Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gooner...

Rarely in recent seasons has it felt this good to be a Gooner. Arsenal have over the last couple of weeks been playing at a very high level, in spite of plenty of squad rotation from Le Boss due to the number of fixtures we've had to deal with this month. It's easy to point out that the level of our opposition hasn't been so very high (West Ham and Wigan in the League, Leeds and Ipswich in the FA and Carling Cups, respectively), but as they say, you can only play the teams on the schedule; we're doing that very well of late and winning matches rather convincingly.

We were home again to Wigan on the weekend, looking for a measure of payback for the disappointing draw we managed in late December. From the opening whistle, Arsenal were quite obviously the better side, owning possession and besieging the Latics goal. Luckily for the visiting side, Ali Al Habsi was simply scintillating in goal, denying Robin van Persie numerous times, as well as Nasri, particularly from a deadeyed rocket from the edge of the box. The breakthrough came in the 22nd when Song set the red-hot Van Persie free into the left side of the box, and the Dutchman finished with a plumb. Er, aplomb. Anyhow, we went into halftime up 1-0, although we could have been 4 or 5 up had it not been for the outstanding Al Habsi.

The second half was again, all Arsenal. Van Persie doubled his total when a long ball from Cesc, perfectly weighted, found #10 in stride, and Robin's first touch put the ball past Al Habsi. It was one of the better goals Arsenal have scored this season and showed just what the Dutchman can do when he is on form. Arsenal remained fully in control of the match, and created a few more chances, when finally midfield maestro Alex Song slid a lovely ball into the path of Fabregas in the box, who was taken down from behind by Gary Caldwell. The Wigan man was sent off, the referee pointed to the spot, and Van Persie stepped up to complete his hat-trick. And promptly skied the ball over the goal. It was devastating for Robin of course, who had never scored a hat-trick, and must've felt just snakebitten. However, he would get his chance again when the run of play saw Cesc put Walcott in the area with a man to beat, but Theo unselfishly played the ball off for RVP, whose strike, despite Al Habsi's touch, rocketed inside the near post. It was Van Persie's first Arsenal hat trick, and was well-tested by some outstanding goalkeeping, if not defending, by the visitors. 3-0 is how it would end, another dominant Arsenal performance leading to our cup showdown.

We hosted Ipswich midweek in the Carling Cup semifinal, going in down 1-0 although still rather confident after recent efforts of the Gunners winning the match and the tie. What sums this match up best to me is one word: Patience. Despite being denied by good professional defending by Ipswich for over an hour, who didn't much look like attacking due to their goal advantage from the first leg, Arsenal in Sisyphian fashion kept taking possession, moving the ball up the pitch, working the defence to find a crack and trying the chance. Arsenal also had to contend with the Evil Mark Halsey (not to be confused with the Good Mark Halsey; there are two of them. Bet you didn't know that), who did everything in his power to keep the advantage going the visitors' way.

An hour had gone when Arsenal's persistence paid off. The outstanding Wilshere played a very long ball to find Bendtner racing up the left wing. The great Dane took a brilliant first touch to control it, another to drive to the left corner of the box, the third between his heels to cut right across the defender, another to settle, and a brilliantly curled strike to beat Martin Fulop at the Ipswich 'keeper's far post. It was a fantastic goal, surely the best that Bendtner has ever taken for Arsenal and a glimpse at just how good the Dane can be given the opportunity. He gets more than his share of stick from the fans, but credit where it's due, it was sublime.

That one brought the tie level at 1-1, but also really opened the floodgatesl; it wasn't long before we had our second. Arshavin won a corner in an endline scrum with a defender, and the much-maligned Russian took the kick himself. He managed to pick out a leaping Koscielny, who drilled his header home to give Arsenal a 2-1 advantage in the tie. Based on his goal celebration, I assume the French-Pole (Frole? Polench?) has knocked someone up, or intends to put on a great deal of weight this summer (which is infinitely more concerning... unless he knocked up a demon or something, and that demon came back to rain fire and blood over all the earth, slaughtering the innocents... that would be really bad). In any event it was a great cross, a fine header, and really broke the backs for Ipswich.

The icing on the cake came when Cesc broke against the Tractorboyz (see, it looks sillier that way, like a boy band) defenders, passed to Arshavin who cut right across el Capitan, then passed back to the trailing Cesc, who put the ball through Fulop's legs to score. 3-0 to the Arsenal for the win, 3-1 aggregate to win the tie and advance to a Wembley final. It's been a long time (not least because the construction of the new Wembley took fucking forever), and of course every ManUre, Chelski, Stratford Hotscum, Liverpool or other asshole fan will say that it's just the League Cup, that it's Mickey Mouse, and every other excuse used when you've been eliminated. The fact is it's a chance for real silverware for the first time in... how long has it been? Six years? Funny, seems longer. If only other fans or pundits would have pointed that out the entire time.

So we're alive in every competition still. Next up is League One side Huddersfield Town at the Grove in the FA Cup. Expect a heavily rotated side, which may include the recently returned Abou Diaby, Tom Rosick*coughcough*y, Sebastien Spaghetti, and some guy named Emmanuel Al-Mooney-Ah. Maybe he's related to Al-Habsi-Ah. That'd be nice. Anyway, kickoff is at 12pm Sunday in London, so whoever scheduled that is a dick. It not only ruins Sunday lunch for our friends lucky enough to be in N5, it also prevents me from getting to Blind Pig to watch, because that's SEVEN FUCKING AM IN NEW YORK. So if you know who scheduled this match at this time, kick him or her in the pills/taco, whichever is applicable.

In other news, and in all seriousness, Arsene has publicly confirmed that VoCheck Chesney (yes, I could spell it, but fuck Z's) is the Arsenal # 1, saying:

'At the moment Wojciech is number one,' Wenger said.

'He has done nothing for me to take him out, but I can rotate the goalkeepers.

'In the cups I play sometimes different goalkeepers

I think that's very comforting indeed. I will admit, I first read those quotes from a SKY Sports link titled "Wenger Wants Almunia to Fight," which went on to say "Arsene Wenger has challenged Manuel Almunia to reclaim the Arsenal number one tag..." which made me spit out my coffee and nearly shit myself. Luckily, after reading the direct quotes, I realized that Sky, despite losing retarded dinosaurs Gray and Keys (it's been done to death already, so all I'll say is they're idiots and good riddance), is not done torturing Arsenal fans. Which makes me believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jamie "Son of a Twitch" Redknapp is going to inherit one of those vacant posts. Anyway, VoCheck is our confirmed first-choice 'keeper, so hurrah!

That's all I've got for today. Enjoy the weekend, my red & white lovelies, and if we should knock off (C)HUDdersfield Town and then Everton on Tuesday night, just listen to the wind... I think you'll hear it speak the words of a mournful and forgotten Scot, whispering "TEK AH BOO SAHN!" Which is Scots for "Well done." I think.

Of Chocolate Legs and Chocolate Heads

Images taken from The Offside and The Telegraph

Wilkommen, Bienvenue and Welcome to another Friday Roundup on The Modern Gooner. We've seen an upswing in fortune in the past week: after disappointment via a draw and a loss in the FA and Carling Cups, respectively, Arsenal have bounced back in convincing fashion in consecutive away matches. I for one am still amazed at the consistent inconsistency of our performances this season, yet I'm not one to dwell on the negative when everything's been looking up, and if nothing else, it's been a good week to be an Arsenal supporter.

