Character, Determination, & Injuries

Apologies this is so late in the day... I had this just about finished around noon, but the blog was broken. Without further ado, here's Bloggy McBloggerson.

There's one thing you can say as a fan of this Arsenal team, and that is that no matter what, at least we'll look good and move the football. Unless we're playing Barcelona.

The dominance shown in the first hour by the Catalunian side on our home pitch was staggering. They controlled the possession (and mostly in our half, as well) such that we looked amateurish by comparison. When we did win the ball, we gave it right back, through a combination of our own lack of sharpness and poor decision making, and most importantly due to the exceptional pressing, counterattacking play by Barcelona. They passed with greater skill and vision than I can remember seeing from one of our opponents. I understand that our defense can look porous at the best of times, but Barcelona got in a rhythm where they were just firing shots at our goal and it was all our boys could do to throw themselves in front of shots, and we're actually lucky to not have accidentally conceded a handball in the box. Not only that, but Almunia had the greatest 45 minutes of his career, stopping everything that came within his reach. We were also helped by some very poor first half finishing, it has to be said, by Ibrahimovic. The man was missing some absolute sitters. Our only discernible chance came on a break when Nasri let go a curler from the left side of the box that went just wide. 0-0 was a very lucky halftime score, despite having to substitute Arshavin and Gallas due to injuries (both now face 3 weeks out). It could very well have been 5 or 6 to nil. But the major negative was the booking of Cesc, which would mean he would miss the second leg. A yellow card on that tackle was more than a little harsh, and while I recognize that UEFA refs are more likely to dish out cards, Barca made sure to make the most of it by diving like Cristiano Ronaldo circa 2006.

With all of that said, the appearance of Eboue seemed to do us some good, as his directness, pace and, lets face it, effort in comparison to Arshavin caused some problems for Barcelona. This, however, would not prevent Barca from taking some of the chances they could not in the first half. Ibrahimovic continued his attacking, but this time remembered how to finish (note to self: do not slag off Zlatan Ibrahimovic as useless at halftime). He was assisted by the appearance of Bad Almunia, who found himself well off his line in the first couple of minutes after the break and could only watch as Ibrahimovic chipped him for the first goal. And this lead was compounded when the Swiss simply skinned our defense yet again, finishing near post, as Almunia could do nothing but watch. All optimism was drained from me, and it was all I could do to keep singing in the pub, although a lot of that was just to take the piss out of the Barca supporters. Here's a hint: "Bee Bee Baa Baa Bee Baa Barca!" doesn't make sense in English OR Spanish.

Then, while Barca seemed to relax, confident in their dominance and in their two goal advantage, a turning point arrived in our favor. A turning point in the shape of Theo Walcott. Theo came on as a substitute and almost immediately, you could see the impact his pace had on the game, getting in behind Maxwell and causing havoc with the high line Barca were playing (which contributed to their pressing and possession). Barca simply had no answer for him. Shortly after appearing, Theo burned Maxwell again to a lovely through ball by Bendtner. Theo's shot was low and on-target, and if think Valdes should've done better, then fair play to you. But I went mad when we scored that goal, and suddenly the supreme Barca confidence seemed shaken. Walcott continued to torment Barca's defenders, which gave Arsenal more options, more space, and ultimately, more possession. We attacked Barca, and soon got another favorable break: Pique's booking meant that he too would miss the second leg. The free kick earned on the foul was sent spinning over the bar by Cesc, unfortunately.

The arrival of Thierry Henry (and I can't disagree more with supporters who don't love Thierry now, he is and always will be an Arsenal LEGEND) brought a huge ovation from the Arsenal faithful, but apart from one attack, his presence ultimately didn't do much for Barca. We seemed to be headed for a 2-1 defeat, when a Walcott cross bounced to Bendtner in the box, and with fantastic foresight, headed the ball to Cesc's feet. El Capitan went to shoot, when his foot was entangled between Puyol's. Cesc went down, the penalty was given, and amazingly, Puyol was sent off (meaning of course that he too would miss the next leg). It was a very harsh red card, but being the officiating was dreadful anyway, I'll take it. Cesc was the obvious choice to take the kick, and he didn't disappoint, burying the ball in the net. 2-2 and we were back from the dead.

And then... tragedy. Cesc, our captain, our heart, our fearless leader, was hobbled by what has now been revealed as a broken leg. With all of our substitutions used up, he should have just gone to the sideline, but hero that he is, Cesc stayed on. Obviously, this ended our attacking threat, as we just tried to keep the ball and let Cesc alone, so we were unable to take advantage of Barca's 10 man team. The final whistle blew, we were still alive, and while a 2-2 draw isn't the best result, it's better than I could've hoped for considering the way the first hour went.

The price, however, was quite steep. Arshavin and Gallas out for 3 weeks, Denilson doubtful, and now Cesc out for the season with a broken leg. Yet another swath of injuries, which has been the story of our season. Is it the players? Is it the physios? Is it the lack of protection we tend to receive from referees? Maybe all of the above. Obviously we're not dead and buried, but something needs to be done. Maybe we can outfit our players in armored suits, or have their skeletons coated with adamantium or something. I don't know the answer, I'm not a fucking scientist.

Anyway, Saturday our team limps in to face Wolves at home, and while this is a team we should expect to beat, we can't be overly confident. We are far from the same team that won 4-1 at Molineux in the fall, with even more injuries peppering our squad. Expect players we've all forgotten about, like SEELVESTERRR, Carlos Vela, and The Artist Formerly Known As That Guy Who's Still Hurt (Tom Rosicky) to step into the side. I don't know what to expect from Vela, since we haven't seen him this season, and he may have died over the summer and been replaced by a cheap Mexican knock-off. But we can expect SEELVESTERRR to make all of our hearts stop at least twice, and for TAFKATGWSH to put in a solid shift. We'll need his best, and his leadership, if we're to get through this.

Finally, to address the NYC Arsenal Supporters, thank you all for making it out on Wednesday, it was brilliant. Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances at Nevada Smiths (of which I'm sure you've all been informed by Kurt), we plan on skipping Nevadas in favor of Lunasa this weekend in order to show support to Kieron, who's working there temporarily. Now, if you still want to go to Nevadas I'm not stopping you, and we still love Jack and think of the place as our home. But it may be really lonely, unless you like ManUre fans. Lunasa is located at 126 1st Ave, between St. Marks & 7th. Google maps can get you directions via train, so don't rely on me for directions. I don't work for MTA. I failed the "Surly and Incompetent" entrance exam.

Anyway, I hope to see you all on Saturday. Kickoff is at 10am, and according to Manuel Almunia we need maximum points here on out. As much as he wears my nerves to the nub, I think we have to trust him on this. COME ON YOU RIP-ROARIN' REDS!!!