2011 in Retrospect: Just Another Boring Year, Then! (Part 1 - the second half of last season)

It was on September 25, 2010 that I made my Modern Gooner debut, and it was an auspicious one at that. That day, my lot was to write the match report for a sickening 2-3 home loss to West Bromwich Albion. Since then, it has been my absolute pleasure to pen 46 match reports and 7 stand-alone pieces (this being the 8th) for what has proven to be a consistently fantastic audience. I only wish that the 9-to-5 gig and various vacations and absences hadn't put a dent in the number of fixtures that I've been able to cover - though now that I have ESPN3, this should be less of an issue in the future.

In short, I'm eternally grateful to Kurtis for what was, at the time, probably just a random throwaway question: "So, why don't you write for our blog?"

With all of this in mind, I thought now would be a good opportunity to go back and re-live 2011 through what I've written. I of course don't have every match covered, and needless to say there are a few matches that I'd rather re-live the slapshot to the groin from my hockey days than go back and read the reports for. Still, I think any writer has to learn to not take themselves so seriously, and my goal is to highlight some of the breathtakingly baffling and moronic things I've said...as well as the few prescient moments.
Also, at the end I will include the aggregation of all the ratings that I've given out to Arsenal players in 2011 - with their average rating and the number of times they've been Man of the Match (if there's a tie before I started picking one out, I'll give it to the person who a) I think it would have been given to and/or b) not Samir Nasri).

1/5/11: Arsenal 0-0 Cowardly Arabian Petro-Dollar No-Stars: Disgraceful Anti-Football from the Visitors

  • 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).
  • 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?
  • That was to be their last attacking contribution of note, and it happened at the 32' mark. Well done, Manchester City! Well done!

1/9/11: Arsenal 1-1 Dirty Leeds United: Jailbreak

  • Frankly, this is now three or four glorious chances on the trot that he's (Arshavin) 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...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.
  • One quick thing before moving on - before the numbers board even came up, Arshavin was already running to the sideline...Lack of confidence or not, that is gutless and inexcusable, and I can only hope someone had a word with him after the match.
  • 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.

1/16/11: West Ham United 0-3 Arsenal: Back to Winning Ways

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

1/20/11: Dirty Leeds United 1-3 Arsenal: Redemption

  • Denilson and Alex Song were ostensibly in the holding role, but you know how that goes this season.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!".

2/10/11: Phil Dowd (Newcastle United) 4-4 Arsenal: Everyone Hates Us

  • In case you're wondering why this wasn't up in a more timely fashion, the simple answer is that I endeavor to be able to talk about the games with some level of detachment...my hope is that I have something interesting and objective to say about the match. Ever since Saturday, I've been both enraged and demoralized to the point where I honestly couldn't write about it without petty, vindictive anger...towards the team and to the esteemed referee in charge of this farce.
  • If you had asked me at the 10' mark of this one, I would have said the points were inescapably in the bag... I would have bet money, sexual favors or even a spare limb on it without blinking an eye.
  • When the Dutch master tallied again to make it a four-goal cushion, I openly wondered how many we were going to score on the day. I had visions of a similar scoreline to last season's opener against Everton, and indulged in double-digit dreams.
  • Well, that is, until the double-whammy happened. Djourou got hurt, and Abou Diaby lost his mind.
  • Either we're soft and don't like it up us, or we're wild caveman thugs who have a shocking lack of discipline. You can't have it both ways (though Fleet Street sure will fucking try).
  • I've mentioned in this space before that I don't rate Sebastien Squillaci as a defender, and for me that was proved once again on Saturday. Koscielny has shown over the season that he is developing and is somewhat able to cope at this level, with flashes of excellent play (particularly with anticipating a pass and stepping up to intercept). But, he's also shown that he's devastatingly prone to positional mishaps, to the extent where he needs a great partner to bring out the best in him. Give him Tommy Vermaelen or Djourou, and the partnership clicks. Give him someone like Squillaci who is not physically imposing, just as prone to poor positioning and not much for mental strength either, and you have a backline in disarray.
  • Still, these are fucking professionals and they should have been able to hold a four-goal lead.
  • Once again, the manager has failed to give us any kind of reasonable cover in central defense during the transfer window...Who is waiting in the wings that would be adversely affected by a transfer? Ignasi Miquel? Do me a motherfucking favor.
  • All of a sudden, it was a festival of bad positioning, bad decisions, terrible passing and absolutely no plan for how to see out the rest of the game.
  • The second penalty though is where it became very obvious that Dowd was either sending us a message on behalf of the league's officials about Cesc Fabregas' comments in the wake of the Everton game, or was simply getting caught up in the idea of a comeback and found himself easily swayed by the Geordie faithful (for the record, I think it's about 5% of the former and 95% of the latter).
  • It's fitting in a way that it came from a decent clearance, leading to Tiote equalizing with a miracle hit from well outside the area. Seriously, has any team in living memory conceded more of those than we do? Neil Mellor, Danny Rose, Franck Quedrue (though we did win that one), Chieck Tiote.
  • Anyway, I don't know what the hell to think about the Wolves game. I rule nothing out. We could win by 10, lose by 10, come back from 4-0 down to win, go up 4-0 and lose, get 6 red cards and forfeit the game, break out into an elaborate interpretive dance routine during open play...it's all on the table. I've given up trying to read the tea leaves of whether the world-beaters or the cossetted little princesses will show up on a given day.