Arsene fielded a strong first XI on Saturday for the trip to Upton Park. There was little to criticize in the squad selection as we had our strongest side available and saw Samir Nasri, Cesc, RVP and Theo return to the fray. Happily, his counterpart Avram "Dead Man Walking! We Got a Dead Man Walkin' Heah!" Grant had much slimmer pickings in selecting his own team, especially given the injury absence of midfield playmaker Scott Parker. Considering their bottom-of-the-table status, I would submit that the dearth of impact players at West Ham has been a rather consistent issue for Grant. Still, having just seen our side lose to a side near the bottom of the NPower Championship, we all knew better than that Arsenal needed merely to turn up to secure a win. We needed a strong performance all around.

That is indeed what we got. The scoring was opened in the 13th minute when Theo's low cross was geniusly dummied by Nasri and slotted home coolly by van Persie, his first goal of the season not from a set piece, and a very welcome goal as well. West Ham, already on the back foot, saw their players' heads drop after that, seeming about as hopeful as Grant was that he'd still be employed on Valentines Day. The Arsenal lead was doubled a few minutes before halftime when Van Persie latched onto a chipped pass into the box and slid the ball across to the right fromt he end line. The newly-loaned Wayne Bridge politely let Theo Walcott step around him and hammer the ball into the roof of the net. Another trip to Upton Park, another 2-goal Arsenal advantage at the break. West Ham never seemed to have the fight to claw even one goal back, so this was a rare occasion for Arsenal fans: holding a lead at halftime and NOT being terrifyed of giving it away.

The Gunners remained firmly in control through the second half, yet the away fans would not see another goal until, after 75 minutes had gone, Theo Walcott was brought down in the box by the hapless Bridge (no dive this time). Penalty-taker-extraordinaire Robin van Persie stepped up and struck the ball past the correctly guessing Robert Green. Indeed, if not for another fine performance from Green (who really seems amazing against everyone but Americans--think about it, Arsene), we could have scored several more goals than we did. But three we scored and required no more to topple a lifeless Hammers team on their own ground. There were a couple of hiccups at the back, but apart from one occasion on which Szczesny made himself big to foil Carlton Cole (after Djourou's weak back pass was intercepted), the Pole wasn't much troubled. 3-0 the final and well-deserved.

We hoped obviously to take that momentum to Leeds for the FA Cup 3rd Round replay at Elland Road, and Arsene did not rotate quite so heavily this time. Nasri started in midfield and had the captain's armband as Cesc started on the bench, Song returned and Denilson replaced Wilshere; the forward line of Arshavin, Chamakh and Bendtner was in place, Kos and JD paired at the back (not that we had a choice), while fullbacks Sagna and Gibbs returned from suspension and injury, respectively.

Arsenal needed to start quickly, and they didn't disappoint. After five minutes, Nasri took Arshavin's pass and, dancing into the box, calmly finished past Schmeichel the Younger for the Arsenal advantage. The 2nd generation 'keeper saved a decent header from Chamakh a few minutes later and stopped an Arshavin stinger before Bacary Sagna doubled our tally with his second goal of the campaign (and 3rd for Arsenal), driving into the right side of the box and firing a ball that glanced off of Schmeichel on its way to the top corner of the net. Confidence was as high as our possession statistics, but Leeds was far from done fighting. A bit of a scrambled clearance fell to Leeds outside the Arsenal area, but Bradley Johnson was untroubled by the 30-yard distance and unleashed a cracker of strike. Wojciech Szczesny could make himself as big as Bane and wasn't going to stop that rocket into the top-right corner. We could have fielded two keepers and Johnson still would have scored. Leeds then seemed to have the better of things for the remaining few minutes before the break.

At the restart, Leeds came out with a clear game plan: press Arsenal high up the pitch; they executed this quite well I thought. There were a few dodgy moments, but on the whole I thought the boys dealt well with the pressure and maintained composure. There were no scores despite a few decent chances on both sides, and while Leeds seemed to begin flagging a bit physically from such hard work, Arsenal were able to soldier on; it didn't hurt that we were able to call on Cesc and Robin van Persie from the bench either. That duo made an immediate impact, and it wasn't long before we widened the gap. Cesc played Bendtner into an ocean of space on the right, and the Dane put a simply mouth-watering cross into the box for the leaping Van Persie to guide in with his dome-piece. Man of the Match Nasri was soon taken off to a chorus of his now-famous song from the always excellent Arsenal travelling support for Gael Clichy, and at 3-1 up, we seemed content to hold the ball and kill off the match; which is exactly what happened.

All credit to Leeds United for playing a hard-fought match for 90 minutes without being dirty or dangerous; as the always excellent Goonerholic put it, it was "a lesson to some of the neanderthal managers in the Premiership that football can be played at that pace and intensity without leg-breaking challenges, and without two-footed lunges." Amen, 'Holic, and indeed should they be promoted to the Premiership next season, I would welcome Simon Grayson's charges despite all history of Dirty Leeds. Credit also to the much-maligned Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner, who both put in solid shifts and worked hard. Neither is back at their best yet, but this was a good sign that they're both on the upswing, particularly Bendtner. In spite of being played slightly out of position on the right wing, he worked his socks off, provided Sagna with a bit of cover (as did AA23 for Gibbs), and was overall very positive. Arsenal advance now to a home cup tie with League One Huddersfield Town; Join me, won't you, in hoping that Arsenal won't be overconfident and will put in a fighting performance.

We also learned this week that Thomas Vermaelen would undergo his magical Achilles tendon, which turns a few days into four months. We'll all of course wish him a speedy and full recovery, although it may take a good bit of time. If you haven't seen this blog yet, The Physio's Opinion, it's a brilliant site and a very useful one. I've linked his post about Vermaelen, but the guy seems to have very knowledgeable opinions on all ranges of injuries. As an Arsenal fan, I just wish he'd been writing this for far longer!

Saturday we host Wigan; after the disappointing away draw in Lancashire a few weeks back, we'll certainly hope for a measure of revenge at Ashburton Grove. We're on a good run of form, but we will require greater effort this time to take all three points a press our case for the league. Rotation will of course need to happen, and while we may moan if Nasri starts on the bench, I would hope that Song is rested enough to have another go; for me, his performances at West Ham and Leeds were the keys to both matches. He's concentrating more on being that holding midfielder than being the "rogue striker" that our friends at Hipster Gooner are fond of calling him. He's embracing the Gilberto role, and long may it continue.

Finally, we bid a brief farewell to Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who will head to Cardiff City on loan, and to Brazilian wunderkind Wellington Silva, who will spend loan time at Levante as we wait for his passport issues to be sorted. Arsenal 360 compared Wellington's situation to that of Carlos Vela, who needed to go to Spain on loan before he was able to join Arsenal; let's hope he doesn't pick up Vela's poor attitude and love for nightclubs there. In any event, good luck to them both, and hopefully we'll seem them in red & white soon enough.

We're alive in all competitions and making our case for each. Dennis-willing, we'll put away Wigan and rip apart the Ipswich team bus, which will presumably be parked in front of their goal at the Grove. Let's keep it going, and keep it Goonerish.


