Weekend Preview: Gunners v Mancs Redux

I've got that old feeling...

As rivalries go, Arsenal v. Manchester United down the years has been among the most intense and hard-fought in world football, and certainly in England. The Kings of the South v. the Dark Lords of the North . Paddy v. Keano. Keown v. Horseface. Wenger v. Ferguson.

Yet, over the past few seasons, as United has dominated the Premier League and Arsenal have fallen off the pace for trophies, has the conflict lost some of its lustre? Certainly not to supporters of either club. And despite the count of silverware at season's end, we've seen some cracking matches between the two. A fantastic match in January 2007 saw United in their first match at Emirates undone by late goals from Robin van Persie (who broke his metatarsal at the time, ending his season) and a rare header from Thierry Henry. William Gallas nicked a point for the Gunners with a late goal at the Emirates the following season, and last season saw Samir Nasri score twice to sink United in November, when it looked as though they'd fallen off the pace for the title... which, alas, was not the case.

On the other hand, we Gooners have suffered much as well. The home defeat to the Mancs in the Champions League semifinal last season, a systematic dismantling of the Arsenal by Ronaldo & Co. that elicited the infamous "men against babies" comment from Evra (and for which he still needs to catch a fucking slap), still particularly stings my heart. Yet we seem to be gaining while United flag ever so slightly. While Rooney's dive and Diaby's OG earlier this season doomed us to defeat at Old Trafford, we were certainly the better side, and Arshavin's strike is still one of the goals of the season. And even with United beating City in the Mickey Mouse Cup, you had better believe that Arsene can smell blood in the water.

Despite a rash of injuries the likes of which I can't recall Arsenal ever enduring, we're a point behind United and 2 points back of Chelsea at the top. For all that, United don't seem as strong as they once did, nor Arsenal as week. The draw with a tough Villa side on Wednesday was disappointing, but not crushing; O'Neill's side are a quality team, particularly at home. What it does, however, is make the points up for grabs on Sunday that much more crucial. And we can take all three.

Not a believer? I can't say as I blame you; pessimism often comes with the territory of the football fan, particularly when United come to town with an English referee. But I just can't shake the optimism I'm feeling right now, nor can I explain it. I just have a feeling about this one.

As far as team news goes, Vermaelen will most likely be out after being forced to leave Wednesday's match by a lower leg injury, which x-rays proved was not a broken bone. Most likely we'll see Sol slot into place at the back, where he excelled after replacing Tommy V. I must state that I'm a bit more optimistic about having big man back after his performance at Villa Park. Of course, the prospect or keeping out Rooney is certainly more daunting that trying to shut out Heskey or Agbonlahor, but let's hope Sol, Willy G, Sagna and Clichy will cope well.

Song is back in the side after returning from the ACN, and should be back in his familiar holding role, which should free up Cesc as well. There's no telling what exactly Arsene will do of course, but if healthy, logic would dictate Song and Sol in the side. I'd like to see Nick Bendtner in the side as well, although it's hard to predict how match-fit he is after his long layoff and only about 30 min. against Villa. With Eduardo nursing a hamstring injury, we're still very thin up front, but we have the quality there to do the job. I would expect Arshavin, Nasri and Rosicky up front to start, with Bendtner available as a sub. Cesc and Song will hopefully be rejoined in midfield by Diaby, but it's hard to say at this point. While we have injuries to cope with, so have United, and they will also be missing Ferdinand due to a ban. Can we win? Absolutely. Will we? That we'll see on Sunday.

I've got that old feeling... home against United. Cesc v. Fletcher. Sol v. Rooney. Wenger v. Ferguson. COME. ON. YOU. GUNNERS.

One last thing... I may be an American, but I'm no Noob; not that there's anything wrong with that. We all have to start somewhere, don't we? What I am is someone with faith in the Arsenal and appreciation for every Arsenal supporter in NYC and anywhere else. We have a strong, dedicated fanbase here now, and we're growing, which is down to each of you turning out every week and cheering on the Arsenal, and singing down ManUre, Chelski and everyone else. You could have all stayed home, playing World of Warcraft in your mom's basement for the last two years, but you made a choice to belong to something special, and for that, I thank you.

What I don't appreciate is when respect is not reciprocated, or when outright disrespect is shown to myself, our group, or even individuals in it. We are all of different age groups, backgrounds, careers, etc. But what we all have in common is love for Arsenal Football Club. Respect yourself, respect each other, leave egos out of the equation. Any bile we have should be directed towards the opposition, not each other. In many ways we're like a family... even if one of your brothers or sisters makes you so mad you want to tear your hair out, you remember we're all in this together. I guess what I'm trying to say is, stay classy. And I direct that to all of my brothers and sisters in Arsenal.

Brief Weekend Roundup: When Gunners go Crashing Out

I'm keeping this post intentionally brief, because it's my birthday and the subject matter is a bit sore for me at the moment. I'm sure you can understand/sympathize/empathize.

Our 4th Round FA Cup match at Britannia Stadium against Stoke looked doomed from the start. Arsene deliberately picked what can only described as a group of our lesser Carling Kids, some old-heads, and Cesc. With our extraordinary number of injuries, not even Carling Cup stalwarts like Fran Merida were available, and Aaron Ramsey (fresh back from an injury himself) started the match on the bench. With Eboue off in Africa, Kerrea Gilbert and Gavin Hoyte on loans, we don't even have a second-choice right-back, so Francois Cocquelin (a holding midfielder by trade) was pressed into service there. I do certainly understand the manager's reasoning for selecting reserves: being between a rock and a hard place with a string of very tough league matches that could well determine our title chances, he prioritized what I think we can all agree is the more important prize, the Premier League, which means resting what's left of the first team. That being said, if you plan on resting your best players for a difficult run, why the hell would you play Cesc for 90 minutes? That made zero sense to me.

Granted, being that my birthday celebration went down on Saturday night-early Sunday morning, I watched this match through an alcoholic haze, so if any of my reporting is off, I'm blaming Svedka and Kronenbourg. But I don't think booze affects my judgment at all when I say that part one of the Sol Campbell experiment was a spectacular failure. For me, Sol looked slow and, at times, completely lost. He had a hand in all each of Stoke's goals, failing to mark or challenge for balls and in one case playing the eventual goalscorer onside. He did Fabianski no favors and the Polish 'keeper was taken advantage of. One can only hope that his form and fitness will improve, although that may be asking a lot, but at the same time I have really been hoping for news of this Chris Smallings transfer to go through since the match ended. But again, this is my judgment, so feel free to persuade me otherwise.

Arsenal seemed to keep the bulk of possession but lacked any inventiveness in the final third. We were able to even the score a few minutes before half-time when Cesc won a free kick outside of the left corner of the box. The captain cheekily passed the free kick sideways to Denilson, who struck a low shot from the edge of the box that zipped by the keeper, seeming to take a slight deflection (possibly two) along the way. 1-1 at the half gave me a bit of hope.

In the second half we saw more of the same, Arsenal keeping possession but being completely unable to do any real damage in attack. But we became vulnerable to the counterattack, and Stoke took full advantage. The counterattack, which had once upon a time been the strength of the great Arsenal sides of the last decade, had again been the bane of the current side. Sidibe took possession of the ball and raced up the left side (I still have no idea where Traore was at the time; possibly buying a hot dog), leaving a disinterested Denilson to seemingly half-heartedly chase after him without so much as a challenge to man or ball. It reminds me, on second-viewing, of Silvestre just giving up against Drogba in the FA Cup semifinal last season. The apparent lack of effort was appalling.

