Fulham 2-2 Arsenal: Match Report Cancelled Due to Indifference

I honestly meant to have something up either Sunday night or Monday morning, but simply could not motivate myself to do so. I mean, what do you say, really? Bullet points will probably suffice:

  • Robin scored again, from a spectacular individual effort again. Good lord, imagine if he had any help at all half the time - he'd be threatening for the Golden Boot easily.
  • Fulham got two goals thanks to Arsenal defensive miscues. I'll give you a second to recover from the shock.
  • Theo scored right at the death to give us a draw we didn't deserve, basically creating the chance himself with a lung-busting run past the sleepy Cottagers defense. His finish was a beauty, too.
  • The rest was mind-numbing end-of-season piffle. I wasn't even mad that we didn't get the stream working until the 44th minute.

There will be plenty of off-season chatter here about transfers, the season in retrospective, and so on. You can expect a post from Peter soon to kick it off, as I just don't have the energy at moment.

All I can say is that I have never, ever been as disillusioned with the Arsenal as I am at the current time. Just to be clear, being disillusioned is not the same thing as being a fair-weather supporter. If we finished 7th, 17th or 20th, I'd be behind the red and white just as much as I am when they're 4th or 1st (we did use to get there from time to time, though it feels like the Pleistocene Era when last we did). Still, it's my right as a fan to not agree with the direction the team is going, and that's where I am right now.

I'll put it this way - I mentioned to my roommate yesterday that if you gave me 10-1 odds on Arsenal finishing outside the top four next season, I would put $100 on it if the summer goes as I'm afraid it's going to. Sure, imagination is often worse than reality...that's what keeps the makers of horror films in business. But, it's at least plausible that we'll lose Fabregas and Nasri, we'll lose Bendtner and Arshavin as well and replace them with little other than this year's rumored crop of pre-teens that we're supposed to be buying (Jenkinson from Charlton and Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton, if memory serves).

Even worse would be the above happening while the deadwood doesn't get cleared out (especially if we ask too high of a fee for them). Hell, if it comes to it, we should pay someone to take Denilson or Diaby off our hands.

I don't know - I just fear that the rot is even deeper in this side than we've thought, especially in attitude and application.

On that cheery note, I'll leave you in Pete's capable hands for the next posting. I'll chime in from time to time during the summer as events unfold, and should be back with match reports for the Emirates Cup, when Thierry Henry reminds us of when we had players fit to wear the shirt.

The Modern Gooner Season Player Ratings:

Goalkeepers: Almunia 0, Fabianski 7, Szezcsny 8, Lehmann 6

Defense: Clichy 4, Djourou 7, Koscielny 6, Sagna 8, Gibbs 6, Eboue 5, Squillaci 3, Vermaelen 6

Midfielders: Fabregas 7, Nasri 7, Arshavin 5, Wilshere 8, Song 7, Ramsey 7, Walcott 7, Rosicky 4, Vela 5, Diaby 5, Denilson 3

Strikers: van Persie 9 (Player of the Season), Bendtner 6, Chamakh 6

Preview by Numbers: Fulham v. Arsenal

Szczesny: As pissed off as you and I. Photo: Daily Mail.

Craven Cottage, London
Sunday, May 22
11:00 a.m. EDT, 4:00 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Adam Watts
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Fulham 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 1 Fulham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 34 Arsenal wins, 7 Fulham wins, 7 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-L-W-L-L
  • Fulham's League Form: L-D-W-W-L-W
Arsenal Squad News

Injured: Fabregas (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder)
Doubts: Clichy (hamstring), Nasri (hamstring), Koscielny (thigh), Djourou (ankle), Diaby (calf), Rosicky (thigh)

One more appearance from Jens in goal? Possible, but I
kind of doubt it. Don't tell him I said that, he may punch me
in the face. Photo: Daily Mail.
The squad news has not changed very much in the past week, meaning we may see the same XI that looked disinterested against Aston Villa last week. Wojciech Szczesny will likely start in goal, though there are many that may want to see Jens Lehmann make an appearance one more time. Robin van Persie will start up front. That is almost certain.

The rest of the squad has some question marks. On the back line, there are doubts about Gael Clichy, Laurent Koscielny, and Johan Djourou meaning we may see the same porous back four as last week: Kieran Gibbs, a rusty Thomas Vermaelen, Sebastien Squillaci, and Bacary Sagna.

Cesc Fabregas has been ruled out, so Aaron Ramsey should start again in his place. The midfield should also be filled with the usual suspects of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere. Theo Walcott will start on the right wing, and on the left, it's Samir Nasri if he passes fit and Andrei Arshavin if he does not.

Predicted squad: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Squillaci, Gibbs, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arshavin, Walcott, van Persie.

Fulham Squad News

Injured: Dembele (knee), Duff (Achilles), Kamara (back)
Suspended: Baird (second of two, abusive gesture)

Fulham have lost Moussa Dembele to a knee injury, in addition to the already out Diomansy Kamara (who scored at the Emirates in December, but was out on loan to Leicester this winter) and Damien Duff, who were out for the year already with back and Achilles injuries, respectively. Meanwhile, as Simon Davies returns from injury, Chris Baird misses out through suspension, having been retroactively banned after an obscene gesture towards referee Lee Mason during Fulham's recent loss to Liverpool.

Predicted squad: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hangeland, Senderos, Salcido, Davies, Sidwell, Murphy, Gudjohnsen, Dempsey, A. Johnson.

Current Form
Arsenal's current form = Frowny face. Photo: Daily Mail.
Arsenal's downward spiral first cost them a shot at the league title this season and now, it appears it will cost them automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage next season. On the day of the Carling Cup Final, Arsenal had a six point lead on Manchester City (for second place) with a game in hand. Since then, Arsenal have won twice in 10 league matches and 12 across all competitions. They have now lost three of their last four. They have been passed in the table by both Manchester City and Chelsea (who were fifth in February.) Arsenal have 19 league wins this season. They have been held below 20 league wins only once in the last 13 years, in 2006/07. It might be a blessing that the free-fall has resulted in a tumble to fourth place, as now having to qualify for the Champions League brings about a bit of a tangible punishment for Arsenal's complacency of late, and may provide more of an impetus to sort things out this summer. One hopes.
I should point out that while Arsenal might be in the qualifying round with the likes of Bayern Munich and Lyon, because the drawings are seeded, the odds of Arsenal playing a top class side like that is practically nil.