2/14/11: Arsenal 2-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers (No sub-head for some reason):

  • Seriously? I think this was my favorite Arsenal win in a very long time.
  • The mark of just how brilliant they were could be explained by Wojciech Szezcsny's workload. I remember him punching well to clear the danger on a corner, but he could have been reading the Guardian on a lawn chair otherwise. The returns of Johan Djourou and Alex Song to the side played no small part in that, I can assure you. When those two are in the team, I back the Arsenal to have a great chance to beat just about anyone (downgrading to "puncher's chance" only against Barcelona).
  • Andrei Arshavin worked much harder than he has in the past, and contributed with some nice passes. If he's playing himself into form, that's all the better for us.
  • Still, I'll leave the Barcelona preview in the capable hands of Brett. Just know that I'm about 100% less optimistic about this tie than he'll be! (Hint: Brett was right.)

2/22/11: Leyton Orient 1-1 Arsenal: The Manuel Almunia Experience

  • Sadly for us, in the 88th minute, the Manuel Almunia Experience struck again.
  • In fairness though, I thought the team worked a lot harder this time around and on most days, would have done enough to get the win.
  • I think we at times forget that this is Chamakh's first season in the Premier League, and opposing defenses have now had the time to look at tape of his torrid early-season performances and make adjustments. It's now on the Moroccan (with the help of the coaching staff) to make the necessary counter-adjustments, but I absolutely believe he'll get there.
  • Bendtner, though, is a different situation entirely. I know he's not the favorite player of many Gooners, and I admit my frustration with him at times as well. However, I also have a large degree of sympathy with him given the manner in which he's being used (though in turn I have sympathy for Wenger's selection headaches given the brilliant form of Robin van Persie).
  • It turns out that the answer was "a Tomas Rosicky header"...which before the match would have been only slightly less believable than "a double-back-hoof shot from a unicorn". Despite my rantings above, Super Winger Nicklas Bendtner was the man who supplied the cross.
  • I did overhear one topic come up a few times from in the in-game discussions among the audience at the Blind Pig - why weren't there any substitutions?...Here, the XI that started the game finished it, and that may have had something to do with the result.
  • Now, look...as I said, I'm a keeper myself and I'm the first to defend my spiritual brothers when it's warranted...Tehoue's shot was eminently stoppable, and Almunia fucked it up. AGAIN.
  • It's funny how he's perfectly OK as long as he only has to react rather than think, isn't it? Well, not funny in the ha-ha sense, but it is telling. Manuel Almunia is a man whose confidence has long deserted him, and whose thoughts are already on wherever his next opportunity lies.
  • In a way, I don't blame him. He has been a No. 2 for much of his career, and was all of a sudden handed a shock transfer to one of the world's biggest clubs. When his chief competitor was sent off in the Champions' League final, he was all of a sudden thrust into a spotlight far brighter and far harsher than I'm sure he could have possibly imagined.