Dirty Leeds United 1-3 Arsenal: Redemption

(Note: All pictures courtesy of Arseblog)

Due to a bit of a horrid cold, I left work early and was able to watch this from the comfort of my living room (as an aside, this is also the first of these that I have written where I saw the game without drinking at a bar, watching a smallish screen from a good distance...I also took notes!). I should be sick more often! Anyway, it was difficult at times, but a much-improved Arsenal performance saw our boys overcome the spirited challenge of Dirty Leeds in the 4th-round FA Cup Replay on Wednesday. A date with Huddersfield Town awaits at the Emirates on January 30th, and you have to like our chances in that one.

The starting XI was a bit of a mish-mash between our full first-choice side and some of the reserves that didn't cover themselves with glory in the opening fixture of this round. Lukasz Fabianski is still injured, so Wojciech Szezcsny continued in goal. Bacary Sagna returned from suspension at RB, Kieran Gibbs recovered from injury to start on the left, while our only two fit center backs continued on. Marouane Chamakh led the line with Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner on either side, while Samir Nasri captained the side from central midfield. Denilson and Alex Song were ostensibly in the holding role, but you know how that goes this season.

While Arsenal dominated the early stages, it could have all been different early on. In the first minute, Sagna showed a little rust with a poor back header towards his keeper. Max Gradel - the little winger who gave us so many problems in the first go-round - nipped in and had some room to run at Szezcsny. You know, it's funny - I was talking to my roommate during the latter stages of the game about the extremely minor differences that separate First Division players from their Premiership counterparts...this was a perfect example. Gradel's composure abandoned him, and he fired miles wide on a chance where he should have tested the young Pole. It didn't stop there, as Laurent Koscielny also erred in the 4th minute. His poor clearance went out to Gradel, who had cut into the center. He took a few steps, allowing our man to recover from his mistake to get the block in. A bit of a nervy start, this, but it would get better in a hurry.

Just one minute later, Robert Snodgrass was blocked off the ball by Song. He laid the ball off to Gibbs, and the young Englishman hit an intelligent ball up to Chamakh. As he has done so often this season, he held it up well to allow help to arrive. Arshavin came up the wing (displaying a tad bit more energy than in previous matches), and returned to Chamakh. The Moroccan dummied beautifully to take the two center-halves out of the play. The onrushing Nasri took the ball and was in alone. Remember what I was saying about minor differences between players from the two divisions? Leeds keeper Kasper Schmeichel stayed on his line instead of challenging Nasri like he should have. Not only that, but he flinched eeeeeeeever so slightly to his right. To his credit, Nasri picked up on it, and casually rolled the ball into the left corner, leaving Schmeichel no chance. It was a great team goal, and it took a lot of the pressure off by making Leeds open up so soon into the game. Now, they couldn't sit back and hope to nick a goal on the break.

In their efforts to get back into the match, Leeds ended up making a tactical error. Teams that defend well against Arsenal do so by pressing incessantly, but by doing it on a man-to-man basis. Leeds tried to double-team the man on the ball, leaving far too much space against our slick-passing midfield and forwards. Leeds were on the back foot, and the Gunners should have doubled their lead in the 11th minute. My notes say that "# 19" fouled Sagna on the right, but I find that they don't have one of those...maybe it was Billy Paynter, who wears # 9? Anyway, Arshavin lashed in a decent ball, and found the wide-open Chamakh. I'm not sure how Leeds failed in their marking so badly, but Schmeichel bailed them out with a strong one-handed save. The color guy was going on and on about how it should be a goal, but when a keeper makes a save like that, all you can do is tip your hat to him, really.

Dirty Leeds weren't getting completely blown out though, and could have had some chances along the way if they were, you know, better. Denilson in particular was godawful again (note to the reader: I have an irrational hatred for this guy, so I pick up on his mistakes more than I do for others. Deal with it.), and his giveaway in the center almost led to another chance. Luckily, the Arsenal center-halves of Koscielny and Johan Djourou had yet another solid game. In the absence of the Verminator, they have to be first-choice the rest of the way, one feels.

Leeds manager Simon Grayson must have picked up on the tactical mistake that was made, as his side went more to a man-marking system from the 18th minute on. It worked better, but Arsenal still carved them open at times. After some good work down the right, Bendtner sent a teasing cross to the back post, but Arshavin was far too late getting there. Note that, kids, this will repeat a lot as we go on...three minutes later, in fact! After Djourou cleared out a dangerous ball from Snodgrass, we countered quickly and it came to Arshavin outside the area. Someone on the International Space Station now has a souvenir.

It wasn't all Arshavin though in the blowing-chances sweepstakes. In almost a mirror image of the previous cross to the back post, Sagna found himself in acres down the right and crossed for Bendtner. Sadly, the result was also a mirror image. But, our little Russian wasn't just fucking up on the offensive end. He too decided to get in on the "dodgy back header" fad, but Szezcsny was alert and smothered before Gradel could make anything out of it. Snodgrass then wasted a chance by shooting right at WS53 - but I mention this because here in the 32nd, my notes say "The Leeds goal is coming".

Thankfully, it did after Arsenal extended their lead at 34'. Sagna started the move on his own goal by scything the ball away from Arsenal loanee Sanchez Watt. It flew out to Bendtner, who made a strong and direct run at their defense. Nasri joined him for a give-and-go, but Nik's first touch on the return was awful. Andy O'Brien's clearance came out to Sagna on the wing...he cut inside, said "fuck it, I'll have a go", and hammered it towards the top corner. Schmeichel got both hands on it, but there's those First Division differences again. Ali Al-Habsi or Ben Foster saves this, Schmeichel lets it go through his hands. No complaints from this corner, though...2-0 to the Arsenal and things looked good.

So, of course, Leeds scored three minutes later. The second goal stung them back into life, and they attacked in waves. The Arsenal defense were dealing with it well, but on one clear attempt Arshavin was clearly fouled right in front of the linesman. He had gone down a little easy a few times before, so he didn't get the call. The ball came out to Bradley Johnson, 35 yards from goal. He reared back and took a shot that would go into low Earth orbit 99 times out of 100. This was that one goddamn time, as it flew past the helpless Szezcsny and into the top corner. Fuck's fucking sake.

To the lads' credit though, they didn't buckle when Leeds hit back. Gradel helped out again by skying another decent chance over the bar, but their best chance came with a minute remaining. Denilson slipped in midfield (FUCKING SELL HIM NOW, ARSENE) allowing Leeds to break in numbers. The Gunner defense was at sixes and sevens, but the three Leeds attackers were clumped far too close together. That allowed our guys to get back under control and clear away...but an equalizer there could potentially have been devastating. Fucking Denilson.

Whatever Le Boss said at halftime worked, as Arsenal came out much more composed for the second half. It should actually have been 3-1 inside of 20 seconds, as the Gunners broke right from the kickoff. Song won a header, and Nasri combined well with Bendtner to free Song in the penalty area. The angle was a bit tight, but a more attacking player would have still been expected to finish. Instead, the save was relatively comfortable for Schmeichel in the end.

The statement of intent was there, though, and Nasri threatened with a free kick minutes later. That one was right at the young Danish keeper, but the goal was coming. Leeds did briefly counter with Gradel down the wing, operating in the space left when Sagna was clipped on the heels (no call, of course). Bendtner did wonderfully well to track back though, and he held up Gradel long enough for Sagna to get back.