As for Fulham, they have a chance to finish in 7th place, which would tie their highest ever Premier League finish from two years ago. The Cottagers have won three of their last four and have only lost three league matches since the start of February. All of Fulham's wins this season have come against sides currently below them in the table. They have gotten only four draws against the current top seven. Fulham could find themselves in the Europa League next season as a result of their Fair Play ranking.

Match Facts

In this fixture last year, Vito Mannone was kicking ass
and taking names. Photo: Guardian.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 2-1 on December 4. Samir Nasri had a brace, scoring both goals on brilliant individual efforts; both are strong candidates for Arsenal's goal of the season. It took 75 minutes for Arsenal to break the 1-1 deadlock that was created at the half hour mark when Fulham scored easily after Squillaci and Koscielny horrendously collided with each other. At the time, Arsenal went top of the league. They have not been back to the summit since.

Arsenal took six points from Fulham last season and, like this year, played the Cottagers on the final day of the season. That match was a 4-0 win at the Emirates. Andrei Arshavin and Robin van Persie spotted Arsenal a 2-0 lead before the half hour mark, a Chris Baird own goal made it three by the half, and Carlos Vela's only goal of the year in the 84th sealed it. In this fixture last year, played in late September of 2009, Robin van Persie scored in the 52nd minute to edge Arsenal ahead in a tense 1-0 win, which saw goalkeeper Vito Mannone star as the man of the match.

All seven of Fulham's all-time wins against Arsenal have come at Craven Cottage. Their most recent win over Arsenal came in August of 2008, when Brede Hangeland scored a 21st minute winner after going unmarked by William Gallas on a corner in a 1-0 Fulham victory. That was Fulham's second win over Arsenal since 1966.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Last week, Atkinson took charge of the FA Cup Final. Atkinson is tied for showing the most red cards (12) out of any referee in the top flight this season, while Fulham is the only team in the league that has not had a player sent off this year.

Arsenal have seen a lot of Atkinson this year and two of the six red cards they have received have been delivered by him. He has taken charge of Arsenal's 1-1 draw at Liverpool (in which Laurent Koscielny was sent off,) the 2-1 win over Birmingham City (in which Jack Wilshere was sent off,) the 2-0 Carling Cup win over Wigan, the 1-0 Carling Cup Semi-Final loss at Ipswich Town, and the 3-3 draw at Tottenham.

For Fulham, Atkinson has taken charge of a 1-0 loss at Chelsea, a 3-0 win over West Brom, and a 3-0 win at Sunderland.

Last week's referee, Michael Oliver, who was widely regarded as in over his head at the Emirates (for the second time this year,) is the fourth official.

Around the League

As is customary, all ten Premier League matches start simultaneously on the final day of the season, to prevent match fixing. These are the reverse fixtures of those played the weekend of December 4-6.

Arsenal will have to keep an eye on Manchester City, now that they have been pipped for third place in the league. City travel to the Reebok to take on a Bolton side that has won once in their last six across all competitions (you may recall that Bolton win, as it was against Arsenal.)

Charlie Adam runs away from the hug the referee wants
to give him. Photo: Daily Mail.
By far the most enthralling story line of the weekend is the battle to avoid relegation. With West Ham already assured last place, there are two tickets to the Championship left available and five sides desperately avoiding receiving them. Blackpool and Wigan sit in those two drop zone places right now; the former travels to Old Trafford to play a Manchester United side with nothing to play for, while Wigan travels to Stoke City.

Meanwhile, level with Blackpool and Wigan on points is Birmingham City, just one goal ahead of the Tangerines on the tie-breaker of goal difference. Birmingham is at Tottenham Hotspur, who will clinch a Europa League berth with a win, though they may not want it. Just one point ahead of the drop zone tie-break are Wolves and Blackburn, who play each other at Molineux.

The rest of the matches carry a lot less glamour: Aston Villa hosts Liverpool, Everton hosts Chelsea, Newcastle hosts West Brom, and West Ham hosts Sunderland.

Arsenal 1-2 Aston Villa: Undone by Complacency Again

All it took was 900 seconds for the last home match of the season to turn into the latest in a seemingly-unending string of fiascos, disasters, cataclysms and other related synonyms. In searching for the positives, this was all I could come up with for the events of Sunday:

  • This was surely Sebastian Squillaci's last game in an Arsenal uniform.
  • Robin van Persie scored on a real poacher's effort, taking advantage of a cruel deflection off of Richard Dunne to fire home past the stranded Brad Friedel.
  • My 7-a-side team won 5-0 and the Hofbrau Dunkels afterward were delicious.
That's it. That's our lot.

To give the devil his due, Darren Bent had a storming game for the visitors and his two goals were well-earned. The first opportunity was given to him by the dozy Squillaci playing him onside, but all the hard work was still to be done. He basically teed himself up for a volley, and his looping shot just over the fingertips of the blameless Wojciech Szezcsny was in fairness a gorgeous finish. Still, it was yet another goal conceded by a silly mistake.

Soon after, that stat was doubled for the Arsenal. Many are blaming the returning Tom Vermaelen for slipping, which allowed the through-ball to come in. You can, though I think it may be a tad churlish to throw too many pelters at a guy returning after roughly 12 centuries out of action with an Achilles problem. Personally, I thought the otherwise-solid Bacary Sagna was just as culpable for playing Bent onside. This was more of a routine finish for the England man, slotting the ball past the advancing Szezscny. The young Pole was absolutely furious after the goal, and I'm sure we can sympathize with his frustration. He's doing all he can but right now, no one can play behind this shambles of a defense.

The funny thing is that despite how poorly Arsenal started, despite how pedestrian they were until the last 10 minutes or so, we still should have won the game.

Besides his goal, RVP hit the post with a great effort from an acute angle. Halftime sub Marouane Chamakh (on in place of the dreadful Squillaci - quite the adventurous change from Le Boss) had a perfectly good goal called back for what I'm told is a push...see the replay for yourself and tell me if you see any foul play there. Referee Michael Oliver kept the hits coming by risibly failing to send off Stilian Petrov for an obvious second-yellow offense, and further by refusing to whistle for an absolute stonewall penalty.