And this came after Arsene had made three substitutions of regulars for Carlingarteners. Arshavin, Ramsey and Eduardo entered the fray, yet Arsenal could still get nothing going. To compound the travelling fans' dismay, Stoke scored a third and final goal not long after to secure the advancement and the Gunners' exit from the FA Cup.

That Arsene was forced to remove Walcott tells you all you need to know about his performance. I haven't been happy with Theo for some time, for a variety of reasons, which I'll list here: 1) While he can't necessarily be blamed for it, he's constantly bloody injured. I'm shocked he lasted as long in this match as he did. Diaby has had much the same problem in the past, but spent the entire summer working out to reduce these risks, and he's been largely rewarded for this. 2) Related to #1, Theo seems to place far more importance on his role in the England squad than he does his place in the Arsenal side, so for me, his priorities are out of whack. While his dedication is a boon for Capello, it does Arsene Wenger no good at all and he's often left with an injured player that we must pay to sit in the treatment room. 3) There has been little to no improvement in Theo's all-around game since his arrival at Arsenal in 2006. It's been four years and he still makes the same mental mistakes he made as a boy. His inadequate skill level, to me, makes him a victim of his own gifts; his blistering pace has for many years been enough to cover for his technical failings, and at Southampton that made his name. but it's not good enough at the top level, and it's time he stopped trying to dribble directly at defenders and learned how to better use technique to help him.

If anyone thinks I'm being especially harsh on Theo, I suppose it's because the English press fawn all over him and lose no time praising him, and he faces no criticism for his rather more consistent failings, which may be part of the problem. I'd have much more respect for him personally if he bitched less about not being "rewarded" with a central striker role and instead pulled up his socks and went about working to improve his game and grow as a footballer. I desperately want him to achieve and earn the #14 shirt so long worn by Arsenal's greatest player ever, Mssr. Henry. But there has been little sign of it this season, unfortunately. Theo of course wasn't helped in this match by the ineptitude of Carlos Vela, who seems to waste each chance he gets.

Basically, there were very few positives to take from this match, apart from a stalwart performance by Craig Eastmond in midfield, who really seems to be coming along as a player. More to come please. Fabianski's performance was a bit iffy, although it's hard to blame him for the goals that were scored when he was so frequently left exposed at the back by Campbell and the woeful Traore. Odd that Armand began filling in for Clichy and Gibbs so well, but has seemed to completely regressed. It's unfortunate, for him and for us.

So on the plus side, we're still right in the thick of the league title challenge, although no longer top as United played a league match against Hull on the weekend, which is always good for three points. But we have a match in hand against them. Hopefully we'll be back top after Wed. when we travel to take on Aston Villa. Hope to see you at Nevada's, and if you want to buy me a birthday beer, I'll certainly not refuse ; )

Enjoy the fine English weather we're having in New York, and, as always, you stay classy, mon Arsamis.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Preview: Arsenal Come Back Up Where We Belong

Good morning, and a hearty TOP O' THE LEAGUE to you all. It feels like it's been forever since we've been able to say that, far too long actually. As is ever the case with Arsenal, we didn't take the easy way, and with the upcoming fixture list it will be plenty difficult to maintain. But the belief is there, and based on the manner in which we took our place at the top, rightly so.

Following Chelsea's 7-2 demolition of a Sunderland team as decimated by injuries as Arsenal, we had a chance to assume first place, but only if we managed to win by 2. Considering we had won by a 2-0 scoreline at the Reebok three days earlier, the prospects were good for us coming into the home match against the same Wandertrotters.

From the opening whistle, the play went Bolton's way. Their midfield closed down our passing and didn't allow us an inch of space, and they pressed their advantage in possession into sustained attacks. A few minutes in, they were able to score due to another occasion of nightmarish defending by Arsenal. Diaby headed their ball into the box directly into the air, Clichy (in his first start since October) booted it right back up again, Davies got his head on it and the ball fell to an unmarked Gary Cahill (Bolton defender and somehow their top scorer), whose dribbler went right by Almunia and gave the visitors the lead. I'd like to say this sort of thing was uncommon for us, but sad to say it has become almost the norm.

Okay, 0-1 down, not the end of the world, and with us creating a few chances (including a nice one for Cesc, who should've done better) we could certainly score three on this day. From a Bolton corner, these optimistic thoughts were soon banished by Denilson, who decided the best way to keep his man from scoring was to trip him in the box. It was a clear penalty and I can still not see how our Brazilian thought he would get away with that, but referee Mark Wiley pointed to the spot. Almunia (who had just made a nice save off a Bolton free kick) guessed right and dove to his left, but didn't appear to commit, using alligator-arms instead of reaching out to block it. Taylor's shot went by him, and we were shockingly down 0-2 and decidedly on the back foot. Belief was rather hard to come by, and faith that we would win by 2 and go top was nonexistant, based on the way we were being out worked and outclassed. Outclassed by Bolton. I'll pause for a moment to allow that to sink in.

It seemed that this eventually served as enough of a kick in the pants for our boys to start playing. Cesc slalomed to the edge of the box, and instead of taking his shot, he played Eduardo in one-on-one with a perfect, deft pass. Eduardo, whose form in the last few months has been nothing short of ghastly, took a weak chance and his shot went right into the arms of Jaaskelainen, much to the Captain's chagrin. Not much more to say about it, but at least we had begun to attack Bolton in earnest. A free kick into the box was headed by Davies and beat his own keeper but just ricocheted off the bar and out. Lady Luck was doing her best to hide from us, inspite of our redoubled efforts... but just before the stroke of halftime, she gave us a long look, as Rosicky took a ball on the righthand edge of the box and struck a beautiful scorcher just inside Jaaskelainen's near post. The Bolton 'keeper seemed to be caught by surprise and was unable to make the save, and at 1-2, we were right back in it, and just before halftime. Cesc even got another loevly chance in before the break, a low shot that was saved again.

The atmosphere in Nevadas was amazing (especially for a Wednesday) over that last 10 minutes or so of the half, Arsenal charging forward and us cheering the boys on from 3,471 miles away (I looked it up) as though they were right in front of us. It was electric. I think that despite the scoreline, most of us were feeling optimistic about our chances in this match. As I expected, Bolton began the second half much more defensively, putting 10 men behind the ball, but we were unfazed. Our passing had a sharpness missing for much of the first 45 minutes and Arsenal seemed to be of one attacking mind.

Now comes the part where pantomime villain William Gallas ruthlessly cut down innocent midfielder Mark Davies, possibly using a scythe like the angel of death, and Arsenal picked up the ball and threw it into Bolton's net. Eeeeeeeexcept not really. Having reviewed the play over and over again since, this is how I view it: Arsenal were passing the ball patiently all over Bolton's half. Gallas tried a through-ball that was deflected back by Davies, and both players went for the ball, both met the ball, and it squirted away, while Gallas' foot managed to tread on Davies'. Arsenal played on, likely because we had been given no special treatment by Everton a couple of weeks ago in an even more obvious situation and had nearly been scored upon. Bolton allowed us to play into their box, and despite having a host of blue shirts in the box, Fabregas pushed by them with the ball and nutmegged Jaaskelainen to score the equalizer.

