Early Sunday Matches and Gael Clichy Make Homer Something Something

Yes, it's another ass-crack o' dawn kickoff, and on a Sunday to boot. I must apologize for no blog post last Friday, although I can't accept full blame: I had virtually completed a lengthy entry, when the blog just casually sort of erased everything. And before I could refresh to the most recent save, the autosave kicked in and everything was blank. And then I blacked out for a while, and came to half naked and covered in blood that was not my own.

Note to self: Stop confessing to potential crimes on blog.

Anyway, it's been a sort of up and down week for Arsenal. Coming off the backs of consecutive away wins over Man City (3-0) and then midweek over Newcastle in the Carling Cup (4-0), we were back home to host West Ham United. While the Hammers are struggling at the bottom of the table and looking good candidates for relegation, a London derby is NEVER an easy fixture, and this was no different.

As a match, it was a pretty poor affair for neutrals and virtual torture for most Gooners. How is it that the slack-jawed mistake-waiting-to-happen Robert Green looks absolute pants against every other team, but against Arsenal, he's channeling Iker Casillas? The Flopping Englishman absolutely stood on his head and was stopping every chance we had, including a mouthwatering bit of play which saw Sagna get deep into the right side of the box, cross for Fabregas whose power shot was snuffed by Green. We made some poor passes, didn't mark well, and while Fabianski didn't have much to deal with, we didn't seem to get forward enough for me. Late on in a scoreless deadlock, it appeared that West Ham was playing for a draw, and looked like they'd have their way. 85 minutes gone, and Gael Clichy got the ball on the left side as Arsenal players poured into the box... my hopes were raised, then dashed as Gael switched to his right foot, which might as well have been a pegleg for all the good he's done with it for Arsenal. Wonder of wonders, he swung a ball into the box with that foot, and Alex Song came out of nowhere with a diving header into the net. A late goal and proven, after a few uneventful minutes and the final whistle, the winner.

Midweek, with a number of injury concerns (midfield especially), we traveled to Donestk for a return match with Shakhtar and Eduardo. It was a somewhat weakend Arsenal side, but with enough quality to come away with a result. That result (and assurance that Arsenal would be through to the knockout stages of the Champions League) looked a good bet early on, when Wilshere (who worked very hard all game) flicked a ball ahead on the left side; Theo Walcott was 3 yards behind a defender pursuing the ball, then even with him and in possession, then ahead by 6 yards and finishing from the edge of the box.

It was a fantastic display of athleticism by Walcott, and the fastest I've ever seen a footballer run with the ball. A 1-0 lead put Arsenal in a good position, and looked like it might be a springboard for bigger things. What we got, instead, was a lackluster 80 minutes from most of the side, who just seemed overconfident, careless, and in some cases just plain disinterested.

Due to injury woes for Song and Denilson, young Craig Eastmond was thrust into a match that seemed to overwhelm him. His own goal was a bit of his day in a nutshell, struggling against the tide only to make a bit of a mess. However, it was a queer thing that he was the one marking the much larger Dmytro Chigrynskiy, and this, to me, points out fundamental organisational failure on set pieces. Expecting the 5'8" Eastmond to stop the 6'3" centre half is ludicrous. Chigrynskiy headed the ball, which was deflected by the leaping Eastmond into the net for the equaliser. It's unfortunate that Eastmond did connect with the ball, as Fabianski was in a good position to stop the header off of the Shakhtar man.

Shortly before halftime, what ended up bing the winner came on a typical lapse in thought by Gael Clichy. The Frenchman raced ahead of the attacking Srna to the ball. Pressed by Srna, Clichy inexplicably tried to turn with the ball and, I suppose, beat his man on the turn and go upfield, instead of knocking it right out of bounds. Srna stepped in and stole the ball easy as you like, picked out Eduardo waiting in the box, and Fabianski had no chance to save the goal.

The introduction of Vela gave me no confidence, and it's becoming hard to see what the manager sees in him, particularly with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas pressing hard for a place in the senior squad, and with the January arrival of dynamic Brazilian winger Wellington Silva. Our Mexican not-so-super-star will likely see fewer opportunities for football if he continues to put in such uninspiring performances. Chamakh entered the fray but had little to do as Shakhtar dominated midfield, and JET got a brief cameo in which he looked like Tecmo Bowl's Christian Okoye (for those of us too young to remember, see below)...

Alas, it didn't result in a goal, and a listless performance from most of the Arsenal team meant we were never going to come back. It's depressing, of course, but we can only hope that we will learn from our mistakes here. Like we never ever seem to.

As I mentioned, it's an 8:30am kickoff on Sunday for our home match with Newcastle United. Don't let the 4-0 drubbing we gave them at St. James Park a couple weeks back fool you into thinking this will be a walk (as I'm afraid some of our players will); Toon were holding back several regulars in Kevin Nolan and impressive striker Andy Carroll, and subhuman midfielder Joey Barton, for a derby with Sunderland, where they ran roughshod all over the Black Cats. Count on two things: It will be a tighter game than 4-0, and Joey Barton will try his damndest to injure someone. Let's just hope it isn't Cesc. Or Nasri. Or Theo. In fact, let's just hope he injures himself, how's that?

I haven't decided whether or not I'll be down the pub for this one yet. 8:30am kickoff is terrible; although not quite as bad as 7am Kickoff, Arseblog's American guest-blogger on today's Arsecast. Just poor, made all of American Gooners look crap. Hopefully next time Arseblogger picks an American it will be one who knows the game and who can talk without long, awkward pauses.

Anyway, roll on Sunday. And, as Dennis taught us, be Goon to each other. Laters.