By my count, that's a swing from 3-2 to 1-2, thanks to the man in the middle. I've told a few people that I'm not even mad though, and it's the truth. Mostly, I just feel bad for the guy - it's got to be a horrible and lonely feeling to be so overmatched and so out of one's depth in a highly visible situation. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes, that's for sure. Hopefully the poor guy is back to working First Division matches next season.

Still, the referee's non-performance does not excuse the Arsenal's non-performance for long stretches of this match. It was the same sideways-passing glacially-paced nonsense that we've seen all season. You don't need me to describe it to you, even if I had the energy or desire to do so.

All of this said, there has to be a word said for those brave souls from the Supporter's Club who came out to the Pig yesterday morning. We all know how soul-destroying this season has been, especially the nature of the post-League Cup capitulation. We all know that the side is largely going through the motions, with only the odd van Persie or Szezcsny there to show any fire and try and get us as many points as possible. But, admirably, the voices were on show, getting behind the team especially as we got more into the game. It's nice to be a part of a group that understands what supporting a team is all about.

We love you, Arsenal. We just hope you look a little different when we see you again after the summer break. NYC peeps, we at TMG hope to see all of you for our end-of-season party (AKA the Fulham away match next Saturday). This may be the last time we see each other until August, so let's make the most of it and have some fun despite the inevitable turgid 1-1 draw with the Cottagers.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szezcsny 7, Gibbs 7, Squillaci 5 (Chamakh 7), Vermaelen 6, Sagna 6, Arshavin 6 (Bendtner 6), Ramsey 6, Song 6, Wilshere 6, Walcott 6, van Persie 7 (MOTM)

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Aston Villa

 Cesc Fabregas turned in a brilliant cameo performance in this
fixture last year... then re-injured his hamstring
and missed a month. All photos courtesy The Guardian.

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 15
11:00 a.m. EDT, 4:00 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials:
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Ron Ganfield and Bob Pollock
    • 4th Official: Andy D'Urso
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 Aston Villa
  • Reverse Fixture: Aston Villa 2 - 4 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 72 Arsenal wins, 64 Aston Villa wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's Recent Form: W-D-D-L-W-L
  • Aston Villa's Recent Form: D-W-W-D-L-D
Arsenal Squad News

Koscielny (thigh), Diaby (calf), Rosicky (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder)
Doubts: Fabregas (thigh), Nasri (hamstring)

Ramsey may have scored against United, but he could not
get Welsh vengeance against Stoke City. I... ummm, I'm not
sure what Welsh vengeance would entail... but I'm sure it
would've been really awesome.
VERMAELEN IS BACK. That's something, right?

Of course, Arsenal, at times, looked so uninterested in playing last week at Stoke, it's hard to figure out what's going to happen in this, the final home match of the 2010/11 season. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri both face late fitness tests and could return to the side this week. As we saw last week, the team sorely missed their creative spark against a side that was intent to frustrate in the middle.

Laurent Koscielny picked up a thigh injury last week, meaning it is more than likely that Thomas Vermaelen will start in an Arsenal kit for the first time since August 28. Gael Clichy also appears set for a return to the line-up; Kieran Gibbs was less than spectacular at left back last week. If Fabregas and Nasri should miss out, we'll see another start for Aaron Ramsey and Andrei Arshavin in the midfield. We're all a little sad Ramsey could not get any revenge on Stoke last week.

Arsenal still remains threatened by Manchester City for third place, and England's final Champions League automatic group stage qualification slot. City trails the Gunners by two points with two matches for both to play. City plays Stoke and Bolton, Arsenal plays Villa and Fulham.

Predicted squad: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arshavin, Walcott, van Persie.

Aston Villa Squad News

Clark (hamstring)

The Villans do not have many injury concerns, with Gabriel Agbonlahor returning from illness, and Jean Makoun returning after missing two games from a dead leg. Ciaran Clark, however, is out with a hamstring injury. Clark had a brace against Arsenal in November.

Predicted squad: Friedel, Walker, Dunne, Collins, L. Young, Reo-Coker, Petrov, A. Young, Downing, Agbonlahor, Bent.

Current Form

Since a certain Sunday at Wembley that shall remain nameless, Arsenal have won twice in nine league fixtures and twice in 11 across all competitions, a streak which includes five draws. At home, Arsenal have been good at not losing, but they haven't been great at winning either. Before their 1-0 win over United two weeks ago, Arsenal had drawn three straight at home (all during the same run since the Carling Cup final.) Arsenal have only conceded one goal at the Emirates in league play since Louis Saha's controversial offside goal in early February; unfortunately, it was Dirk Kuyt's late penalty equalizer for Liverpool. Arsenal have not lost at home since November 20.

Nobody knows how Emile Heskey didn't get sent off last
week in Villa's 1-1 draw with Wigan.
Aston Villa have had a dreadful season, kick started by the shock departure of Martin O'Neill as manager in August. With two games to play, Villa are technically not mathematically assured of top flight status next year, though there would have to be a nine goal swing in goal difference for them to be relegated. Villa sits six points above the drop zone with two games to play. Still, the fact that you can say that about a team like Aston Villa, who has flirted with European football over the past few seasons, is shocking.

Villa have picked up two points from their last three matches and have won only three of their last 12 league fixtures. Villa's only three road wins this season have come against relegation candidates: Wolves, Wigan, and West Ham. They have dropped 26 points from winning positions this season, more than any other side in the league.

Match Facts

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four against Aston Villa, winning twice and drawing twice. Arsenal's last loss to the Villans came at the Emirates, 2-0 on November 15, 2008. Before this fixture last year, Aston Villa were the last Premier League side not to have lost a match at Arsenal since the opening of Emirates Stadium. The 2-0 Arsenal loss in 2008 stands as Arsenal's only loss against Aston Villa in their last 24 league meetings, a streak which dates back to a 3-2 loss at Villa Park in 1998.

Samir Nasri scores against Villa in November, ensuring
that his chant slowly starts catching on at the Blind Pig.
In the reverse fixture, Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri scored in quick succession to give the Gunners a 2-0 lead at halftime. Ciaran Clark pinged one back for Villa, with a shade of controversy surrounding John Carew standing in an offside position at the time of the strike before Marouane Chamakh restored Arsenal's 3-1 lead (Chamakh has only scored in the FA Cup replay against Leyton Orient since.) Clark scored another for Villa to cut it to 3-2 before Jack Wilshere's first league goal for Arsenal in injury time sealed a 4-2 win in Birmingham.