Nik's strong play continued as he did well to keep a ball in play on the right touchline. He eluded a defender, and got it to Chamakh, who found Nasri. The Frenchman passed to Arshavin, who was in acres on the left. The pass was a bit soft though, and Snodgrass bravely flew in with a tackle that would have been a penalty if he'd have gotten it wrong. Arshavin was back a few minutes later with another chance on the left, but his finish again was found wanting. At this point, I wrote in my notes: "Get this guy off the fucking field!".

The last good chance for Leeds came right after the hour, and that man Gradel was in the center of it again. Much like our back-post chances in the first half, his cross was perfect but Paynter could not get anything on it at the back stick.

Arsene must have thought it was slipping away a bit, as he withdrew the putrid Arshavin and the much-better Chamakh, bringing on Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. Within two minutes, the captain had flashed a free kick just wide. Within five minutes, the ball was in Schmeichel's net again.

Fabregas started the move, passing to Bendtner. The Dane saw van Persie making an eviscerating run through the Leeds center-halves, and found him with a gorgeous cross. All van Persie had to do was nod the ball into the net, with Schmeichel all at sea. Wonderful goal from the Arsenal, and that put paid to any potential Leeds comeback.

In fact, the game fairly fizzled out after that. Nasri was withdrawn for Clichy late on, but no further chances were created. Arsenal had much of the ball and smartly kept possession, playing out time until Mike Dean blew his whistle. All in all, this was a good, solid win for the Gunners and leaves us with a winnable tie in the 4th round. As long as the same level of effort and application is given despite the Terriers being lower-league opposition, then we should easily be in the hat for the next round of the FA Cup.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szezcsny 7, Gibbs 7, Djourou 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 8, Arshavin 4 (Fabregas 7), Song 7, Denilson 5, Nasri 8 (Clichy N/A), Bendtner 8 (MOTM), Chamakh 8 (van Persie 7)

West Ham United 0-3 Arsenal: Back to winning ways

(Note: Theo Walcott goal picture courtesy of the Guardian - all other pictures courtesy of Arseblog)

Arsenal returned to form somewhat in this past Saturday's 3-0 evisceration of West Ham at Upton Park. More than anything else though, I think it showed what the team could do when they stepped down in competition from Ipswich to this pack of relegation certainties. They've given up the ghost quicker than a room recently vacated by Egon Spengler and Peter Venkman.

Regardless of the opposition, this match required a much stronger starting eleven than we got in the last two cup fixtures, and Arsene Wenger duly obliged. Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie both returned, while Theo Walcott was preferred out on the right. Emmanuel Eboue started due to the ongoing suspension of Bacary Sagna, and the rest of the side essentially picked itself. The Hammers were without midfield linchpin Scott Parker, which made life infinitely easier for the Gunners on the day. As it stood, the game was only three minutes old before Arsenal had their first chance. The less said about van Persie's free kick from close in though, the better.

Another free kick was won a few minutes later, this time a deflected effort safely finding itself in Robert Green's hands. Arsenal were entirely on the front foot though, and it was no surprise to see the men in yellow take the lead at the 13' mark. Walcott had the run of the Irons' midfield, and sent a gorgeous pass into their penalty area. Nasri dummied brilliantly, leaving the defenders for dead as the ball came out to van Persie. The Dutchman easily rolled the ball into the corner of the net, with his pied du chocolat to boot!

One-nil to the Arsenal, then, and any token resistance put up by the home side deflated afterwards. In fact, it could have been 3-0 inside of the next five minutes. First, only a desperate punch from Green cleared their lines with Gunners swarming around the ball. Then, Walcott ran onto a long ball and eluded the attentions of James Tomkins. Sadly, his shot was shoveled weakly at the West Ham keeper.

Despite the constant pressure put on the Hammers, it wouldn't be an Arsenal match without one incredibly frustrating defensive breakdown, right? Johan Djourou has been especially solid during his run in the first team, but he almost cost us a goal on this occasion. A weak backpass was pounced on by Carlton Cole, who tore into the Arsenal penalty area and fired on goal. Luckily, he had a slightly restricted angle towards the net. Wojciech Szezcsny, starting in goal in place of the injured Lukasz Fabianski, read this beautifully and decisively charged out of his net. He dived at Cole's feet, making himself as big as possible. It worked, with Cole's shot hitting him square in the chest. Zavon Hines had a decent chance on the follow-up, but his shot entered low Earth orbit. That was their chance - I don't recall Chesney's net being seriously threatened at any point afterwards.

Nasri could have doubled the lead soon after, as his run into the West Ham area met nothing in the way of resistance (Wayne Bridge being particularly culpable - trust me, we'll revisit this later), but he too weakly scuffed his shot. You have to think that there is still some undercurrent of weakened confidence in this side after their cup misadventures, surely.

Despite Arsenal's standard profligacy though, it never had that aura of constant foreboding that 1-0 leads for our lot tend to have. Even on the half-hour mark when van Persie was in alone with Green and found nothing but woodwork, it felt like a temporary stay of East London execution rather than an evil portent.

Sure enough, the second goal game with five minutes left to go before the interval. A long ball over the top (weird how many of our recent goals have started that way, eh?) came to van Persie, who was played onside by Bridge. Then, the hapless left back could do nothing to stop the one-two between the Dutchman and Walcott, with the latter completely unmarked in the center of the penalty area. Belying his recent lack of form, he ferociously hammered the ball over Green and into the roof of the net. A thunderbolt from above, that one, and the Irons supporters may as well have gone home at that point. In fact, the Gunners were so taking the piss after the second, the half ended with an offensive move in the West Ham area between Djourou and Alex Song...kind of like something you'd do if you're beating your little brother 11-0 in a game of FIFA.

The second half was largely lifeless, and thus I have little memory of it (in fairness, I also rolled out of bed and got right on the subway to the Pig). It was very much a case of as-you-were though, with Arsenal having much of the ball but only rarely getting any kind of penetration into the West Ham area. Whenever he was called upon though, Green did everything he could to keep the score respectable. It's always tough for a guy like that who has one or two high-profile errors (especially in an England shirt - talk about the most thankless supporters on the planet), but he is a solid keeper and always does well against us.

Anyway, there wasn't much he could do for Arsenal's third, once again thanks to the abysmal Bridge. Walcott once again was in the center of it, as he hared into the Hammers' penalty area. Bridge came in late and clearly took him down - Andre Marriner will not have an easier call all season. Green guessed right on the penalty, but van Persie placed it right in the corner with pace.

There really isn't much else to say. Denilson made an unwelcome appearance, followed by brief cameos for Kieran Gibbs and Andrei Arshavin (both of whom should have come on much sooner in a 3-0 procession, for different reasons...Gibbs for fitness, Arshavin for confidence). The stench of death is on this West Ham team, and certainly on the hapless Avram Grant (a fine manager who won't get a fair shake again until he gets away from the English press). For us, it's job done, three points and on to the next one.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szezcsny 7, Clichy 7, Djourou 6, Koscielny 7, Eboue 6, Nasri 7 (Gibbs N/A), Fabregas 7 (Denilson N/A), Song 7, Wilshere 7, Walcott 9 (MOTM) (Arshavin N/A), van Persie 8

London, Birmingham Away Days and Boring, Boring City

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome to another edition of The Modern Gooner. It's been a bit of a while since last I posted, but my absence must be excused as I was away visiting my pals in London and making another pilgrimage to The Arsenal. While I won't bore you all with every detail of the trip (by the way, if your girlfriend wants you to go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, pretend to be deathly ill or break a bone just to get out of it. Trust me), I'll focus on those things Arsenal-related, which is primarily why I expect you spend your theoretical entertainment dollar here.

