these teams have their problems, but Bolton seem to have a few bright spots, or at least fewer issues.
PREDICTION: Wolves 1-2 Bolton

Man City v Chelsea
Despite a win over Arsenal's kids, City are hardly on a roll. And they're hosting the best team in England right now. And Adebayor is a cunt. Although so are all the cunts on Chelsea. But Chelsea will win the Battle of the Cunts. Cunts.
PREDICTION: City 1-3 Chavs

Fulham v Sunderland
Fulham have been able to keep afloat and out of the relegation zone due to a defensive mindset and some scrappy play. Btw, Clint Dempsey is on fire right now. Still, they're going against a largely full-strength Sunderland side who are plenty strong themselves.
PREDICTION: Fulham 0-1 Sunderland

Everton v Tottenham
Everton are just god-awful this season, and I just can't see why. Apart from a handful of injuries, their squad is largely the same as last season's, and I don't think David Moyes has forgotten how to manage all of a sudden (although there's something wrong with that guy's mouth... it's just creepy). If Spuds can't beat this team, they're as sorry as we all think they are.
PREDICTION: Everton 1-1 Tottenham

Arsenal do in fact have a match this weekend, at home against Stoke City. Now if we can't use this opportunity to right the ship and pick up three points, the shitstorm of negativity above will look like a religious revival in comparison with what I'll end up typing. Tony Pulis is a shit manager who has been bailed out quite often by the freakish throw-in skills of Rory Delap and nicking points off of goalless draws. Let's not kid ourselves: this is NOT a very good football team, and it is a team that Arsenal can and should beat. Being that we're at home, I think we can all expect a very defensive effort on Stoke's part. We can only hope that Cesc & co. can break down the defensive wall they throw up and get a goal early, forcing Stoke to attack us in earnest and set them up for counterattacks. If that happens, we'll have little difficulty taking all three points. If not... well let's hope we don't have to think about that. A bitmore bad news though: as Arsene inexplicably played Song on Wed. and he picked up a yellow card, he will miss this match through suspension. Let's all hope Denilson can fill his shoes.

PREDICTION: Arsenal 2-1 Stoke

One quick note, Arsene had every right not to shake Mark Hughes' hand after the match on Wed. Hughes' behavior was no less than I would have expected from him: rude, confrontational and boorish. A handshake is a sign of respect, and that sort of thing is earned, not automatic. His recent behavior on top of his managerial resume (consisting of keeping Rovers around by encouraging his players to act like complete thugs and kick the daylights out of the opposition) earns him no more than what he received from Wenger: nothing at all. As for Tony Pulis, I'm sure Arsene will be happy enough to shake your hand after handing you your team's ass.

In other news, The Gooner Review is offering LIMITED EDITION Christmas bundles, such as signed Bob Wilson caps, signed Peter Marinello books and 'The Gooner Review 08-09' DVDs from only 4.99 (plus p&p).

In conjunction they're running a Christmas competition to choose the best Christmas Gooner wishes from fans. See the site for Tom Watt's and Judge Jules' personal wishes.
The best two entries will win The Gooner Review 08-09 and Gooner cap both signed by Bob Wilson.

Click here to find out more about these offers.

This is for a limited time only. So get your orders in right away.

Deadline for International orders: Friday 3rd December
Deadline for UK orders: Mon 14th December

That's it for this week. Join us again on Monday when I'm celebrating a long-awaited three points or possibly hanging myself.

- B, a Gooner.