Arsenal took four points out of a possible six from Aston Villa last year. This fixture last year was Arsenal's Boxing Day round and after a 0-0 first half, a 20-minute cameo appearance from Cesc Fabregas off the bench jump started a 3-0 victory. But, Cesc did more harm than good, re-injuring his hamstring in the process, forcing him to miss a month of action. That month included the reverse fixture, a dreadful 0-0 draw at Villa Park.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Oliver has only taken charge of one Arsenal match this season and in his career; it was Arsenal's first loss of the season as they put forth a dreadful effort, fell behind 3-0 at home, and eventually lost to West Bromwich Albion 3-2 in late September. Oliver showed seven yellow cards in that match; that's the most he has shown in a single game this season.

Oliver has taken charge of two Aston Villa matches, both Villa losses in which they failed to score. The first was a 2-0 loss at Blackburn on November 21 and the second was a 4-0 loss at Manchester City on December 28.

This is Oliver's first season in the Premier League. At season's start in his first match, he became the youngest referee in Premier League history. Oliver has also gone 16 matches across all levels without showing a red card, a streak dating back to November.

I wish both teams could lose the FA Cup Final.
Around the League

This weekend's FA Cup Final (moved earlier in the season because the Champions League Final is also at Wembley) means an interesting arrangement of fixtures that sees four matches in Saturday's early slot and four matches in Sunday's late slot. It is also coincidental that Manchester City and Stoke City would have played each other anyway this weekend, meaning all teams are still in action and the league fixture between them is moved to Tuesday.

With the FA Cup Final at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, all of the other Saturday fixtures will be played at 7:45 a.m. Manchester United needs only a point to win the league and they can start the weekend with said point as they play Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Meanwhile, Blackpool, one point from safety, hosts Bolton, Sunderland hosts Wolves, and West Brom hosts Everton in Saturday's least relevant clash.

On Sunday, Chelsea hosts Newcastle United in the early match, while three other matches take place in the 11:00 a.m. slot simultaneously to Arsenal: Liverpool hosts Spurs in a battle for who wants the Europa League spot (nobody?), Birmingham (just three points above the drop zone) hosts Fulham, and Wigan hosts West Ham in what might actually be the most important fixture of the weekend, an at-the-wire relegation six-pointer.

These are the reverse fixtures of those played on the weekend of November 27-28.

Arsenal Need a Heart Transplant

Somehow, this one was worse than the others. The losses to West Brom, Newcastle, Bolton and others were bitter pills in and of themselves, but the repeat of the fixture which saw Ramsey stretchered off, against a Stoke side who looked to be in cruise control in anticipation of the FA Cup final? On a weekend where we had the most outside of chances at stealing the league, or at least of clinching second? This one should have been ours. Instead, Arsenal fans were treated to a display of first-class apathy with few exceptions, and those of us with any faith remaining in this Arsenal team were punished for that belief yet again.

Which raises the question: If the team as a whole fail to see anything important or special about pulling on the Arsenal shirt, what exactly are we keeping faith in?

Generations of individuals have worn the red and white strip with pride. In most cases, Arsenal's glorious past is still filled with players who, if they weren't exactly good enough, at least they worked as hard as they could. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case with the side as currently constructed. If anything, it is packed with players who possess great physical and technical gifts but wholly lack the desire required of champions. What we were left with on Sunday was the sight of several players who didn't appear as though they cared to be on the pitch or not. History is no help when the present doesn't acknowledge it.

Some will scoff at that idea, their minds already made up on the manager, and are welcome to that opinion. I think it's a question that should be asked: Does Arsene Wenger still have it, the ability to fix what ails the side? On face value, we continue to make the same defensive errors, and the manager in his post-match comments acknowledges this. So if the issues are known, why can we not seem to fix them? The one thing that won't let me throw Arsene Wenger under the bus for the collapse at the end of the season is, oddly enough, his appearance on the sidelines, the anguish at the team chucking away leads or allowing bog-standard goals. He seems physically pained by the team's performance, and that's the reaction you expect to see from someone who has worked his ass off and just watched all of it fall apart. You don't see that kind of frustration when you truly don't know where you've gone wrong. I think he's addressed the problems in training, it's just not getting done where it counts.

What I do think is that he's being badly let down by his players. Yes, ultimately the buck stops with Arsene Wenger, that's true. He's the one who brought these players in, that is down to him. But it just seems he's doing all the right things only to be undone. He's put together a squad that no doubt has talent; you don't beat Barcelona, United and Chelsea without quality. But you also don't beat the likes of Stoke and Newcastle without graft and hard work, and when I look at these players, with few exceptions (Jack, RvP, Sagna, Ramsey, SZCZ, Cesc), I haven't seen enough of it from this group.

Project Youth was put in place because of the stadium construction, and it did its job: we competed at the top level for years while spending little on transfer fees. Arsene did wisely sign up those young players to longer contracts so that we wouldn't see them grow into stars with Arsenal only to leave on a free as soon as they blossomed, which is entirely logical and would mean Arsenal would get paid for any defections. The problem is that to get them to sign longer-term deals, those players had to be put on higher wages to justify the commitment.

What we're left with is a squad peppered with young players on wages far above their station who don't turn up when needed or in some cases ever. It's a strategy that has backfired on the manager, and the only way to rectify this is to get rid of the players who have become complacent before that infects the squad, even if it means selling them for much less due to their wages. That doesn't mean gut the squad, with some suggesting we need as many as 10 new signings, which would be ridiculous. What is important is that when those players exit, they are replaced by players who WILL work their tails off for the club, who've been in backs-against-the-wall situations before and have come through, who won't be fazed by pressure and will step up when called on. Ridding the squad of the illness of complacency isn't like taking out asbestos. We don't need to rip through every wall and replace everything just in case. But surgery is needed on this squad before the infection becomes gangrenous.