While I can understand the Bolton players' ire at play not being halted when Davies went down, but that ought to be directed at Wiley, not Arsenal. Another pretty obvious thing to do would be to play to the whistle. They could, and should, have prevented us from scoring in that moment with the number of players they had in the area, but they didn't. They laid off, and Cesc didn't, and he was rewarded. As for the foul itself, anyone still bleating about that either hasn't seen it or has only seen it through biased eyes. Owen Coyle has lost all respect I may have had for him when he referred to the incident as "akin to assault." That the Sky commenter went on about it like it was Martin Taylor on Eduardo was ridiculous, calling it a "terrible foul" was completely over the top. At one point, he said that Gallas was "taking his frustrations [at Kevin Davies winning headers] out on the little midfielder. Completely ridiculous. And saying that "Gallas doesn't even go for the ball, he goes straight for the ankle," just exposes him as either biased or inattentive.

It was also reactionary; if Davies had not gone off injured, not another word would have been wasted on it. And with talking heads still going on about it, I imagine fueled by xenophobia. Let's say it was Rio Ferdinand or John Terry in Willie G's shoes. Does anyone in their right mind believe that an English defender would be subjected to that nonsense over, at worst, a mis-timed tackle? Beyond that, the outrage displayed by Bolton players, as dirty a collection of shitkickers as you're likely to find in professional football (befitting a team largely constructed by Allardyce), is truly rich. My apologies to Mark Davies, who is a really neat little footballer who didn't deserve to be hurt, but his donkey teammates can go impale themselves. And that's all I'm saying on the subject, although I'll direct you to this article by Andy Townsend. Well-said, man.

At 2-2, the belief that we would win was with everyone. We had one point in our pocket but wanted the other two as well. And we didn't have to wait long; once play resumed, a Diaby cross off a break forced a corner kick. Cesc took the kick, and Davies beat Vermaelen to head it up, which was in turn headed by Diaby into the path of Vermaelen, who had used that moment to turn and create a bit of space in the box, and sent a delicious half-volley past Jaaskelainen. We had climbed back from 0-2 down to take a deserved (no matter what the press or talking heads say) lead. The breakneck pace of the match certainly favored us, and Bolton just looked beaten.

Cesc latched onto a long ball into the box, and was taken down by Jaaskelainen for ANOTHER obvious penalty, but this time it was Mark Wiley who waved play on. It was a carbon copy of the first penalty that Cesc was denied on Sunday... but I suppose we're used to that now. As the match wore on, we continued to possess, attack and defend above Bolton's level, until we broke through again. Denilson strode forward and took the ball from a falling Fabregas, dished to Eduardo, who went right to Arshavin, and Dr. Drei played a deflected one-two with Eddie before striking home beyond Jaaskelainen for our fourth. Interestingly, it was the first Arsenal goal I can remember for which Andrei didn't perform his patented "hush" celebration. Not that it mattered; we had gone top of the league on goals scored over Chelsea.

We weren't quite done, either. Substitute Carlos Vela took a ball cleared from our box up the left side and stroked a pass upfield for Arshavin, who smoothly beat two defenders to bring himself to the box with one man and the keeper left. What he should have done was slip a ball to the advancing Theo Walcott on his right, who'd have been clear on goal. What he did was dither in the box before his weak effort was saved by the 'keeper. Theo looked aggravated, and I don't blame him.

That was indeed how it ended, a 4-2, come-from-behind win to take us top of the table, past Chelsea on goals. The chavs do have a match-in-hand, but it feels damn good to go top for the time-being. Let the whingers whinge, let the media cry, we'll trade in our white hats for the black of bad guys. And yes, that rhymed, but I think it's a valid point. As Michael of Arsenal Station wrote:

We’re at our best when we’re the “bad guys.” Almost all of Wenger’s title-winning teams have had that kind of characterization for one reason or another. Wenger has always tried to cultivate team spirit and cohesiveness through the “Us against the World” mentality… and the press are the ones that make it possible.

And I can't but agree with that. It's dead-on. Let's hope this result has gone a long way to instilling that belief in the squad's abilities and strengthened the bonds in the team. It's going to be a rough stretch of fixtures coming up, and we're going to need all hands on deck.

No league matches for us this weekend, as it's Round 4 of the FA Cup. Speculation is that Arsene will rest a number of our starters and go with mostly Carling Kids for the tie with Stoke at the Brittania. I know it won't be popular, and Arsene leaves him open for every mouth-breathing pundit to criticize him for "disgracing the competition." But I can't fault him. We'd all love to win the FA Cup, but for me, the league takes precedence. If we lose any more players (having just lost Diaby to injury Wed. and Fran Merida on Sunday), a title challenge would be severely compromised. We'd all love a nice dessert, but it's hardly worthwhile if it's the only meal you get.

So hopefully our kids can do the business on Sunday. Stoke are already making rumblings about "roughing up" the Arsenal; surely there's no union of shitkicking football clubs out there that would require this, is there? Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me, but I hope our boys continue to give as good as they get... it seemed to work against the Wandertrotters.

No time to make predictions, as the post is going up late enough today as it is. I may or may not make it in to Nevadas on Sunday, being that it's an 8:30am match on the morning following my birthday festivities, so the odds are balanced on a razor's edge as it is. In any case, I hope you can all make it out and sing up the mighty Arsenal. We may be far away, but we NYC Gooners can make ourselves heard and felt, so let's live up to that.

And as always, you stay classy, my brothers and sisters in Arsenal...

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Roundup: Bolton Don't Get Our Best, But We Get The Best Of Bolton

Hello again, mon Arsamis, welcome back after a long weekend (at least for those of you reading in America). As it turned out, it was a nice weekend for the football, and while not all the results could obviously go my way, I can't help but feel positive at the way things shook out.

Arsenal visited Bolton for the first of a home-and-away set with the Wanderers/Trotters/Wandertrotters, with new manager Owen Coyle in charge for the first time. Never an easy task, especially with points as crucial as they are, and with Chelsea and United breezing to three more points apiece. One would have to assume that Bolton would come out and perhaps try to play a little more football considering the way Coyle's Burnley side really took it to us at Turf Moor a few weeks back. Unfortunately, it looked as though even a new manager can't teach an old dirty bastard new tricks.

Bolton from the start showed that theirs is a lineup that was assembled largely to ensure that they would kick opponents as often as they would the ball, so from that perspective, not much had changed. If anything, they played their game with more ferocity than a relegation-threatened side would be expected to, although I put that down mostly to players attempting to impress the new man in charge. Interestingly, and not coincidentally I might add, most of the rough treatment was reserved for Cesc Fabregas. This would probably be the case whether it was Coyle or Gary Megson in charge (especially seeing as Kevin Davies openly admitted that he encouraged Jlloyd Samuel to kick Walcott prior to a match last season), but one has to wonder if it's a case of the manager turning a blind eye or actively instructing his squad to do so. If it's the former, it's irresponsible and tacitly encouraging dangerous behavior; if it's the latter, it's reprehensible and has no place in the sport. Commentors (such as the team on Sunday's match) love to point out that Arsenal have had a rough time taking points from the Reebok in the past because we "don't like the physical side" of the game, which is utter bullshit. It's just that we're a football club not a pack of shitkickers, and it's very difficult to play the game when your opponent is as focused on breaking your ankle as he is on winning the ball.