The plan was this: I was to fly out from Newark Liberty at 9pm on Tuesday the 28th, landing at London Heathrow at approximately 9am local time on the 29th, dash to the hotel and check in, drop bags and shower, meet with our man in London, Gareth, to co-pilot the rental car up to Wigan and see Arsenal thrash the Latics. This seemed a reasonable expectation after our lads had dismantled a full-strength Chelsea side on the 27th. But I'm sure you all know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Due to the heavy snowfall blanketing the eastern seaboard of the US and the flight cancellations it caused, my flight was delayed from a 9pm departure to a 1:40am departure, and again to a 7am departure. Effectively, this put paid to my Wigan trip, as my flight landed at about 8pm GMT, just as the match kicked off. By the time I reached the hotel and flipped on the TV, Match of the Day began showing our performance. Who would have thought, a lackluster showing from an Arsenal team against a team they assumed they could beat just by showing up. A 2-2 draw in the end (although we were denied a late penalty which would have given us all three points). Luckily, we would certainly learn from such an event for the future, wouldn't we? Okay, okay, I'll shut up.

Image provided by mirrorfootball.co.uk

One match down, but I still had New Year's Eve to look forward to, as well as a hungover trip to St. Andrews to see Arsenal take on Birmingham City in the league. Gareth had sorted us out tickets on a party boat up and down the Thames for New Year's Eve to drink and dance and see what turned out to be a rather impressive fireworks display near the Houses of Parliament. It was a brilliant time, drinks flowing, Gareth chatted up a pair of Mancunian girls--well, women, really--dancing and watching colorful explosions in the sky. Definitely a great time, a great many drinks consumed and passed out almost immediately after my head hit the pillow.

I don't need to tell you all about New Year's Day hangovers, but I woke bleary-eyed, dehydrated and with a terrific headache. I managed to neck a few pints of water and then get some breakfast in me, which certainly helped. I then had to dress myself (no easy feat in that state) and meet Gareth at Euston station for the train to Birmingham. I picked up a Lucozade for the trip, and by the time the train reached the station, I was feeling okay. That was until I got a look at Birmingham. I almost wish I had taken pictures at the urban decay going on around the city. It really is the English version of so many Pennsylvania coal-mining towns that have gone to hell after that industry dried up. While I don't think mining was the primary industry in the town, it appeared that any industries based there had up and left some time ago. Gareth and I got a good look around at the dodgier areas of the town on our walk from the station up to the ground courtesy of Google Maps being a dick. I honestly saw as much Yankees gear on the young folk there as I would on a daily basis in NYC, and I doubt any one of them could identify a baseball if you hit him in the head with it.

Despite the rough-looking areas, we managed to reach St. Andrews, where we could hear the Arsenal supporters present already in good voice, singing loud enough for us to hear them clearly from outside the ground. It was a sign of things to come, as we stood in the concourse with the other travelling fans, singing along, 3,000-4,000 Gooners creating quite the atmosphere while the home support remained silent, perhaps expectant of the eventual result. If you've never been to an away match for Arsenal, it's a completely different atmosphere from a match at the Emirates, mostly in that there IS an atmosphere. Stewards generally leave the away fans to themselves, meaning you can stand without someone telling you to sit, and sing without a prawn-sandwich-muncher (read: VERY casual Arsenal fan) asking you to quiet down as they're trying to watch a football match. I don't have time to tell you the reasons why I think our home support is lacking; suffice it to say we don't have the same issue on away days. The only negative regarding this level of passionate supporter maifested itself in one of our fans popping another in the face, and before kickoff!

The away fans, myself and Gareth among them, were very loud, compounded by the virtual silence of the home "support." Apart from numerous outbreaks of the Samir Nasri song (which really is a brilliant thing when a large group of Gooners are belting it out) and a few old favorites, we spent a good deal of the time winding up the home fans. We sang about how we'd forgotten they were still in attendance, how their town was a shithole (it is), and how, in comparison to our good fortune at having Cesc Fabregas, they were blighted with the likes of Lee Bowyer. RvP opened the scoring off of a free kick in the first half, and our boys dealt well with the few opportunities afforded the opposition, despite the dirty tactics employed by Brum (Bowyer and Cameron Jerome in particular). By the 66th minute, we were ahead 3-0 and the match was well in hand through a great goal from Nasri and a Roger Johnson OG created by Cesc. For those of you with Arsenal TV Online subscriptions, I'm very visible celebrating the OG in the crowd to the left of Cesc around the 9:50 mark in the match highlights.

A great first away day under my belt, I looked forward to Arsenal hosting Man City the following Wednesday. Evening matches are a bit different of course, as people have to make it to the pub after racing home from work for a few pre-match pints, but I eventually met up with Gareth and two other former Nevadas visitors, the inimitable Richard Dunmall and Niki Morris, as well as Gareth's pal Simon. Gareth and Rich assured me that Simon was a quiet, unassuming sort, who was on occasion capable of feats of sudden madness, sort of like a housewife who lives a simple life and one day out of the blue steals a cop car and robs a bank. My kind of guy.

We filed into the Grove, and the sight of that green pitch always kind of takes my breath away. There weren't many sights after that which would do the same, however... City arrived with one intention, to deny us a goal without even bothering trying to score one themselves. Arsenal played quite well, but despite being denied several times by the woodwork and a few times by a stalwart Joe Hart, we were unable to get a ball past the 200 million pound bus that Mancini had parked in front of the City goal. The most notable occurrence was probably the simultaneous sending off of both Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta due to a butting of heads, a rare heated moment from our right back, but understandable after being stamped on by Lee Bowyer (no whistle) at Brum and with Sagna saying that Zabaleta had been less than cordial to him for the preceding 80 minutes. The final was an uninspiring 0-0 draw, which gave the cynical City their point but left them no plaudits from anyone in the football world. It also meant that I had now seen the last three home fixtures against Man City, and the only two goals that had been scored were put in by Emmanual Adebayor in a 2-0 Arsenal win in April 2009. I don't think I'll be seeing the next clash between the two.

Mother Nature was kind enough to allow for my homeward journey to go off without a hitch; perhaps she'd seen the City match and took pity on me. Regardless, I had seen Arsenal win and draw, and retained an undefeated record as a supporter in attendance (3-0-2). There was plenty more to my trip, and plenty of pub time as well, but I won't bore you with the non-pertinent details of my trip. I do, however, encourage you all to make your own pilgrimage when you get a chance. There are plenty of memories of your own to make. But if I might pass on a small bit of advice: avoid Birmingham in general and matches with Man City in particular. I know that the NHS offers to cover visitors to UK should they require medical attention, but I don't know if "dying from boredom" is a legitimate reason for being in hospital.

As an added bonus, here's a clip from comedian Jim Jefferies, who I saw perform while on vacation. If you don't think he's funny, I hate you. I keed, I keed, I love you guys.