People want names. Who leaves? Who stays? Who comes in? Those are pointless questions as neither you nor I will be making those decisions, though it's still fun to toss around who we think fits where. But really, can we stop suggesting Christopher fucking Samba? The Queen Mary turns faster than he does. Let's look at his qualities: A) He's tall; B) There is no B, he's just tall. That's IT. I know he's in the papers having said he'd like to join Arsenal. You know who else would like to join Arsenal? Me. And like you, Chris, I'm not quite good enough. Blackburn have played with 10 men behind the ball for, oh, the entire season, and have still allowed 17 more goals than Arsenal; not only that but they're in a relegation scrap because they've only scored 42 goals this campaign (because they've played 10 men behind the ball). He's not the answer, and Arsenal can do better... and with Vermaelen back, the need for a CB isn't at the top of my own list.

What I would like to see is, as Pat Rice steps down this summer, a defensive coach next to Wenger who will assist him in getting us organized at the back instead of running around like so many headless chickens when the opposition breaks. Martin Keown, Stevie Bould, step on up, and before people question why Arsene would need one of them, let's remember it's not without precedence: Keown's coaching tenure at Arsenal coincided with the stingiest defense the Champions League ever saw. Additionally, a fluid but more direct 4-4-2 type of formation would suit me down to the ground. With the current set-up, when we don't score it seems that we get extremely narrow. When I watch Man U, what strikes me is the space that the forwards always seem to have on attacks. What we don't have are wingers who stretch the field, apart from Theo, so we end up with 7 players around the box, passing around until we eventually give it away. Arsene changed the formation two seasons ago to suit his personnel; this summer, he has the opportunity to change the personnel to give us a more effective formation.

We've got two matches left to clinch 3rd place or better and not have to worry about qualifying for Champions League, even if it's against someone like Celtic (note to Hoops fans: you were never in the tie, let the Eduardo thing go already). I'm not betting on this team stepping up and running through Villa and Fulham based on prior results. At the end of the day, I have faith that Arsene will do what is necessary to correct the flaws in this team: he's done it before, he can do it again. My faith in him has been rewarded before.

Has our faith ever been rewarded by most of these Arsenal players? Not so much. Nor has Arsene's. Let's wait and see whether he is willing to admit that to himself and rid us of the dead weight holding us down. Come June, Dr. Wenger, it's time to scrub in and get out the scalpels. Arsenal needs a heart, and it's up to you to put one in there.

Stoke City 3-1 Arsenal: Djourou's Day to Forget

To the legions of Potter trolls that will inevitably come here to rub our noses in this result, congratulations. Your lot won and were far and away the better side. Now fuck off.

As for us, I'm tired of writing the same things, and I'm sure you are tired of reading them. This is a group that unquestionably has given up the ghost, and is playing out the string before they can zip out to Ibiza or Majorca or wherever it is they'll enjoy their summer off. Combine that with a Stoke side who apparently had something to prove (even if it was only that Aaron Ramsey practically broke his own leg...they really are pond life, aren't they?), and we were probably on a hiding to nothing from the off.

Whatever else you can say about our opposition, they have exactly one game plan but they are bloody good at executing it. Damn near everyone in the stripy shirts is tall, physically strong and good in the air. It was always going to be difficult for a defense that has conceded more than half their goals against to set pieces to contain them, and sure enough it was a deep free kick that gave the Potters an early lead.

The execrable Andrey Arshavin needlessly gave away a foul near the touchline with a shove to one of their lot's back. The free kick was whipped in, and Kenwyne Jones chested it in from about a yard out. Rewind though to before the ball was struck - the camera focused on Johan Djourou, who was trying to mark both Jones and I believe Robert Huth. Instead of calling out and asking someone for help, he shrugged his shoulders and looked around in the vain hope that someone would, err, read his ESP waves or something and come over to assist. Sure enough, he lost Jones, and the striker had all the room he needed to score. It's one thing to be beaten by a taller man, to have the striker make a great and tricky run to lose the defender, etc. But for him to stand there like a mong and let that unfold...he's made great strides this season but that is just not bloody good enough.

So, the home crowd had a nice little knees-up, a 90-minute piss take on our side. I feel sorry for the away support, that's for sure. Anyway, after some brief signs of life in the early exchanges, it was just more of the same. No invention, no running, no speed, no desire. The half was listlessly coming to a conclusion when, of all people, Jermaine fucking Pennant doubled their lead. He took a pass and ran uncontested for a while before letting fly - Djourou lazily stuck a leg out (when he should have been out hell-bent-for-leather to close him down) and did enough to deflected it over the hand of Wojceich Szezcsny and into the net.

Quick aside - how moronic were the commentators today? Blaming Szezcsny in any part for that goal is idiotic and shows how most of these pundits don't know the first thing about keeping. Not only was the bloody thing deflected, but they took him to task for reaching out with only one hand. Well nimrods, here's a DIY exercise to illustrate the point. Stand with your feet flat on the ground, and raise both arms as high as they can go. Now, do the same, but reach with one as high as you can go. Hmm, wonder which way gives you more height?

Anyway, the boss made a bunch of changes at halftime, with Arshavin and the ineffectual Ramsey coming off for Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh. Once again, the Dane was out on the wing crossing to the little Robin van Persie, while Chamakh continues to have Second Season Syndrome in his first season.

The Dutchman did give us something to cheer about though, with a goal out of nothing. Is there any doubt that this man is our player of the season? With defenders all around him, he kind of just turned and shot and watched it sail under the dive of Asmir Begovic. The Stoke keeper absolutely should have done better on it, but he did keep out Robin with a fabulous toe save earlier, and didn't have much else to do besides.

So, of course they scored a minute later. This side never fails to find a way to fail.

A scramble in the area came to Djourou, who panicked and flailed at it with his left peg. It went right to Jonathan Walters, who had the easiest of finishes past the stranded Szezcsny to make it 3-1 and consign the rest of the match to a meaningless procession.