We were extremely lucky when Klasnic was ruled offside as he put a ball past Almunia in the opening minutes, but just as unlucky to be denied clear penalties (and Bolton lucky to keep eleven men on the pitch) in the first half. Cesc was quite obviously tripped in the box by Jaaskelainen, who didn't even touch the ball, which is as stonewall a penalty as you're likely to see. A bit later, El Capitan Catalan Fantastico appeared to be tripped in the box, after which the Thug-Of-The-Week Taylor decided to put his knee on the back of the prone Fabregas' neck, kick him in the head a few times as he tried to get up, and then pull his hair like a little nancy girl. What kind of "hard-man" pulls hair? Seriously! I was far less outraged at the lack of a penalty call than by the lack of action taken by referee Phil Dowd on Taylor. What he did was completely out of order and has no place in football, even for a "physical" (read: untalented) side like Bolton.

The breakthrough finally came after Diaby slalomed to the box and his pass saw some neat interplay between Eduardo and Fabregas, the captain neatly finishing across Jaaskelainen into the bottom-left corner. Bolton had a few chances in the first half themselves, plenty of them created by another nightmare game from Armand Traore, who seems to have regressed during his spell deputizing at left back. Youngster Craig Eastmond in his first Premier League start in the Song role, looked capable enough in breaking up attacks, but when pressed developed an alarming tendency to give the ball to the opposition. In spite of this (and with a few near misses for Arshavin and Cesc), at halftime Arsenal held a 1-0 lead over the hosts.

The second half saw a few changes, Arsene taking off the ineffective Eastmond and bringing on Fran Merida (possibly in response to his call for more first-team time) and shifting Diaby back into the holding role. Merida did not disappoint, having probably his best appearance for the Arsenal first team outside of the Carling Cup. the youngster also ended up securing the points when he finished off a deflected Eduardo cross neatly to make it 2-0, which is how it finished. Bolton had quite a few chances and forced a still skittish Almunia into a number of saves, and on a couple of occasions really were let down by their finishing and composure, although at least they did less obvious fouling-with-intent-to-injure. Luckily they seemed to be able to sustain attacks a bit better when actually playing football, which would bode well for the future of the club as an actual footballing side.

Arsenal were not at their best on Sunday, but were able to grind out a crucial win that will keep us very much in the title race, just three points back of leaders Chelsea. A win in the home leg against Bolton would put us top of the table for the first time, I believe, since our 6-1 win over Everton on Match Day One: The Quickening. Anything but three points on Wednesday would have to be viewed as a bit of a failure, but when you're in the thick of a title challenge, every match, every point, is critical.

I've got nothing in the way of a preview, seeing as we're playing exactly the same team. The only difference is the return of Denilson from injury. Apparently Theo is also well enough to play again, but until he puts in a run of 10+ matches without another injury, I find it hard to count him as a member of the squad. Apparently he's got "dodgy shoulders," which would be one thing, but he constantly seems to pick up knocks to his legs, so I fail to see the relation between the two. It's not exactly as though you can compensate for your shoulders by using your legs, is it? Theo, time to step up and prove you can take the "physical nature of the English game." Apart from that, we're looking at the same squad, although I would expect Gael Clichy to start rather than come on as a second half sub, and Denilson will likely play the holding midfield role. I'd like to see Fabianski get a shot in goal, but I'm not holding my breath on that.

I'll have more on Friday for the Weekend Preview. Fingers crossed we'll be top of the league by then. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

Until then my brothers and sisters in Arsenal, you stay classy.

- B, a Gooner.

Weekend Preview: Sol's Back, Philippe's Out & Cesc Is Still The Man

Whatup playas? We're on the eve of a big week for the football, plenty of matches important to the title race, which is as close at this point in the season as any in recent memory. Lot's to talk about from an Arsenal standpoint, so I'll not dick around but just dive right in.

First, the return of the prodigal son Sol Campbell. I discussed my feelings on the signing in detail on Wednesday's post, so I'll try not to repeat myself. I'm inclined to look on this as favorable. No, it's not a big signing, Sol is no longer in his prime; we saw his prime, and he was dynamite (nsfw). But frankly, was anyone expecting Arsene to splash the cash on a backup central defender? For the role which I anticipate Sol to play, he should fit the bill.

His experience includes winning plenty of silverware with us, as well as the FA Cup with pompey just two seasons ago, and Sol himself mentioned "dragging us over the line," the type of calm, Been-Here-Before attitude that seemed missing in our failed title bid in 2007-08. Much has been made about his fitness after he played in the reserves for just 46 minutes, but it was his first live match in ages. He has been training with the Arsenal squad for about three months however, and if there is a manager who knows about players' physical fitness, it's Arsene Wenger.

For me, what it boils down to is what you want more: big signings, or Arsene Wenger as manager. The reality is, the manager is frugal (to put it mildly) about transfers in general, and we've all heard him many times talk about not wanting to make signings to "kill" the younger players. So from a Wenger standpoint, this is an ideal signing. Cheap (free), short-term, older player (who won't kill/murder/slaughter/beat to death any younger players, presumably), experienced. Plus, we all know Sol is a big fucker as well; I almost hope he gets into the Bolton match and Kevin Davies tries throwing one of those sneaky little elbows on him, but I digress. My point is, Arsene has taken us from being a club in decline when he started to being one of the top clubs in England and in Europe, as well as making sure that the club will be in fantastic financial shape for the future, so you know he cares about the club. Which is more than one can say for Sir Spendalot in Manchester.

As I mentioned above, it is Bolton that we play this weekend, a Sunday match with kickoff at 4pm in London and 11am in New York; and then we play them again on Wed., as if they won't kick us enough on Sunday. But there are plenty of matches this weekend (and week), especially due to the cancellations last week due to snow. Let's have a look at my generally incorrect prognostications:

Stoke City v Liverpool
Liverpool are not only bad, but boring. This will be compounded by playing at Stoke, who are notoriously stingy, especially at home, and who don't do much offensively. An early match not worth getting up for.
Prediction: Stoke 1-1 Scousers

Chelsea v Sunderland
This could be a decent match... Chelsea have seen their form dip a bit, and are still without Drogba, Essien and Kalou who haven't yet been shot at in Africa. Sunderland went into Old Trafford earlier in the season and drew with United but really should have won. They're a tough, physical team, so Chelsea should have their hands full.
Prediction: Chavs 1-0 Sunderland

Man Utd v Burnley
United get their revenge since A) this time they're at Old Trafford, and B) Burnley have just been abandoned by their manager, which will have done wonders for their collective confidence. This is gonna be messy.
Prediction: Utd 3-0 Burnley

Portsmouth v Birmingham
Pompey are a big damned mess both on the pitch and off, and it's hard to tell in which area they're worse-off. They can't win, and their financials are so bad they're reportedly looking to loan out David James to be relieved of his salary. Brum have been better at home than on the road, but should have no problem walking into Fratton Park and taking the points.
Prediction: Pompey 0-2 Birmingham

Tottenham v Hull City
Sp*rs ought to walk through this one, but then, according to their supporters, they should be playing in Europe every year, so take it with copious amounts of salt. But then, Hull are god-awful as well.
Prediction: Sp*rs 2-1 Hull

Wolves v Wigan
They shouldn't even play this match, just award them each a point and a pat on the head like the kid who finishes last in kindergarten.
Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Wigan

Everton v Man City
Definitely intriguing. Everton have got to be feeling better after a hard-fought draw at the Emirates, and City finally have an opponent who can play a bit (on their good days). Should be worth watching.
Prediction: Everton 2-2 Manciti

Aston Villa v West Ham
Hammers just can't buy luck, can they? Needing points badly, and they have to play at Villa, who are just a better team. Good news may be on the horizon though, as it appears that some Asian big-shot is about to buy the team and saddle the club with debt. Wait, that's not good news, is it... Forget I said anything. Who knows, maybe Gianfranco Zola will have a little transfer kitty to blow on more of his cumpari.
Prediction: Villa 2-0 Hammers

