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.