What else can you say? The same old mistakes contributed to the same old result. The ManYoo result was just an anomaly, kids. This was much more the real Arsenal, at least in this current iteration. All we can do is wait for the summer and hope our manager has regained his senses.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szezcsny 6, Gibbs 6, Koscielny 6, Djourou 2, Sagna 6, Arshavin 5 (Bendtner 5), Song 6 (Rosicky N/A), Wilshere 6, Ramsey 5 (Chamakh 5), Walcott 5, van Persie 7 (MOTM)

Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

When I think of playing Stoke, I obviously think of Sebastien
Squillaci's 8th minute winner against them in February.
What? You don't? Photo: Guardian

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Sunday, May 8
9:05 a.m. EDT, 2:05 p.m. BST

  • Match Officials:
    • Referee: Mark Halsey
    • Assistants: Ceri Richards and Glenn Turner
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 0 Stoke
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 49 Arsenal wins, 22 Stoke wins, 21 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-D-L-W
  • Stoke's League Form: W-D-L-D-W-D
Arsenal Squad News

GET IN, AARON! Photo: Guardian.
Injured: Fabregas (thigh), Nasri (hamstring), Diaby (calf), Fabianski (shoulder)
Doubts: Djourou (ankle), Clichy (hamstring), Vermaelen (Achilles)

Cesc Fabregas's thigh injury, picked up in training before last week's clash with Manchester United has not fully healed, which means Aaron Ramsey will make a second consecutive start in the midfield. This start, will of course, be more dramatic than the last start, given what happened to Ramsey in Arsenal's last trip to the Britannia last February. Arsenal v. Stoke has developed into quite the rivalry over the past two seasons, with Ryan Shawcross's injuring of Ramsey adding fuel to the fire that was already burning given the two sides' clash of approaches to the game. Needless to say, the feeling of hatred between the two sides will be palpable.

More questions linger around the back four. Johan Djourou left last week's match against United after turning over his ankle and faces a late fitness test. Apparently, his last test was positive, so he could get the start. Should he not start, Thomas Vermaelen is back in the squad and ready to be penciled in, but we all know he's not match fit, having played 90 minutes of football once, for the reserves, since early September. But I have the feeling I know the answer most Gooners would supply to the question "would you prefer a recovering Vermaelen or any Sebastien Squillaci?" Gael Clichy looks less likely to start with a hamstring injury, so we may see Kieran Gibbs again on the left. It's been a while for him.

Samir Nasri has not recovered by the hamstring knock that took him off at halftime last week, so all signs point to a start for Andrei Arshavin on the left. Abou Diaby remains out with a calf injury.

Predicted squad: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arshavin, Walcott, van Persie.

Stoke Squad News

Are you ready for some throwball? Photo: Guardian.
Injured: Etherington (hamstring), Fuller (Achilles), Higginbotham (knee), Sidibe (Achilles)
Doubts: Wilkinson (dead leg)

Stoke City have no fresh injury concerns at the moment and are potentially set to welcome right back Andy Wilkinson to the side after a dead leg forced his removal from last week's 0-0 draw at Blackpool.

The Potters, however, have four long term injury concerns. Midfielder Matthew Etherington is out with a hamstring injury that could force him to miss the FA Cup Final, both Ricardo Fuller and Mamady Sidibe are out for the year with Achilles injuries, and Danny Higginbotham is out for the season with ligament damage in his knee.

The fact that Stoke are closer to silverware than Arsenal at this point has to sadden any Gooner. Even a loss in the FA Cup Final for the Potters would mean European qualification, if Manchester City finishes in fourth place and takes a Champions League spot. Stoke are also in the hunt for their first top-10 finish in over 35 years.

Glenn Whelan will be making his 100th appearance for the club. Ryan Shawcross is making his 150th.

Current Form

Arsenal will be looking to win back-to-back league matches for the first time since beating Wolves and Stoke in February. Despite their struggles in winning lately, Arsenal still have the best road record in the league, picking up 30 points from 17 road fixtures. Robin van Persie has scored in seven consecutive league road matches.

Stoke come into this match having kept consecutive clean sheets in their last two matches, though they were against relegation threatened Wolves and Blackpool. They have not kept three clean sheets in a row in a span of 13 months. Stoke have only lost once in their last six league matches, 3-2 at Tottenham. Stoke have not lost a match in which they scored first this season; last year, Stoke opened the scoring against Arsenal within the first ten minutes in both matches (league and FA Cup) played at the Britannia.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture 1-0 in February, thanks to an early goal from Sebastian Squillaci and also won both league fixtures last season. At the Britannia, Arsenal scored two late goals to win 3-1, rallying for the honor of the injured Ramsey. Ramsey scored against Stoke last year at the Emirates in a 2-0 win.

Arsenal have played Stoke City in five league matches since Stoke's recent promotion to the Premier League. In these five matches, Arsenal has won four of the them, including all three at the Emirates and last year's trip to the Britannia.

RVP is sent off at the Britannia two years ago. Arsenal
have never really had a pleasant trip to the Britannia.
Clearly, this must be rectified. Photo: Daily Telegraph.
Before Arsenal's 3-1 win at the Britannia last year, the Gunners had lost four straight league trips to Stoke, and were also bounced out of last year's FA Cup there in January of 2010. Overall, Arsenal have won four straight meetings with Stoke in the league, though again, three of those have come at the Emirates. Stoke's only league win against Arsenal since promotion was on November 1, 2008, 2-1. Ryan Shawcross stamped on Emmanuel Adebayor while the latter was out of play in that match, and goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen goaded Robin van Persie into a red card by placing the ball on the ground and waiting for RVP to challenge (and ultimately, shoulder him to the ground.)

Stoke City have scored a higher percentage of their goals (48.8%) from set pieces than any other side in the Premier League. This also happens to be Arsenal's biggest defensive weakness.

Stoke have only received two red cards this season. Guess who has both?

Arsenal have had six players sent off this year; three were straight reds for violent conduct (Wilshere for a terrible tackle against Birmingham, Sagna for a headbutt against City, and I think we all remember Diaby's at Newcastle.)

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Mark Halsey. Last year, Halsey took charge of Arsenal's season-opening 6-1 win at Everton, then announced he was suffering from lymphoma of the glands and had a cancerous tumor removed from his throat. He returned to top flight refereeing this season.

Halsey has taken charge of two Arsenal matches this year, both clean sheet wins: 2-0 at Wolves and 3-0 over Ipswich Town in the Carling Cup semi-final second leg at the Emirates. For Stoke, Halsey has taken charge of a 2-0 win over Fulham in the Carling Cup, a 2-0 win over Liverpool, a 1-1 draw with Cardiff in the FA Cup, and a 1-0 loss at Birmingham.

Halsey has shown only one red card this season, to Liverpool's Lucas, for a second yellow. It was in the 90th minute of the aforementioned Liverpool match at the Britannia against Stoke.