Apologies for the lack of a preview of West Ham on Saturday, but with the way the last 2 matches have gone, it was all I could do to type THIS up. Anyway, I've missed my NYC Arsenal boys and girls, and I'll see you all at the Blind Pig on the weekend. Until then... COME ON YOU RIP-ROARING RED AND WHITE BEAUTIES!!!

TMG's Podcast Debut

Hey, everyone.

Ahead of (hopefully) our 23-0 tonking of Ipswich in the League Cup, I just wanted to point everyone in the direction of my friend Tony's excellent general-interest sports site Good Shot at Losing.

On Monday night, I had the opportunity to record a quick 15-minute podcast with Tony talking about Arsenal's early-season fortunes, as well as my thoughts on both ends of the table over the first 20 matches of the season. Admittedly, it's geared more towards casual supporters so it's probably nothing you don't know already. Still, if you have the inclination, it's located here for your listening pleasure:
I've been telling Kurtis and Brett that we should do one of these every once in a while. What are your thoughts out there, Gooners? Is that something you'd be interested in? Let us know!


Arsenal 1-1 Dirty Leeds United: Jailbreak

(All pictures - minus the Monopoly one above - courtesy The Guardian)

If the Wigan match was a draw that felt like a loss, this was a draw that felt like a win. However, there's a major difference between letting a match against Premier League opposition slip in a moment of defensive frailty and barely scraping a replay against a second-tier side who had barely threatened all afternoon. This time, it wasn't necessarily the amount of rotation that was the problem (with cup games flying at us from all angles, it is necessary to do so), it's more a reflection that some players have to have their suitability for our first team questioned - and one player in particular demonstrated YET FUCKING AGAIN that he should never have worn an Arsenal shirt once, let alone as often as he has.

As it stood, the starting lineup (Wojciech Szezcsny in goal; a back four of Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Sebastien Squillaci and Emmanuel Eboue; Alex Song in the holding role, Tomas Rosicky and Denilson in the middle with Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner on the wings; Marouane Chamakh up top) should have been more than sufficient to see off this rabble...on our own goddamn patch to boot. It is understandable that these guys may be a tad rusty in some respects, as some have not played that many minutes recently. Then again, given that they are fighting for their places in the first team, one could reasonably expect that they would come out fired up and ready to prove they belong.

You would think, until you remember who it is we're talking about.

In fact, it was our opponents who made the first statement of intent with a direct run towards our penalty area by the feisty Sanchez Watt - a man who, by the way, is Arsenal property on loan with this mob. On one hand, I understand why Arsene Wenger let him play...a game against us is a fairly good litmus test. On the other, why fucking tempt fate by letting a kid with everything to prove play against us in a season where a trophy is a necessity? I just don't understand the decision-making that goes into things like this sometimes. Anyway, the Arsenal rearguard seemed taken aback by Watt's audacity, but luckily the lad had one moment of hesitation which allowed Squillaci to boot it away.

The gauntlet had been thrown, though. In response, Arsenal kept possession but seemed like a metronome that was one beat off once it got to the final third of the field. As usual, the approach play was decent but once it came time to beat a man or make that final pass, nothing came off.

The one time the pass worked, we were undone by a man whose confidence must be at rock bottom right now. Rosicky picked out a wonderful ball over the top of the Leeds defense, and in fairness to the guy, Arshavin did well to get on the end of it and stay clear of the defenders. However, his second touch was unforgivably poor, leaving him with no option but to shovel a weak shot directly at the onrushing Kasper Schmeichel. As I said on the Arseblog forums upon my return from the Pig, I am beyond fucking sick of the Schmeichel family playing blinders against us. That said, while the Dane did a nice job of cutting down the angle, you would have put money on Arshavin to score if he were in any kind of form. Frankly, this is now three or four glorious chances on the trot that he's made a total mess out of. But, what do you do with him? Benching him won't help his confidence any...but how much longer do you let him sabotage what offense we do muster in games that mean everything to our season? It's a decision that only the manager can make, and I don't envy his having to make it.

A few minutes later, it was our own keeper's turn to make a fine save. Robert Snodgrass, who was by far the most potent attacking threat for Leeds on the day, released Luciano Becchio with a good through-ball. Szczesny came haring off his line, and stopped the Argentine from sending a pass across the face of goal by toe-poking it away. In all likelihood, his intervention prevented Leeds from going up a goal at that stage.

The Gunners took back the momentum from that point, but rarely threatened the Leeds goal. One of the major problems was, frustratingly, Wenger chose to deploy Bendtner out on the wing once again...despite an encyclopedia's worth of evidence that HE ISN'T A FUCKING WINGER. I know I keep harping on it (usually in shouty all-caps), but have you ever seen a natural center-forward played out on the wing for any other team in any other situation? It's bloody maddening to see him cross poorly and fail to take on men out on the touchline, but can you really say it's his fault? If you take an accountant and ask him to effectively run the sales team, what do you suppose would happen to your company?

Despite that, Arsenal fashioned a decent chance at the 28' mark. A free kick was cleared out by the Leeds backline, but the Gunners got it back and fired it into the area again. Chamakh won the aerial battle and nodded it back to Arshavin just outside the area. The Russian's effort was much better this time, but in the end it was a fairly comfortable save for Schmeichel.

A minute later though, it got far less comfortable for the Dane. The Leeds defense was comfortable for long stretches of the contest, but this passage of play left them panicking and defending for their lives. Bendtner won a header off a corner (See? More his skill set), only to find it cleared juuuuust off the line. Song's follow-up was cleared for a corner, which Bendtner again won and again found it sliced away off the line. It was cleared only as far as Denilson, but once again that man Schmeichel was up to the task and got a strong hand to it.

Well, goddammit.

Leeds were able to recover somewhat after Arsenal's profligacy spared them in that last run of play, but the Gunners did get one more chance before the half. Bendtner cut inside, beat two men, and fired one on goal. It was a good hit, but Schmeichel did what his dad used to do to us, again getting down low to save the day. Seriously, a pox on their entire bloody family already.

That took us to halftime, and it couldn't have come soon enough for the visitors. The interval gave them some time to catch their breath, and upon the restart they were able to contain Arsenal far better than they had in the latter stages of the first half. Our boys still had more of the ball though, and Leeds never really looked like scoring.

Of course, the visitors then won a penalty kick.

See, here's the thing. I have always, even when he has scored the odd goal for us, been of the opinion that Denilson is the worst player to wear the Arsenal shirt since either Stathis Tavlaridis or Kaba Diawara. First off, he's a player without a natural position - he's too lightweight and adverse to contact to be a holding midfielder, but he doesn't have the ball skills or passing ability to be a winger or advanced center-mid. Second, how do I put this diplomatically? Oh, right, he's beyond lazy and flits his way through games in a manner that makes the current Arshavin look like a cross between Ray Parlour and Patrick Vieira. Wasn't it a game against United last season where he could be seen jogging back like nothing was wrong as Wayne Rooney bore down on our goal one-on-one? Maybe it's one of my irrational biases, but I absolutely hate the guy and want to see him on Galatasaray or Panathinaikos at the earliest fucking opportunity.