Blackburn v Fulham
Two defensive-minded teams square off, one managed by a fat walrus-looking cunt, the other managed by a grammar school teacher with a speech impediment. Something's got to give.
Prediction: Rovers 1-1 Fool-ham

Liverpool v Tottenham
Liverpool get their chance at revenge for a loss to Sp*rs on Match Day One: The Quickening. Unfortunately, they're still Liverpool. Oh yeah, and that two-man team thing is working really well.
Prediction: Scousers 1-2 Spuds

Man Utd v Hull City
United get another fairly cake match at Old Trafford. Hull's main weapon is playing like a bunch of dirty bastards, but since they're in Manchester I think we can expect them to dial that down and still have 2 or more players sent off.
United 2-0 Hull

So we have to play Bolton under new manager Owen Coyle, who defected from Burnley, which will be odd enough as they might actually try to play a bit of football. Not only that, they'll still be dirty and will certainly be working their socks off to impress the new boss, making them doubly dangerous. I urge my fellow Gooners, do NOT go into this match expecting a win. It will take all of our skill, determination and physical well-being to get a result at the Reebok, and lest we forget Coyle was with Burnley when they held us to a disappointing draw at Turf Moor a few weeks back. The positive news for Arsenal is that Cesc is back and raring to go, and we will need him to be sharp from the first whistle, which may be a difficult task. Also, Gael Clichy (remember him?) "may" be available having returned to training after a lengthy injury layoff. I wouldn't expect him to start, but it's encouraging all the same.

Conversely, some more recent injury woes (and we've had so few of them this season) are forcing Arsene's hand a bit in team selection. Denilson's mysterious collapse remains, well, mysterious, and according to Arsene he's out with a muscle problem. I've had plenty of muscle problems in my life, but none of them caused me to drop to the ground holding my side. Watching Denilson on Saturday, I half-expected an alien to burst out of his chest and perform a little of the old soft-shoe. So with Song still on rain-blessing duties, it would appear that Diaby will be forced into the holding role. I have more faith in Diaby now than I did, and he did volunteer for the job, but he will need to fight his more natural inclination to go forward and perform the less flashy tasks that Song does so well. We'll need to see how he does. That also means we'll see either Aaron Ramsey or Tomas Rosicky slotted in with Cesc in midfield. I think we're more creative with Tomas, but 1) he is working his way back from injury; 2) Ramsey seems a bit stronger and more durable; and 3) Bolton play like a bunch of god-damned gorillas. If I were in Arsene's shoes, I'd start Rambo (Rimbaud, for our French readers) and try to preserve Tommy. He'll still be available as a sub, anyway.

I won't try to preview our return match at the Emirates yet, as team news will no doubt be different after Sunday. Cross your fingers that our boys can come through unscathed and with a vital three points.

Finally, I'm reprinting a message from Kurtis to the NYC Arsenal Supporters asking for our help in aiding the victims of the earthquake disaster because it bears repeating:

The earthquakes that have shaken the country of Haiti have caused death and destruction on a massive scale. The need is dire for medical supplies, food, and water. I wanted to provide each of you the opportunity to donate your dollars in collaboration with other Arsenal America branches to help those in need.

Our fellow Gooners in San Francisco in Baltimore are leading the way right now with a charity footie match. All of their proceeds gathered will go to the Haitian Relief Fund via The Red Cross.

I wanted to follow in their lead by pooling together our Gooners in NYC to offer our support.

I will actually be giving any donations we get to this organization that gives 100% of the donations to the relief effort in Haiti.


Remember as we are freely drinking as many pints as we can enjoy, there are people in Haiti who are not even able to eat or clean themselves. If that isn't enough, remember there are fellow Gooners with family there, including one of our fellow NYC Gooners. So please dig in your bank accounts, pockets and couch cushions and help out on Sunday.



I won't be at Nevada's personally on Sunday, but I have donated myself and I urge any of you that are to give as generously as your wallet allows. People are suffering, and we can certainly spare the cost of a pint or two to aid those who are desperately in need. It's a small price to pay, and every little bit could help to save lives. Thank you all.

That's it for now, brothers and sisters in Arsenal. Keep the faith and, as always, you stay classy.

- B, a Gooner.

Mid-Week Special: Sol Is Back At The Back

Not so breaking news anymore, as I'm sure all of you read about it yesterday, but the long-rumored move to bring back Sol Campbell to Arsenal came to fruition yesterday, with big man signing a short-term deal through the end of this season, potentially re-signing in the summer. Sol was a legend for us in his first go around, a captain at Sp*rs abandoning the neighbors to sign for Arsenal on a Bosman free transfer in 2001. He went on to win the Double with us, was part of the Invincibles of 2003-2004, and as I'm sure we all remember, headed in our only goal while we were down to 10 men against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.

There have been mixed reactions to the move, understandably so. When he did leave Arsenal, it was a bit sketchy. He got Arsenal to cancel his contract under the assumption that he was going to play abroad, I believe it was in Turkey. Then he turned around and signed for Portsmouth. Obviously a player gets a nice fat signing-on fee in such situations, while we got a great big bag of fuck all. So it wasn't the nicest nice guy thing in the world to do. Still, since his departure we haven't had that dominant central defender that has been the lynchpin on Arsenal defenses since Tony Adams (though there were plenty before him as well), and Kolo Toure was never quite the same afterward. That's not to say that we can expect him to walk into our squad at age 35 and be the same player he once was.

This, I believe, is the main reason that some Arsenal supporters are lukewarm about the signing, that they don't believe Sol still has it; that, and some people just want us to spend 20 million pounds on a name, but that's just a pipe dream. The reason, I believe, that Arsene chose to sign Sol rather than a younger player is that he still believes Johan Djourou can and will be the long-term answer at the back. He may be out for most of this season injured, but I do like Djourou and think he's a heck of a player. Sol won't be around long enough, one would have to think, to "stunt his growth."

Sol will have to shake off the rust pretty quickly. He was unsigned by Pompey at the beginning of this season and actually signed for League Two outfit Knotts County Berry Farm. Not a bad gig for a player looking to walk off into the sunset earning a comfortable living and playing not the greatest level of football. But he had barely played two matches when he demanded to leave; the whole situation was a bit sketchy to be honest, and Knotts County obviously weren't pleased, but consented to his release. It only affects us in that he was able to sign with us, but despite training with our squad for several months, last night's reserve match at Upton Park against the Hammers' kids (which our boys won 4-2, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas-Rodham-Clinton with a hat trick) was big Sol's first match in 8 months' time.

Sol seemed excited to be back in the Arsenal fold (and who wouldn't be, amiright?), saying:

There are still a few technicalities to iron out, but I have signed for Arsenal until the end of the season, and it's fantastic, great, marvellous. The old enthusiasm is back. I've got to tell you it seems as though I have never been away. I'm ecstatic really to be back at Arsenal, and I have worked bloody hard to get there.

Arsene Wenger has been an inspiration. He has watched me closely after letting me train at Arsenal for nearly two months now. He's not stupid - he wouldn't have taken me back if he didn't like what he has seen, and I have worked and worked.

And that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? For me, I trust Arsene's judgment on players, even defenders, so I'm a bit more optimistic that this will work out for Arenal's benefit. If you're skeptical, it's no judgment on you; I was feeling the exact same way when the move was first talked up. Still, Sol is a legend, he's back with us, and even his age, for a central defender, isn't the worst thing in the world. I'll happily be singing his song when he's introduced once again.