2/24 - Arsenal 1-0 Stoke City: Victory with a Price

  • Of course, I got there at the 14' mark, meaning I had already missed every moment of excitement that would occur in the match. That said, I haven't been happier to be bored in quite some time.
  • It came out to Nicklas Bendtner on the edge of the area, and he cushioned a header back into the danger area. Sebastien Squillaci was there to nod home from point-blank range, and Arsenal had the only goal it would need. You won't see a more anti-Arsenal one all season, but on the other hand, there's some poetic justice in having beaten this lot at their own game.
  • This one was bloody turgid at times, much like the Leyton Orient match with the minor exception that we fielded a goalkeeper this time around.
  • I feel that special praise has to go to Johan Djourou once again. Stoke largely stayed true to form, relying on a series of long balls to target man John Carew allied with Rory Delap's javelin-hurls into the area. The entire back four dealt with it well when required, but Djourou seemed to be the leader back there.
  • Besides him, you also have to give a lot of credit to our mad keeper, Wojciech Szezscny. When the situation warranted it, he was decisive on his line and punched effectively when he had to.
  • There isn't much to tell, other than the two elephants in the room. Two more Arsenal players went off injured, but for once, it wasn't due to Neanderthal tactics from our esteemed opponents. In fact, I thought that by their standards it was as clean of a match as you can expect from them. Of course, that's somewhat tantamount to congratulating a serial killer for restricting himself to assault for a week, but I try not to look gift horses in the mouth whenever possible.
  • Both will miss the League Cup Final, which is a devastating blow both for them and for us. Still, one would hope that more than enough firepower remains to see off a hopeless band of triers like Birmingham City in a neutral venue.

(If you are of a nervous or squeamish disposition, skip down a ways......now.)

2/27/11 - Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City: Same Old Arsenal, Always Choking

  • The thing is, games that truly matter - where there is a tangible chance of winning things - play differently than normal ones do. A normal regular-season or early-round Cup game is routine...it has recognizable patterns and rhythms, and even a horrible loss is only one small part of a much greater whole. A game like this, on the other hand, is magnified to a ridiculously intense degree. One lapse of concentration, one bad bounce of the ball, and a season's worth of work is undone in an instant. It takes a certain kind of character to win these games, and much of this team just doesn't have it.
  • I may well take some stick for saying that, but keep in mind that by all rights Birmingham should have been 1-0 up against 10 men (9, when you consider Manuel Almunia would have been in goal) inside of the first two minutes...At the end of the day, a favorite to win a game that has any kind of composure and self-belief doesn't have this happen before most people watching in the pub have ordered their first pint.
  • The attack would have been far more potent though if those two - Andrei Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky - were on good form. Arshavin had some nice touches and his passing was OK, although there wasn't as much end product as you'd have liked. Rosicky, on the other hand, was fucking useless once again.
  • Arsene Wenger's substitution patterns mystify me at the best of times, but this season especially has ranged from neutral to mind-boggling.
  • The ball came out to Nikola Zigic, who was unmarked. YES, THE SIX-FOOT-FUCKING-EIGHT GUY WAS LEFT COMPLETELY FUCKING UNGUARDED. As it turns out, Johan Djourou (who had a bit of a shocker today, it has to be said) abandoned him to try and double-team Johnson. Oh, and in all of this, Szezcsny made a rare mistake and was caught flapping at absolutely nothing, leaving the big Croat with the easiest of headers to give Birmingham the lead.
  • You can castigate me if you wish for not being a True Believer, but it was about this point where I felt we were on a hiding to nothing. As a matter of fact, if Zigic didn't have the ball control of a newborn foal, it would have been 2-0 to the other mob just seconds later.
  • Let's sum up. At this point, the men in blue could very easily have been up 3-0 and facing 10 men for 56 more minutes. Can anyone honestly dispute that this lot deserved to beat us?
  • Jack Wilshere first hit the bar with long-range drive, but the ball came out to Arshavin. The little Russian sent it back into the area, where Robin van Persie crisply volleyed low into the corner of the net. Ben Foster had no chance whatsoever, and the scores were level.
  • As it stood, an even half continued until the 70th minute, when van Persie's number came up on the board to be replaced by Nicklas Bendtner. I didn't see RVP get injured at any point, but that would be the only possible logical reason for that change.
  • It was Rosicky of all people who made an amazing, darting run into the penalty area. It was so direct that the Birmingham defense were at sixes and sevens, nowhere fucking near him. It wasn't the greatest of angles, but he had a clear line on goal and should have taken the shot. Of course, he hit a dreadful pass to Chamakh that was cleared out. The chance came and went. So fucking typical.
  • Despite my angry Facebook status from after the game wishing Koscielny a happy trip back to Lorient, the truth is that he has been a solid defender most of this season. He's had his dodgy moments and his brilliant ones - and this is a mistake that could happen to anyone, could happen in any game. We see mistakes like this made six, seven, maybe eight times a season, minimum. But, you know what? This is the kind of thing that a panicking team does in a big situation. That is the kind of goal I would expect West Ham to concede in a relegation six-pointer. That is the kind of goal I would expect Tiny La Liga Team # 1261A to concede when Barcelona is cutting them to ribbons. That is the kind of goal that, if we're being honest with ourselves, we always have to expect that Arsenal are capable of conceding at any time.
  • The saying goes that "banners last forever", and whoever coined it wasn't wrong. When Mike Dean blew his whistle three times, Arsenal had one beautiful world-class goal, Birmingham had two ugly ones...and a trophy.