Anyway, Max Gradel had run into our area, but there were defenders back and it wasn't all that dangerous of a situation. To give credit to Gradel, he did run at Denilson with purpose and made him make a decision (they must have scouted him well, then). Needless to say, the jackass clearly left a trailing leg out for no reason, giving Gradel all the opportunity he needed to fall over it for an absolute stonewall penalty. Snodgrass was the man to take it, and although his placement wasn't great, it had enough power behind it to go in despite the touch from Szczesny. Once again, we were 1-0 down to visitors that we should be destroying.

Changes were obviously needed, and credit to Wenger, the most important one came right afterward. On came The Captain, Cesc Fabregas. My issue though comes with who came off. Any one of the anonymous Arshavin, the out-of-position Bendtner or the shit-and-he-knows-he-is Denilson were prime candidates to come off. In fact, a case could be made for withdrawing all three at that moment. Instead, it was Song whose number came up, leaving all of us in the Pig scratching our heads. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

One quick thing before moving on - before the numbers board even came up, Arshavin was already running to the sideline. Perhaps it's just his being bereft of confidence, but if he is so eager to leave the field in a moment where Arsenal needs any kind of spark it can get, serious questions have to be asked as to whether he should be benched or sold. Lack of confidence or not, that is gutless and inexcusable, and I can only hope someone had a word with him after the match.

The home side immediately looked more threatening, and should have equalized a minute or two later. I didn't catch who sent the cross in, but Chamakh was completely unmarked in the penalty area. You'd normally expect him to at least hit the target, but his header instead looped into low Earth orbit. A shocking miss from a man whose form has deserted him somewhat since his purple patch earlier in the season.

How costly a miss that could have been, as Leeds came down the other end and should have doubled their lead. They won a corner, and Becchio had completely eluded his marker in the penalty area (Go on, guess who his marker was? I'll give you a hint - he's Brazilian and he's useless). He thumped his header towards the low corner, but Szczesny made arguably the best save an Arsenal keeper has managed all season, leaping to his right to claw it away. That right there was the moment that kept us in the FA Cup, no doubt about it.

Another puzzling substitution came afterwards, and again it was not down to the man coming on. Theo Walcott made his way out onto the right wing, and again Arshavin trotted over to the sideline eager to bow out of the proceedings. However, it was Chamakh who was withdrawn. He didn't have the greatest of matches, but with three guys actively destroying our offensive thrust every time they touched the ball, I cannot possibly fathom why all three of them played all 90 minutes. It's seriously delusional, in my opinion.

With that change, Bendtner moved to his preferred center forward role with Walcott going to the right wing as mentioned. That gave us a more balanced shape, and it should have been rewarded with a penalty kick at the 72' mark. Not for the first time, referee Phil Dowd would draw the ire of Arsenal fans by refusing to give it. Some good work down the wing led to Walcott centering the ball for Bendtner, and Andy O'Brien's tackle looked to have gotten the man rather than the ball. Dowd wasn't impressed, and play went on.

Maybe that spooked Leeds manager Simon Grayson a bit, as he took Watt off for Leigh Bromby, going more to a 5-4-1. Whatever counter-attacking threat Leeds had was essentially gone at that point, with the extra defender apparently the signal to his side to bunker in and try to preserve the lead (they almost managed it, too). In response, Wenger made his last change taking off Rosicky for Carlos Vela. Maybe it was the hideously-early kickoff, but I don't remember Vela touching the ball or making any kind of contribution when he came on. In his defense, it could be though that a lot of our attacks came through Walcott from that point on.

Time ran down, and the mood in the Pig became increasingly glum. It's one thing going out of the Cup, but to do so to a band of hopeless triers like this, at home, because of Yet Another Stupid Denilson mistake...it was going to be a tough one to swallow. So, imagine our fury when a penalty was first awarded to us at the 88' mark, and then immediately rescinded. In fairness, Walcott later admitted that he dove to won it, but it was taken away because it seems Dowd doesn't know how this is supposed to work. Walcott went over a challenge from Ben Parker in the area, and the ball came out to Bendtner who was in an offside position. The way I understand it though, because the foul came first, the penalty should have been given. Instead, Dowd changed his mind and awarded a goal kick...the plonker.

At the very least, he got it right a minute later. Leeds were all over the shop a bit at this point, and this time the penalty was given when Walcott was once again fouled in the area. Good thing he came on, because he was the only one troubling the United defense in the second half. Fabregas took the responsibility of keeping us in the Cup, and admittedly his kick was not a great one, going right down the middle. Luckily, Schmeichel had already vacated the center of his net, having guessed with a dive to his right. They're all great penalties when they go in however, and Arsenal were finally level in the 89th minute.

A replay was looking imminent, but in fact Arsenal had two glorious chances to win it that were thrown away in typical Gunners fashion. Fabregas won the ball in the center of the park and launched a beautiful long ball over the Leeds defense. Bendtner did the hard bit, running onto it and firing at goal. Sadly, he didn't even test Schmeichel, as his shot went risibly wide. Right afterwards, Denilson managed to do one thing right and fire a hard, accurate shot on net from outside the area. The Dane repelled us once again though, sealing a replay at Elland Road for his side.

What else can you say about this? It was in retrospect a better effort from our B-team than it had seemed in the sleepless haze of Saturday morning, with quite a few scoring chances created. The frustration once again comes from our inaccuracy in front of net combined with the typical defensive mistake (perpetrated by a man who shouldn't be within 9 postal codes of our first team). It goes without saying that with an already-daunting fixture list, a replay in the FA Cup was not wanted or needed. However, it's now necessary, so all the team can do now is get their heads down and get on with it.

The League Cup match against Ipswich is going to be very interesting, now. Roy Keane has been fired, leaving them managerless. Oh, and they also got rogered 7-0 by Chelsea at their place earlier today, so they're going to be a bit downhearted by the result. At this point, they are beyond there for the taking, in a competition that we absolutely must win. An effort like what was provided yesterday could well let Ipswich get some of their confidence back, and any kind of negative result could potentially derail our season. I'm not saying we need to match the Rent Boys' scoreline, but a solid, professional job is required...and I don't think Arshavin, Bendtner or Denilson are the men for that job at this moment.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 7, Djourou 7, Squillaci 7, Eboue 6, Arshavin 5, Song 6 (Fabregas 7), Rosicky 6 (Vela N/A), Denilson 3, Bendtner 5, Chamakh 5 (Walcott 8 - MOTM)

Arsenal 0-0 Cowardly Arabian Petro-Dollar No-Stars: Disgraceful anti-football from the visitors

(With the exception of the above photoshop, all pictures are courtesy of Yahoo! Sports.)

I have never seen a second-placed team come to the Grove (or Highbury, for that matter) and shut up shop in such a timorous, undignified and frankly disgraceful manner in all of my time following this club (1992, for the record). This is the most open Premier League season in recent memory, with an as-yet-undefeated Manchester United side setting the pace after 20 matches. They will drop more points along the way, I promise you that...luck normalizes over a full season and those fuckers have had a horseshoe rammed up their collective ass all year. We'll see how many losses they have come August (3-4 is my prediction, for what that's worth). Anyway, the point is, the Premiership trophy is right there for whoever wants it...and with their local rivals in their crosshairs, Roberto Mancini never let them take a shot. He is spineless and so is his team for going along with it.