What this means for our other moves is unclear. Arsene was quoted in the press yesterday as being unwilling to sell anyone at this time, but with Sol's arrival, that could change things. Philippe Senderos has been wanting away for months, has clearly lost the manager's confidence, and if he wants a place in Switzerland's World Cup squad, will need regular first-team football somewhere, so I feel he should be allowed to move on. As exasperating as Swiss Tony has been at times, I've long felt he was hard done by. Some of our best, most miserly defenses in the last few years have featured Senderos. He's certainly a confidence player: when things go well, there's absolutely nothing to fear, but when he made a mistake and the fans got on him a bit, you could almost guarantee more mistakes would follow. If he stays, I do hope he gets a bit of time here and there, but if he goes, I do wish him the best.

Now that Mr. Campbell has returned, I'm a little more comfortable with our center back situation. We've been playing Gallas and Vermaelen almost exclusively in the middle of the defense, and everyone needs a rest now and then, but with Silvestre (who doesn't inspire much confidence, oooohhh BABAYYYY) and Senderos (who doesn't have the manager's confidence) as the only available options, one can see why. Campbell brings a great deal of experience to the table, as well as more size and strength than any of our other defensive options, which is no bad thing. We won't know just how ready for the big time Sol is until he steps in, so I'll withhold judgment, but all told it's not a bad signing as far as backup defenders are concerned.

Since I didn't post a Roundup on Monday (apologies, but I have a job... stupid priorities), I didn't comment on the draw with Everton in a driving rainstorm, and I won't go too in-depth now. Suffice it to say that Everton, after being mauled by us on Match Day One: The Quickening, came out with some fire in their bellies. They didn't allow us the space to get our possession and passing game rolling, and the fact that a UFC referee seemed to be officiating didn't hurt them, Fellaini just roaming around looking for people to foul like a latter-day Chopper Harris or Vinnie Jones (or Peter Storey, for that matter). Still, they seemed to want it a bit more, and were rewarded for their efforts. They might very well have had all three points, but for an injury time equalizer from Tomas Rosicky, so our boys snatched a point at the death and nearly could have had another in the dying minutes as well. Luckily Andrei Arshavin woke up long enough to hassle the defenders late on. Let's try for 90 minutes of that next time, Dr. Drei.

I'll have more for us on Friday, hopefully. For now, let's just remember that Clichy is no longer the last of the Invincibles anymore.

Double, Double, Double, Sol Campbell has won the Double, And the Scum from the Lane, Have won fuck all again, And Sol Campbell has won the Double!

Stay classy, y'all.

Weekend Preview: Arsenal Legends On The Move & NO SNOW!!!

Hello again, mon Arsamis. We've come through a big week in which... well... nothing happened. Our home match with Bolton didn't go off as planned because approximately 78 snowflakes descended on London on Wednesday, causing mass confusion, hysteria, the breakdown of social order, and in several unconfirmed instances, cannibalism. Downing Street really needs to invest in a couple of bags of rock salt.

As such, we were unable to gain the three points needed to secure second place over United and position ourselves just one point behind Chelsea, which would be a massive feat in itself considering we were 11 points back of the blue bastards after they came into the Grove and metaphorically turned our boys over with a 3-0 victory. That isn't to say we've missed the opportunity altogether, we retain that match in hand, and it's still against Bolton, who have their new manager after poaching Owen Coyle from Burnley. I find it interesting that Bolton fans are calling Coyle a Bolton "legend," considering that he played for them a whopping 80 or so times. That'd be like calling Giovanni van Bronckhorst a Highbury legend, and that's just a slight against all true Highbury legends. Anyway, the match has yet to be rescheduled, but January 20th or some time in May are the likely destinations.

Speaking of Highbury legends, Paddy Vieira has finally put pen to paper on a contract with the arab pimps running Mancini City. Vieira is an Arsenal legend in every respect, and those of us who were watching in his prime won't soon forget the image of his tall figure making powerful runs and owning the midfield, or his clashes with Roy Keane, or him holding up the many trophies he won with Arsenal. As for Vieira the man, some of us will also recall him making noise about wanting a transfer on more than one occasion, once at least because United had "tapped him up," fancying him to partner with his arch-nemesis Keane in midfield. After he finally did move to Juve, in 2005, I think many of us felt that we'd sold him on too soon, but when we played them the following season in the Champions League in Italy, Vieira was basically a non-factor, including being victimized in the lead up to one of our all-time best European goals:

Obviously, since he can no longer seem to get into Mourinho's side at Inter, he's entitled to go where he can play regularly so he can get into the France team for the World Cup this summer, most certainly his last opportunity. So fair play to him. He's not going to Spurs, United or Chelsea. As much as we all hate City, who honestly cares? I doubt he still possesses the legs or lungs of his youth, and City are willing to pay him an exorbitant amount of money (rumored 150,000 GBP/week) for his services, so if Mancini is willing to play him every day in his midfield, why shouldn't he go? My bile remains for that piece of shit Adebayor, but I reckon Paddy will get a nice round of applause from the Arsenal faithful when the sky blues come to the Grove in April. Rightly so. As for me, I'll remember him for what he did for us, although I don't think I'll be able to sing his song anymore.

Arsenal may or may not take on Everton this weekend, and as of this writing, 4 matches for the weekend have already been postponed, in all parts of England. Should the match go ahead, the Everton team we see will have few changes from the one that our Gunners dismantled 6-1 at Goodison Park in August. Jolean Lescott has taken his creepy fucking harline and moved on to City of course, where his performances have earned as many boos as cheers, replaced by Sylvain Distin of the legendary Pompey back four. Additionally, America's all-time leading goalscorer may or not be available for selection after completing a loan move to join his national teammate, 'keeper Twitchy Tim Howard. David Moyes's side has been the model of inconsistancy, so it's no easy feat to predict which Everton side will show up. One would hope for the same layabouts that we demolished once this season already, but I have a feeling that the dour Scot Moyes won't allow such a result twice. Besides, we'll be without several of the players who contributed in that match, but with Aaron Ramsey in the picture, anything is possible. In any case, whatever team Arsene selects ought to have enough to get by Everton again, especially being at home, should the match be played (knock on wood).

I won't be making predictions because I have the sneaking suspicion that more postponements are forthcoming, because England deal with snow about as well as the states below the Mason-Dixon line do. Also, it's Friday and I don't feel like it.

Now, for what we're all very interested in, transfer talk. We have been linked with strikers various and sundry since Arsene made it known that we may be dipping into the transfer market. We've seen the names of Ruud van Nistlerooy, best known for missing a penalty against us and getting screamed at in his horsey face by Martin "Boom Boom" Keown:

Of course, that one was never going to happen. I can't see Arsene signing a striker in his mid-30's, no matter how cheap. Now defenders, that's another story. Le Boss has, worryingly, not ruled out signing up former Arsenal legend and Portsmouth and Notts Fucking County washout Sol Campbell to provide some cover for us in central defense. I say worryingly, because if god forbid Vermaelen or Gallas pick up a serious injury and we're left to choose between Silvestre and Campbell, we will be in serious trouble.

Campbell has been training with the Arsenal side since his Notts County contract was voided, and no one has attempted to sign him. This is a couple of months we're talking about here, and no noice about him out of anyone. Listen, if Arsene still thinks he can do it, then we've no choice but to agree because he's le Boss. And I'll always love Sol for all he did for us, but most of all for defecting from Spurs (see above). But if this move goes through and Senderos is sold, I'll feel much more worried than secure, and I think others will agree. And if we're hunting through the bargain bin of dented cans for defenders, you can bet there's no chance we'll be signing Edin Dzeko, more's the pity.