3/6/11 - Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland: Dowd-Esque Officiating Strikes Again

  • There isn't a whole lot that needs to be said about this one - a turgid affair low on chances and excitement that was further marred by mystifying decisions from referee Anthony Taylor and linesman Andy Garratt.
  • Second, while there was some good play down the wings from Nasri and from Andrei Arshavin, there was absolutely no creativity or fluidity in the middle of the park for us on the day. Jack Wilshere did not have a great game by any means, but that can absolutely be forgiven in the wake of his recent brilliant performances (and the whole "being a rookie" thing). Less forgivable is the heaping pile of dog crap served up by Denilson and Abou Diaby. The pair of them gave the ball away constantly, conceded needless free kicks, and generally served to break up many of our attacks before they could get started.
  • The Russian's frustrations were compounded a few minutes later when he torched Titus Bramble for pace (big shock there), but was taken down from behind with a two-handed shove. If he dives, he gets a penalty and we in all likelihood win the game. Isn't it funny how the guy doesn't get any plaudits for staying on his feet though?
  • Of course, we fell asleep and let them in for one chance at the death...but our man Wojciech Szczesny made fools of the idiots blaming him for the Birmingham disaster (and those wittering on and on about how we need a goalkeeper) by saving our collective bacon once again with a brave block at Danny Welbeck's feet.

3/8/11 - Massimo Busacca (Barcelona) 3-1 Arsenal: Gutsy Performance in Hopeless Circumstances

  • Make no mistake - this was never a sporting contest. In no sense of the word did Arsenal have any legitimate chance to win this game on an even playing field.
  • It's bad enough having to defend against this lot in any situation, but having three key players cautioned so soon and for no good reason on top of it was just taking the piss.
  • Koscielny had a very good game with some nice saving tackles, but Johan Djourou was just immense. For me, he was the Man of the Match by some distance
  • I have to say it again...I'm so proud of this team right now, I could burst. And, you regular readers know how harsh I've been on them all season.
  • Since we're on the subject, a word about the Spaniard. I've been the first to harp on him for some of the hideous mistakes he's made along the way...and I still think he's nowhere near a good enough keeper for Arsenal over the long haul. But, today the man was simply magnificent.
  • That said, Arsenal found themselves down 1-0 (and tied 2-2 on aggregate) thanks to an unforgivably stupid mistake from Cesc Fabregas. Even with that, it's an illustration though of how unfortunate we were as a whole...the half probably would have been over at that point if Szezcsny didn't get injured.
  • For the next minute or two, Barcelona did not look like the same team. Gone was the mystique, so briefly gone was the aura of invincibility. Arsenal started to see the ball more often, and it was in an all-too-rare sortie upfield when disaster struck. Before we get to that though, we have to rewind a bit and travel back in time to the first half...As I mentioned, Barcelona got away with whatever they wanted to in this game. They were able to kick the Arsenal players at will with nothing in the way of admonishment (as it happens, they finished a highly contentious match with exactly 0 yellow cards and only 8 fouls called against, despite the fact that Eric Abidal should have walked when he had his hand around van Persie's throat). Robin van Persie was kicked off the ball in first-half stoppage time, to which he responded by seeking out a Barca player after the goal kick and violently fouling him. Let's be crystal clear about this one - it was an incredibly stupid and indescribably selfish yellow card to take in a game of this magnitude.
  • Still, that does not excuse referee Massimo Busacca for perhaps the single worst red-card decision I have ever seen in my life (and I don't forget Emmanuel Petit getting sent off for Paul Durkin running into him in that match against Villa back in 1998)...While Busacca gets off on a technicality because of the letter of the law, no sensible referee EVER shows a red card there. Even if you think it's intentional, a stern talking-to is the preferred course of action in that case. If this happened to me in a rec-league game, I'd be banned for life because quite frankly, I would kick the shit out of the referee right there.
  • What can you say? This game was booked by Vince McMahon.
  • Two minutes later, some Barcelona jerkoff was theatrically falling over the leg of Koscielny (my god, if he didn't have the devil's own blackest luck, he'd have none at all), and Messi easily tucked away the penalty kick.
  • Bendtner had one half-chance late on where his first touch betrayed him...but let's be honest. Even if he had scored, Busacca would have found some excuse to send someone off or award another penalty in the 7th minute of injury time.