Around the League

This round of fixtures is the reverse of those which were scheduled to be played the weekend of December 18-20. Many of them were postponed due to a major snowstorm in England, including Arsenal v. Stoke which was moved to February.

Frank Lampard had the winner at the Bridge against United.
  Only a Chelsea win keeps Arsenal's very slim mathematical
hopes at the title alive. Photo: Guardian.
The obvious highlight fixture of the weekend is at Old Trafford and will take place right after Arsenal's match at Stoke, as Manchester United hosts Chelsea in a top of the table clash. United leads Chelsea for the league lead by just three points with three matches to play, with the goal difference equal between the two sides. United plays Blackburn and Blackpool in their final two matches of the year, Chelsea plays Newcastle and Everton. Given those future fixtures, I have the feeling that at least a point could all but mathematically seal another title for United.

There's one other match on Sunday, earlier than Arsenal's start, as Wolves host West Brom in a huge West Midlands derby with relegation implications. Wolves are a point from safety out of the drop zone, West Brom are eight points clear with three matches to play, essentially securing their safety with a big win against Aston Villa last week.

As for the Saturday kick-offs, there's no early match again this week; it's the final round of play in the Championship, so all second tier matches start simultaneously in that time slot. Leeds United has an outside shot of unseating Nottingham Forest for the last playoff spot (Leeds is at already promoted QPR, Forest is at Crystal Palace.) Leeds will need to overturn a six goal deficit in goal difference to do it, though.

Back to the top flight, in the 10:00 a.m. time slot Saturday: Wigan (in the drop zone on goal difference) is at Aston Villa, Sunderland is at Bolton, Manchester City is at Everton, Birmingham is at Newcastle, and Blackburn is at last place West Ham. In the late match, Tottenham hosts Blackpool. On Monday, Fulham hosts Liverpool.

Ryan Shawcross Is a Big Dumb Animal

They say time heals all wounds, and judging from the performance on Sunday's win over likely champions Manchester United, it certainly seems that physically, the leg broken by Ryan Shawcross on 27 February 2010 has been fully mended. Psychologically, so far as anyone can tell, Aaron Ramsey has proven resilient. While our title hopes this season appear to be realistically, if not mathematically, gone, that win gave us another look at the player we truly have in Ramsey and what a special talent he is.

A little over 14 months gone, and the image of Aaron Ramsey writhing on the ground in pain still hasn't left me. For the Welshman himself, I don't suppose the experience will ever leave him. This Sunday however provides a great opportunity to put all that behind him; indeed, behind all of us. Clashes between Arsenal and this Stoke team have been heated since a two-footed tackle from behind beyond the touchline put Adebayor out for 3 weeks and put Ryan "He's a Big Dumb Animal, Isn't He Folks?" Shawcross in Arsene Wenger's doghouse, not for the last time. The "tackle" on Ramsey that put him out for a year, and the subsequent Arsenal response in that match, obviously ratcheted up the intensity level for future contests between the sides. And, based on the reception given to Ryan "Lenny" Shawcross and his master Tony "George" Pubis when Stoke visited the Emirates, taken with the rather sensitive nature of Stoke fans (I don't doubt their trolls will be all over this post), I would expect the home crowd on Sunday to be... unkind. At least a small portion of the Brittania faithful will have some song celebrating Ramsey's injury (the travelling support will hear it, the press and Stoke will deny it happened), and the Potters' fans will look to start trouble outside the ground for any Gooners they encounter. On the pitch, expect no niceties to be exchanged: it's clear that the managers and players don't like each other. Rightly so.

We've got every reason to be up for the fight. Beyond the obvious tension due to Ramsey's return, we're still fighting for second place which, like it or not, remains an important thing. Yes, I know it's not a cup and it's not the league, but it's better than 3rd, no? Also, if anyone really wants us to tank the rest of the season in some misguided way to force Arsene to buy players or in some blind hope that we'd sack the manager, you really do need your head examined. For me, the United win, while it made things look a bit sunnier, didn't eliminate the issues in the squad. What I want to see before anything, as in any match, is a full-on effort from Arsenal players. But if you can actually sit back and cheer against Arsenal, then I congratulate you on realizing you're not a Gooner. I couldn't cheer against Arsenal if they were playing my immediate family.

As of this writing, I'm not certain who will and won't be available for the match. Nasri and Djourou both came off injured against United, and Cesc missed out entirely due to a knock picked up in training. I personally hope Cesc will return and allow Ramsey to start the match on the bench given the situation; as much as I want Rambo to put a hat-trick in at the Brittania, it's better that way. If Nasri can't go, Arshavin will likely get the call. The return to reserve action by Thomas Vermaelen last week gives Arsene an interesting choice to make at the back. If Djourou doesn't pass fit, does he go with the much-maligned Squillaci (who in fairness played pretty well his last few times out), or does he select the Verminator who may or may not be match-fit? Otherwise the lineup picks itself.

UPDATE: Nasri and Fabregas are both out of this weekend's match. Expect Arshavin and Ramsey to start in their places. Also, shockingly, Diaby isn't fit for the Stoke match either.

I don't know about you, but I'm definitely up for this one. There will be excitement, at least when Arsenal have the ball, and there will be a plodding Stoke side trying to knock the ball into touch off our defenders so that Rory Delap can dry the ball for 5 damned minutes before throwing it into the box. Our defenders, and particularly keeper Wojciech Szczesny (VOY-check CHES-nee) will know this and will have to cope with that fluid, attacking football for which Stoke are so well-known. Our forwards and midfield will need to control the ball while being mindful of the counterattack, and break forward without being, for lack of a better word, broken.

Football's a strange game, but the object is always very simple: score more than your opponent. If Arsenal can make good on that, I'll be a happy man come Sunday afternoon.

And if Aaron Ramsey were to get himself a hat-trick, I'll be ecstatic.


Our Rock

There will be no shortage of inquests and post-mortems in the weeks to come about this Arsenal season...and rightfully so at that. Given United's dip in form (and of course I miss one of our best performances of the season when trapped in a location with no FSC), I don't think any Gooner can be faulted for wondering what could have been. That said, I am increasingly certain that for all of the things that we do need, there is one thing that we emphatically do not.