Finally, it has come to my attention that the Togolese team bus was attacked by gunfire, killing the driver and wounding four others. Miraculously, Adebayor escaped unharmed. I mention this story only because it goes to prove that no one in Togo can hit a fucking target. My condolences to the family of the deceased driver.

That's all for now. We'll all be hoping our match goes ahead as scheduled, and it's a 10am kickoff here in the Eastern time zone. I'll be monitoring the status, so if there's any change, either Kurt or I will send an email blast to members of the NYC Arsenal Supporters group on Facebook. Cross your fingers, clutch a lucky rabbit's foot, whatever it takes to get this game played. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

Oh, and stay classy.

- B, a Gooner.

London N5 Calling... It's Been A While

Sorry first of all for going AWOL, after the international break (which as expected was trouble for us with RVP’s injury) things always seemed to get in the way of writing a quality entry for the blog. Nevermind, none the less and all that jazz since I last blogged there have been a few firsts:

Away v Sunderland – Premier League (21st Nov ’09)

This is going to be a S**rs at home type of confession again...I didn’t go but had the chance. Sunderland is closer to Glasgow than London so you can see why this didn’t appeal. However I did already have tickets to another sporting event that was England v New Zealand at Twickenham, that’s rugby....it’s like NFL but it doesn’t stop every 10 seconds, the players don’t wear pads and it’s played by real men (here comes the abuse)

[Editor's note: Tough talk from a man who pees sitting down]

I did have really good seats anyway though as you can see! We lost, it happens and this is one of those games that thankfully passes you by. Avoiding the highlights was pretty easy as after a day on the beer at the rugby: my friends and I moved on to the pub where we drank till 1.30am, even though it closed at 11pm. Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose..all levels out in the end.

Home v Standard Liege – Champs League (24th Nov ’09)

So this was a strange first of a game, one of those times you don’t expect to happen to you....

I nearly got thrown out of our own stadium lol!

Let me paint a picture by showing you a picture. The picture below shows my seat for Liege, south end of stadium in the lower tier about 20 rows back where I normally end up. The white rails are the dividing line between home fans and the away fans. The people on the other side of the white rails are the away fans...I think you see where this is going now.

So, there I am with my mate Charlie to my right and Simon to my left. The Liege fans are pretty boisterous as the game starts and we’re told to sit down by the overzealous stewards the moment our arses leave our seats. I won’t give you some of the stupid excuses we had for why the Liege fans could stand and we had to sit, in short the away end seems to be a principality with it’s own law making body so they could basically do what they damn well liked.

This didn’t go down well with those around us, especially the scary looking shaven head bloke next to Simon who like me was shouting at the away fans then getting looks from stewards. We whistled a few shots past the Liege goal 1st half, the standard ‘oooooos’ came out until the away fans started doing it back....then I snapped. One girl and her bloke had been turning straight at us to send over their ‘banter’ so I stood up and lets just say shouted directly at them while leaning on the barrier.

The shortest, fattest little female steward waddles over and asks ‘what did you just say?’... How I managed to respond so quickly and clearly (and without swearing at her too) I don’t know but i managed to stay in the ground after pointing out i didn’t use abusive or racist language (I’m a football fan, not a bigot). Anyway, after calming a little, Charlie and I agreed that ‘when we score we have to go f***ing mental at this mob’... Super Sammy Nasri happily obliged. We turned to the away fans and did the necessary fist pumping with requisite smug looks on faces.

Then it happened...the 25 yard swerver left Denilson's boot and all I remember was the aforementioned girl looking at me directly with hands on mouth in despair as I nearly jumped over that white rail in utter delight. I was going to ask if any of the away fans saw us demolish them 7-0 back in the 93-94 Cup Winners Cup run...but I didn’t want to try and get thrown out again.

Home v Chelsea – Premier League (29th Nov ’09)

For this one just see last seasons 4-1 game....I know I’m lucky to see any games live, not just big ones like this, but when your team doesn’t even turn up at home and you’re in the stadium, it really hurts. You have to sit though it all and remember the bad to make the good times even sweeter. Let’s leave this one well alone...

Away v Liverpool – Premier League (13th Dec ’09)

I’m pretty lucky not only to be able to get to home games when I want, but also the odd away game (just got my West Ham away in the FA Cup tickets through the post!) but also to have a group of mates from school, university and work who share my love of The Arsenal too. This time Jon is going to take centre stage for a blog mention.

Jon has his moments of joy and moments of despair when it comes to game days, to be honest he has these on non game days too with football. Debate leading up to the Liverpool away game had not been should we watch it but where were we going to watch it. Jon will argue we didn’t go to the pub because he had been out the night before but when the mood is ‘glass half empty’ he likes to retreat to the sanctuary of my flat and satellite TV there lol. There is no other person who loves the club more that I know but sometimes everyone needs a safe place to watch the game...but he the pessimist in the world sometimes!

As for what happened...he happened...

Any Liverpool fan I know now open admits to hating the sight of him lol...

I was in the away end at West Ham for the FA Cup so next blog will be a proper account of that along with home game v Hull dressed as Santa Claus. Oh yes, Santa Claus.

I'd have been at the home game v Bolton as well as I finish this if it wasn't for the country falling apart due to five flakes of snow. Makes me proud to be English...

Keep the faith gooners, Arsene always knows - GB

Weekend Roundup: Gunners Show Character, United Crash Out

Hope everyone's feeling well and enjoying 2010 as it has been so far. I'm just now getting over a nasty flu that robbed me of New Years festivities. As my friend Matt informed me that the party I would have attended was chock full of dumb college chicks, I'm feeling sort of bitter. Yesterday removed the sting a bit, but not completely. Anyway, at least I'm not coughing up bits of lung anymore, so that's an improvement.

This weekend we entered the FA Cup's third round, the first in which Premiership teams participated, and there were some interesting matchups, none more so than two that were on hand yesterday, the early game between Manchester United and Leeds United, old Northern rivals who haven't played in 6 years, since Leeds were relegated from the Premiership on the way down to their current home in League One, in the aptly named Football League, and the other, a London derby between Premiership sides Arsenal and West Ham United. Both were fantastic matches, the results not completely predictable.

In the early match, Leeds traveled to Old Trafford to face the Red Devils, and while one would have to assume they would have preferred to have played at Elland Road, they seemed plenty at home in Manchester. Striker Jermaine Beckford took a long ball down, outworked his defender and hit a lovely slow roller past Kusczak for a first half lead for Leeds. Beckford made himself well-known on the day, outhustling and simply playing above the level of an admittedly diminished United back four. On the whole, Leeds just seemed to want it more, while United looked like they assumed to win just by showing up. Beckford's goal was the only one scored, despite close calls on both ends (United's woodwork was rattled several times and Beckford came within inches of a second, while Leeds escaped some close calls at their end as well). In the end, one would have to say the advancing side deserved to do so, while United have no one to blame for their early exit but themselves, no matter what Fergie has to say. By the way, things have reached laughable status when 5 minutes are added on and Fergie calls it rubbish. I know he's used to getting 7 minutes or more when behind, but the man could at least try to appear rational.