3/12/11 - Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal: Never at the Races

  • Beyond that, there's not a lot to say about this result. Arsenal were well beaten by superior opposition, despite the fact that said opposition had just as many injuries and just as bad of a recent run as us. I have harped on this point several times this season, and I am gutted at how I keep being proven right - winners win, losers make excuses. Teams that have winning in their blood find ways to overcome obstacles, teams that don't bemoan the existence of said obstacles and use them as a crutch.
  • You will read in the match reports today and tomorrow that Edwin van der Sar was the Man of the Match, and that in some ways he stole this result for United. Every single one of those reports will be wrong. He had a fine game of course, and did everything he was supposed to. Other than one save where he got fingertips to a low shot heading into to the corner (from van Persie, I think?), everything else he faced was the kind of thing a top-level goalkeeper is expected to save.
  • It strikes me as ironic that Denilson ended up being taken off early in the second half, as I thought this was his best effort in quite a while. He put in a few saving tackles, harried the player on the ball fairly well, and even passed the ball forward once or twice. Arshavin continued to look lively on the wing and more than once had beaten his man but then had to put a weak shot on goal as no one was supporting him (or there were too many men back for United).
  • The real goat of the match though, in my mind, was Koscielny. He has very much been a feast-or-famine defender all season, and today was emphatically the latter. For both United goals (neither of which I care to go into great detail describing), he seemed to be at the center of confusion on both occasions. On the first one, he was jogging back towards the man he left wide-open (Fabio Da Silva, I think?), allowing him an easy tap-in after Manuel Almunia had made a brilliant save to keep the first shot out.
  • Speaking of which, while there are slim pickings for Arsenal MOTM, the much-maligned Spaniard won it at a canter. He had zero chance on either United goal, made some pretty good stops to keep it close, and even had the best individual save of the match when he recovered from being on his back to claw away a ball that was looping over him (that save deserved to win a game, not prevent one from getting to 3-0 late on).

3/20/11 - West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Arsenal - Two Precious Points Squandered

  • I don't care how many injuries we have - that team should beat West Brom nine times out of ten.
  • Steven Reid, who got the goal, apparently hadn't scored in five years before he nodded home from close range...how charitable of us.
  • Beyond that, there was no fluidity to Arsenal's play. The book on us is that we spend too much time passing, and that's largely true. But, the Gunners couldn't even do that right yesterday.
  • As for the absolutely atrocious Denilson, look at how often he loses it in the middle of the park, just as we're getting to the final third. He also took his now-usual stupid yellow card for a lazy defensive play (he could give a clinic on how to leave a trailing leg in for the opposing player to fall over in a way where the ref is most likely to see it).
  • For some reason, Almunia came tearing off his line, coming out about ten yards outside of his penalty area. He gave Squillaci a two-handed shove to the back trying to get him out of the way, and then failed to clear the ball himself. Peter Odemwingie has decent predatory instincts in any case, but in this scenario couldn't fail to roll the ball into the empty net. This was a goal that was only missing the Yakity Sax soundtrack.
  • Jens Lehmann HAS to start our next match.
  • I still believe...faintly.

4/4/11 - Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn Rovers: Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over

  • Originally, my post was going to be exactly this: "I will put as much heart and fight into this match report as Arsenal did into this match itself: That sucked, the end."
  • What can you say, though? I've used this line a few times before, but I'll say it again: This lot have the talent, but right now they don't have the ability. While the lads are mathematically still alive in the title race, for me it's the same kind of mathematical chance that 7-2 offsuit had against A-A in a heads-up contest. United will have to drop points while Arsenal somehow concurrently shakes off this malaise - and honestly, does either one look like it's happening at the moment?
  • And that, friends, is what I can't see changing about this team the rest of the way. Look again at the highlights. There is precious little running off the ball, barely any pressing and a complete lack of ideas. Space opens up with runs away from the ball because the defenders have to track them - it is in that controlled chaos of movement that good passing sides find the necessary space to operate and create chances. It's in wingers switching sides, a striker coming deep to collect the ball while a central midfielder charges ahead, the overlap between fullback and winger. Instead, what we have is 10 guys standing around passing sideways with no one displaying the courage or the leadership to charge into the fray and make something happen.