With that out of the way, let's discuss the side that turned up and attempted to play football. The truth is, poor finishing let the Arsenal down once again. While Joe Hart played a blinder in the City net, the men in red could easily have been three goals to the good inside of the first 20 minutes. From the first kick of the match, Arsenal eviscerated the Manchester midfield with precision passing and intelligent movement. It was a joy to watch, if you discount the end product. The manager - learning from the Wigan debacle - played the same side that humbled Chelski. Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas once again combined deliciously on a few moves in the center of the park, and at least at the beginning of the match, the Manks had no answer for it.

As early as the second minute, Arsenal should have had the lead. Nasri won the ball in midfield, and helped it along to Jack Wilshere. The lad's cross was so inviting, I tried to will myself through the television screen and into the Emirates so I could get on the end of it myself. Sadly, the laws of physics (stupid Newton) prevented me from doing so, and it was the span of several inches that thwarted Fabregas.

In fairness, the Chickens had perhaps their only serious chance of the match right afterwards. I don't remember the exact build-up, but a mistake in the Arsenal rearguard allowed James Milner to steal in and drag a shot nervously close to Lukasz Fabianski's far post. As if to mock that half-chance though, the Gunners hit the post a minute later. Robin van Persie danced his way through the City defenders (you know, all NINE of them) and lashed a rasping shot towards the far post. Hart was nowhere to be found - no knock on him, it was unsaveable - but he was rescued by the woodwork and the fact that it bounced to safety rather than to several waiting attackers in red.

Actually, pointing out the colors of the attackers is redundant, isn't it?

Seconds later, Wilshere stung Hart's palms with another shot from distance, but the City man was equal to it. Up the other end, Carlos Tevez (who otherwise had a quiet afternoon plowing a lone furrow up top) used his strength to get past Laurent Koscielny, but the Frenchman recovered well and brilliantly tackled the ball away from behind. It was typical of the solid defending that Arsenal exhibited on the exceedingly-rare occasions when it was necessary. Speaking of which, I have to say that I was impressed with Fabianski's decision-making today. As much as I've been bagging on City for the lack of ambition, there were a few instances (a horrendous Bacary Sagna backpass comes to mind) where the young keeper had to be alert and decisive to come off his line and either claim the ball or boot it out to safety. You'll hear in the various reports that the Pole had little to do, but any keeper can tell you that he quietly had a fantastic game as well.

Speaking of fantastic games, Nasri and Fabregas combined to create a chance that resulted in yet another hit post (two in fact). Nasri worked his way past the attentions of several markers, and laid it off to the captain. His Thunderbolt of God again had Hart clutching at air, but again the woodwork saved the City goalkeeper. Frustratingly, a game that could have been 3-0 on another day was still scoreless...and destined to stay so. Anyway, Theo Walcott had followed up on that chance and fired a shot which yet hit the other post, but it wouldn't have counted anyway. Unsurprisingly on the day, Theo was offside.

See, here's the thing with his performance today. In one respect, it was a stormer - his pace and direct running took advantage of the space whenever Jo or Pablo Zabaleta dared to even think of moving to an attacking position on the left side of the field (Credit where it's due - this is about the only lucid point that Jamie Massive Cunt Redknapp had while doing color commentary on ESPN). However, he too often failed to provide a final ball to a teammate or to beat the last man when running at the City penalty area. In short, he provided no end product on a day when inspiration was desperately needed against the Praetorian Guard in light blue.

Once the first 20 minutes had passed, City had composed themselves to the point where the Gunners found few passages through the final third of the field. Seriously, it felt like waging a fucking land war in Asia. In fact, our distinguished opponents managed one more half-chance, but Tevez sent an angled shot somewhere into the Van Allen Belt. That was to be their last attacking contribution of note, and it happened at the 32' mark. Well done, Manchester City! Well done! A few more failed attacks by the light side of the Force were mainly undone due to over-elaborate passing, which was easily snapped up by the City defenders. That took us to halftime, and incidentally also ended the match as any kind of viewing spectacle.

Well, that's not fair. Zabaleta made a ridiculously-good sliding tackle to take the ball away from Walcott at some point, and there was another incident where there was a shout for handball against Vincent Kompany. I swear, the day everyone learns this fucking rule is going to be an amazing one. First off, it has to be intentional, and the hand or arm has to be in an unnatural position. Seeing as how the shot came from right next to him and at great pace, even Neo from the Matrix wouldn't have been able to get out of the way in time. I know we're all frustrated about the result, but it was never a penalty. We'd be baying for the referee's blood if he had given that against us (speaking of which, Mike Jones had a solid game in somewhat tricky circumstances...fair play to him and his linos).

The real chance came at the 60' mark, though. While he largely had a quiet game, it was that man Van Persie again who received the ball a short distance outside of the penalty area. He immediately let fly with his gifted left foot, and away the ball swooshed towards the top corner of the net. I mean, he fucking HAMMERED this thing. Even in my lunchroom at work, I was springing out of my seat prepared to let loose an almighty roar. But, sadly, fate intervened in the person of Hart. He got across his line in a flash and, diving at full extension, managed to claw the shot away with his off-hand. All you can do is tip your cap to the man for a world-class save...City's # 25 is the reason they slunk back to Manchester with an undeserved point in their hands.

As far as I can recall, that was about it for scoring chances created by the Gunners. One thing that didn't help was the play of one Andrei Arshavin, who came on for Walcott in the 67th. While I can understand why young Theo was withdrawn (his sideline strop he threw aside), Arshavin provided nothing in terms of attacking thrust. He was a total black hole where offensive moves went to die. But, while that substitution was defensible, the one at 81' was mystifying. Wilshere was taken off, but instead of putting on Marouane Chamakh to give the center halves a physical presence to worry about, he threw on Nicklas Bendtner AND PUT HIM ON THE FUCKING LEFT WING AGAIN.

I. Have. No. Words.

What I do have words on is the silly confrontation that Sagna allowed himself to be sucked into with just a few minutes left on the clock. He and Zabaleta got into a tussle on the right sideline, and the City man looked to have said something to him. For whatever reason, Sagna squared up to him, and both men were forehead-to-forehead. From what I saw, they both headbutted each other. Even though it wasn't full-on Glasgow Kiss style, by the letter of the law Jones had to send off both players...which is exactly what he did. It was stupid, mindless and indefensible from our otherwise flawless right back. The upside is that the only matches he'll miss are Ipswich in the League Cup, Dirty Leeds in the FA Cup and West Ham in the league...two of which he may not have played in anyway. Oh, the other upside is that we'll be able to run through our repertoire of Emmanuel Eboue songs at the Blind Pig this weekend.

Anyway, no chances of any kind were created from that point on, and the match sputtered to its then-inevitable 0-0 denouement. City got the point that they so cravenly wanted. We got the point that was missing two of its friends...again. On the other hand, we had a much better time than Liverpool or Chelski or the Tott'scum did, so the fixtures of the day were not a total loss by any means.

I'll leave off here, though I'm sure I have another 5,000 words of bile towards City's tactics in me...no question about it. Check back later this week for Brett's preview of our weekend date with our old friends up at Elland Road. I'll be back of course for the match report of our 7-0 evisceration of the same opponents. See you then!

(Fucking cunts celebrating like they've won the World Cup. Shameful.)

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 7, Clichy 7, Koscielny 7, Djourou 7, Sagna 6, Nasri 8, Fabregas 8, Song 7, Wilshere 7 (Bendtner 5), Walcott 5 (Arshavin 4), van Persie 6