We do not need a new No. 1 goalkeeper.

Back in August of last year, I thought this kid had a shot. At the time, I would still have preferred a Hugo Lloris or an Igor Akinfeev...money be damned. But, I saw this video from his time at Brentford, and saw many positive signs as far as his development and his potential.

This is what I posted on the Arseblog Forums that day (I'd link, but it's a private forum):

Liked what I saw from the youtube. Good instincts, catches damn near everything (and if not, it's away and out of danger), great reflexes, awesome recovery time after a save (perhaps Almunia's most glaring weakness), and he doesn't seem afraid to get stuck in on those crosses.

Of course, a video of every goal he conceded may be just as instructive. Also, let's keep in mind that these were third-tier strikers we were watching...the only thing more woeful than some of the finishing was Brentford's defense.

So, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to pull a Monday-morning Nostradamus act. All I'm saying is at the time, I thought this kid had something about him...a spark that our other young keepers didn't have.

Still, if I could go back in time and change one thing that I said, it would have been discounting his performance even slightly due to the level he was playing at. In fact, the fact that Brentford's defense often evaporated in front of him only strengthens the case that video was making. I have a theory that the difference between a first-tier and third-tier player isn't necessarily what they do when they have time and space with the ball - it's more in whether they can get that time and space. If someone is in alone or in a good shooting position with no defender in the same postal code, a great save is a great save...whether it's in the Emirates or at Gigg Lane.

Now with his graduation to the senior side, I have seen nothing that has changed my mind. This kid is something special, end of.

First off, do not forget his pedigree. His father was a brilliant goalkeeper for Legia back in the day, and he clearly passed on his determination and attitude to his son. Whereas the father punched out Roberto Mancini in a Champions League game (no, really), the son looks to channel that even more effectively. That is a large part of his appeal to me, even beyond the great saves and the air of confidence he brings to the team. Remember his reaction when we beat Barcelona at home? This is a kid who cares and who gives everything regardless of the situation.

This is not a kid who will wilt like Manuel Almunia when the spotlight is on him. In fact, he revels in it. He seems to live for it.

Further, this is a kid who believes that Arsenal can win things. I may not agree with him in his most recent statements about Arsene Wenger, but I love him for saying them. He's got the kind of fighting spirit that more on this club should have, and he already has given us some stability in big matches (Birmingham aside, which I still maintain was much more on Laurent Koscielny than anything else) that we haven't had since Jens Lehmann was in his pomp.

His technical ability is right up there as well. No, he may not yet be a Lloris or an Akinfeev, but he's not miles away and has youth and time on his side. Goalkeepers don't peak until their thirties...Szezcsny is just 21. Already, he plays his angles well and has a freakishly-good sense for when to come off his line. Unlike any other goalkeeper at the club, he is proficient in keeping himself big and making shooters beat him on a one-on-one (note how often Almunia half-heartedly comes out and inadvertently gives the shooter all the space in the world to score - note how often Almunia or Fabianski concedes there as opposed to Szezcsny). His reflexes are borderline ridiculous, and he seems to communicate well with the defense.

His distribution and perhaps his maturity may not be all there yet, but as I mentioned, there's time.

So, please, keep your Pepe Reinas or your Hugo Llorises. We've got a guy who is going to be that good if not better some day, and he's already close. Oh, and we haven't spent a dime other than wages for him. With all of the other needs that this club has, buying a goalkeeper at this moment in time is like giving a legless man a bionic arm.

Rambo 1 - 0 Manure: More Of The Same Please

Well I don't really know what to say here. Yes, I'm extremely pleased with the result, a good ol' one-nil to The Arsenal, but why can't we play like that when it matters most to us?

Don't get me wrong, the game still "matters", beating United ALWAYS matters, like having sex ALWAYS matters - last weeks' quickie with that ugly bint still gave you pleasure right?

I think this game has helped to highlight two interesting factors. First, we seem to play better against bigger teams when we aren't under as much pressure to do something (i.e win the league). The boys clearly knew they still had to get a result, but not whilst carrying the burden that is competing for a league championship. For a team with an average age of under 24, that's a pretty serious weight on their shoulders.

Instead, we looked like we were being more expressive and having a bit more fun out there, whilst at the same time completely controlling the pace of the game, and seeing substantially more of the ball than United.

The other thing I noticed from this particular game, and please correct me if I'm wrong, is the way we played without our Number Four - WHO NEEDS CESC??? I'm not saying that because I dislike the kid, I'm very pro-Fabregas and I love what he's done for us over the years in terms of goals and assists, but as fans we have to be prepared for the possibility that he won't be at The Emirates next season. What might have been a daunting thought at first (it was for me) has turned into a subject that we need not worry about too much.

Today's midfield performance, although not perfect, was extremely convincing. I'd be more than happy to see the Ramsey-Wilshere-Song midfield as the partnership of choice next season, and with that the captaincy could be offloaded to somebody with a bit more commanding presence on the pitch, like Robin van Persie. In fact, RvP's the only player I can think of that would be worthy of full-time armband duty at the moment. Either that or SN8, but he's not as much of a motor-mouth.

I think it was one of the most solid defensive performances of the season too, Koscielny made some key tackles and interceptions, and Arshavin really impressed me with the way he was sliding-tackling his way around the pitch like Sol Campbell on crystal meth.

And the goal itself came from a quite typical Arsenal attack. Aaron Ramsey started this move himself, spreading the ball out to van Persie, who stormed up the right wing but showed patience and vision before returning the ball to the Welshman inside the area to slot past van Der Sar. I couldn't have been happier that it was Rambo who found the net, he's only started two games for us this season, it's nice to see him score against our arch enemies and will no doubt spur him on to impress in the final few games of the season.

Aside from that, and despite my praise for our performance, that game itself was rather uneventful. We obviously should have had a penalty when Vidic thought he was in goal, and Szczesny pulled off a few good saves, first to deny a Rooney free kick and then later to thwart Nani's attempt following a United breakaway. I won't mention the Owen penalty claim, he made it look a lot worse than it was!

So what does the result mean for us this season? Very little. At most, it will help us wrap up 3rd place. Mathematically we can still take the title, although we would need something miraculous to happen. Anybody fancy a punt on that one?

It's just nice to know that we're making United work for it, although it's a shame that the other team in contention is just as hateful.