4/11/11 - Blackpool FC 1-3 Arsenal: Three Certain Points in Uncertain Times

  • The big news was in between the sticks, as Manuel Almunia fell "ill", paving the way for the unlikeliest of returns. Yes, that was Jens Lehmann back in the Arsenal goal, with detours in Stuttgart and in retirement. Somehow, I get the sense that this illness is somehow related to the "shoulder injury" that led to Lukasz Fabianski donning the gloves earlier in the campaign.
  • Up the other end, the old Lehmann was in full effect as he angrily reacted to Luke Varney crashing into him as he caught a high ball. I have missed the Jens Lehmann Angry Wagging Finger more than you can possibly imagine, especially when the alternative is the Manuel Almunia Droopy Dog Face of Despair and Self-Loathing.
  • If that had raised Blackpool manager Ian Holloway's ire, imagine how angry he was when Arsenal were up 2-0 inside of seven minutes after the penalty shout. For the first goal, the wonderful Abou Diaby (when was the last time one could say that?) started and finished the move.

4/18/11 - Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool: Deeper Problems than One Idiot Ivorian Fullback

  • Fact # 1: Emmanuel Eboue is an idiot, a moron, a total fucking mong. Fact # 2: Emmanuel Eboue is, at times, a footballer capable of brilliant things. Fact # 3: Emmanuel Eboue embodies Fact # 1 a FUCK of a lot more than he does Fact # 2. Fact # 4: This result was not just Emmanuel Eboue's fault.
  • In light of that, I suppose it'd be a dick move to mention Sunderland, Blackburn, Newcastle, West Brom, West Brom again, the League Cup Final, all three piss-poor results against lower league sides in the FA Cup, Braga, Shaktar, Tottenham and the season opener at Anfield, eh?
  • And in the midst of all this, we have our manager making a spectacle of himself, berating Kenny Dalglish for...err...I'm not sure what, exactly. We have our manager blaming the referee, Lucas diving and god knows what else when a much more suitable target can be seen in any reflective surface. What a fucking miserable season.
  • I don't think Fabregas dived, and I do think Spearing made some contact. I just don't think there was that much in it, but you can file it under "seen them given". Anyway, RVP stepped up and absolutely hammered an unstoppable spot-kick into the lower corner of the net, kicking off wild celebrations in the Pig. Surely, all three points were Arsenal's.
  • Lucas had his back to goal and was running away from it. Literally, the only thing Eboue had to do in this situation was NOTHING. Just don't move. Fucking stand there. The fact of the matter was that Andre Marriner was gagging to give Liverpool a makeup call, and while Lucas' dive was risible and disgraceful, while there wasn't much in the way of contact at all, Eboue gave Marriner the excuse he needed. That was ALWAYS going to be called.

4/25/11 - Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal - That Just Happened

  • I have no anger left with this team.
  • So, I won't be spending a lot of time talking about the match itself. Suffice to say that Arsenal, like any great band at the end of their time, played all of their greatest hits. Sitters missed, slack marking, over-elaboration, conceding early, moments of breathtaking skill - it was all there. The encore was the same as well - the destined-to-fall-short rally at the end (though as ludicrous show-ending rallies go, I much prefer AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock We Salute You").
  • And, what of Samir Nasri?...Will his wage demands exceed what we should pay for what is a wonderful-at-times player who has largely failed to make an imprint on the truly momentous occasions of a season?
  • One argument is that sometimes, losing begets losing...especially when it's been in the ways that we've managed it. I'm no sports psychologist, but I can't help but feel that games like Newcastle stay with you. If you're not careful, an entire squad can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom that can be impossible to fully shake. Now, maybe that's not the case. I could certainly be reading far too much into things. Isn't it at least plausible, though? And if so, major surgery and fresh recruits may be required - which won't happen of course, bringing this circle back to the beginning.
  • I believe that guys like Chamakh, Song and Bendtner can be important cogs of a team that wins things. I think we've got a stellar goalkeeper right now in Wociech Szezcsny, who can be our keeper for the next 10-15 years. I think we've got guys who already fight the good fight and give everything of themselves, guys like Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie who can hold their heads up no matter what happens the rest of the way. The core is there. This strikes me as a job for a scalpel rather than a hatchet.

5/9/11 - 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • So, of course they scored a minute later. This side never fails to find a way to fail.

5/16/11 - 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
  • 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...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.
  • 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.

5/25/11 - Fulham 2-2 Arsenal: Match Report Cancelled Due to Indifference

  • Fulham got two goals thanks to Arsenal defensive miscues. I'll give you a second to recover from the shock.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.

Stay tuned for Part 2, covering this current season...and the aggregated ratings!