So that exciting result was already on the books by the time Arsenal hopped over to East London to take on West Ham at Upton Park. With the Gunners' injury woes and the number of fixtures at this time of year, Arsene decided to rotate the squad a bit, with youngsters Ramsey, Merida, Vela and Wilshere all getting starts alongside regulars Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Eduardo and Alex Song, playing his last match before jetting off to join the Cameroon squad for another fucking mid-year African tournament. Silvestre rounded out the back of the side. OHHHHHH BABAY!!!

Fabianski got the start in goal and was a busy man, despite a plodding pace from both sides int he first half. The Polish international looked quite good on the night I thought, bossing his box well and didn't look as skittish as I've become accustomed to seeing him... actually, he made some quite wonderful saves. Unfortunately, many of Arsenal's outfield players didn't look up for it. Passing wasn't terribly sharp and movement off the ball seemed like a chore. The players who did come to play, it must be said, looked solid, in particular Alex Song, who put in yet another outstanding shift in the defensive midfield role. I'm hopeful we'll be able to cope while he's away on international duty, although I'm at a loss for how Arsene will make up that loss given the holes in the side already through injury. I felt Eduardo looked solid up front and worked hard to create chances, although the bulk of our attack seemed to be crosses into the box from Sagna, never our greatest strength. West Ham had small difficulty clearing these away.

We didn't look much like threatening, although we were able to handle most of what the Hammers had to throw at us for the first half. But we were let down heading into halftime yet again when Gallas and perhaps Sagna appeared to play Diamanti onside, while everyone else hustled to keep the high line. Fabianski was left alone with the Hammers charging, and Diamanti placed the ball into the bottom right corner, despite Lukasz getting a touch to it. That seemed to embolden the home side, and they began the second half as they had ended the first, on the attack. Stanislas forced a nice save from Fabianski. West Ham looked like scoring a second, while Arsenal never got out of first gear.

It wasn't until Arsene brought on a pair of first-team regulars, Samir Nasri and the ever-impressive Abou Diaby, that the Gunners showed any signs of life. The two replaced the youngsters Fran Merida, who looked like a pub-teamer out there, lost and showing very little of the promise seen in his Carling Cup outings, and Jack Wilshere, who despite working very hard and making some nice attempts just never fully looked like making a major impact. Diaby's presence was exactly what I had seen as being missing from the side, a physical midfielder who could create something on his own, and at the very least open some channels for other players that had previously remained shut. With their addition, that's exactly what happened.

For about 70 minutes, this was a lethargic and uninspired effort from Arsenal, and West Ham deserved their lead. But then a few things changed. Diaby and Nasri entered and introduced a sustained attacking threat. Suddenly fewer balls were given directly back to the opposition, the urgency returned to our play. Diaby and then Song were denied by Green, but at least there was some life in the side. Green sustained a blow on that passage of play, which may have affected his performance thereafter, but he soldiered on for the Hammers in goal. Then finally, the breakthrough. Song to Vela, who held the ball well in the box, and falling down managed to knock it forward to the charging Ramsey, who had but a moment with his left foot, and...

The equalizer past Green was a thing of beauty, and I think we all jumped for joy to see Ramsey rush over to celebrate the stunner with the Arsenal supporters, who were equally elated. From disaster, hope had been restored, and the fight was on. If we could hold on, we would replay back at the Emirates. If we could get another in this one and kill it off, all the better. Kurt had remarked to me that if we could just get one, that momentum could get us forward and allow us another. He was proved prophetic moments later as Song sent it to Vela on the left wing who crossed to Eduardo...

A stunning header past Green and into the top left corner. Arsenal had taken the lead and Eduardo, who seems now to be regaining the form he's been so short of for much of this season, could celebrate what would turn out to be the late winner. Not a match that Gooners will soon forget due to the late dramatics needed to secure the win, and one which Hammer supporters will do their best to get over as they look to a tough relegation fight still ahead of them.

A quick aside, the extracurriculars following the match at Nevadas never needed to happen. Perhaps a person can take umbrage at the use of a word, but in context and coming from the party that it did, anything aggressive is just being a knucklehead (I'm being kind). I don't wish any ill-will towards the West Ham supporters, and I generally enjoy their banter... at least they genuinely support their club, which is more than I can say for the sorry excuses that Chelsea and Liverpool (and a chunk of the United support) count as fans. But this isn't the 80's, nor is it Green Street Hooligans. We're all there to cheer our team and wind up the opposition, but at the end of the day, it's all in good fun. I'm glad it went no further than it did and that Kieran handled the situation quickly and without much of an incident. But unless you can handle yourself in a civil way, with or without alcohol, Nevada's isn't the place.

So United crash out in their first attempt at the FA Cup, while Arsenal advance, and Reading forces a replay with Liverpool. The rest of the draw went like so...

Chelsea 5-0 Watford
Sheff Utd 1-1 QPR
Tranmere Rovers 0-1 Wolves (anyone else confused as to why so many teams call themselves Rovers? Are they all Pikeys? Or are these remnants from 1800s barnstorming days, in which case, maybe it's time to update? Just saying.)
Villa 3-1 Blackburn
Blackpool 1-2 Ipswich Town
Bolton 4-0 Lincoln City
Everton 3-1 Carlisle
Fool-ham 1-0 Swindon
Huddersfield 0-2 West Sandwich Albion
Leicester 2-1 Swansea City
Boro 0-1 Man City
Millwall 1-1 Derby
Milton-Keynes/Wimbledon Hybrid 1-2 Burnley
Nottingham Forest 0-0 Birmingham
Plymouth 0-0 Newcastle
Preston NE 7-0 Colchester (why the hell couldn't we have played them?!)
Scunthorpe 1-0 Barnsley
Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1-0 Luton Town
Stoke 3-1 York
Sunderland 3-0 Barrow
Torquay 0-1 Brighton
Tottenham 4-0 Peterborough
Wigan 4-1 Hull

The drawn matches will be replayed, this time at the visitors' ground. Arsenal's opponents in the next round will be Stoke City away, so we'll have drawn consecutive Premiership opponents to start the 2010 FA Cup. Well, no one said it would be easy.

On Wednesday (and that's a London Wednesday, not a Sheffield Wednesday, chuckle chuckle guffaw), Arsenal will finally play that all-important match-in-hand against Bolton, who recently sacked manager Gary Megson. The name currently being bandied about is Burnley manager Owen Coyle, which would be bad news for the Clarets, and as Coyle has proven himself to be a capable manager, it would certainly be preferable for Arsenal to play them with an interim manager in place, so hopefully those negotiations (if they have reaached that stage) will be a bit protracted. Bolton aren't a top-half side, but they're hardly the worst in the league. Still, Arsenal should have enough to take all three points in this one, and we do desperately need those points for our title challenge. Win, and we're in second above United and just a point back of Chelsea. Anything less than that and we'll have dug ourselves another hole to try and crawl back out of, without that game-in-hand cushion on which to rely.

That's all I've got for now. Yes, we're in the transfer window, but I just don't see the sense getting all whipped up for new signings when we're not terribly likely to do more than a small bit of business. Anyone who had Edin Dzeko on their Christmas list can cross that name right off; I think we all know Arsene won't go breaking the bank, however dire the need may be. I'll tell you what... in the Comments section, you tell me who you think we ought to sign, whatever the position, and I'll tell you what I think the likelihood is that we'll sign that player, 1/10 being Not Gonna Happen and 10/10 being Holy Shit, He's Holding Up a Shirt at Highbury House Right Now! While my pick 'ems aren't always dead-on, I'm a pretty good read when it comes to Arsene, if I do say so. Let's make this interesting.

And as always, until next time, you stay classy Gooners and sisters.